Interview: Flaming June

Recently TFFT were lucky enough to be able to talk to Flaming June, the folk punk alter-ego of Louise Hamilton, and find out a bit about her award-winning EP, the Oxjam takeover, the balance of music and motherhood and what goes into her unique brand of fiery folk.

I’ve heard you say that you wouldn’t necessarily describe yourself as a folk artist, how would you describe your music to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

No, I don’t really describe myself as a folk artist. I think the music I write is contemporary, alternative, auto-biographical, passionate and fiery with a folky twist. My songs are honest and raw.  Someone described it as punk/folk the other day!

Who, or what, are your main influences?

I have always loved music and been quite haunted and mesmerised by it.  I love any music that has an edge and a passion to it and I love songs that tell a story.  Whilst growing up I listened to The Beatles, Kate Bush, Cyndi Lauper, Souxie & The Banshees and a wide range of other things ranging from Clannad and The Jesus & Mary Chain through to Patsy Cline!  I just love good songs across all genres.  It was PJ Harvey that was the turning point for me I think.  I could relate to her music and its honesty.  The release of her debut album “Dry” in the early 90’s had a huge impact on me and she has remained an influence, along with Patti Smith.

Do you come from a musical background?

My Grandfather was an amazing pianist and had a piano which I played from a very young child.  I had piano lessons for a while but I am mainly self-taught and unconventional.

After winning FATEA Magazine’s EP of 2011 for Nerves of Steel, do you feel any pressure on your upcoming EP after such great reception for your last?

Winning the FATEA award for best EP of 2011, was absolutely amazing and a real happy moment for me.  I had put so much into the songs from the “Nerves of Steel” EP and released a single from it for Refuge, so to have those songs recognised meant so much both as a songwriter and on a personal level. It took me a while to come down from that!  I think you strive to make each recording the best that it can be and that is what I am doing for the new EP.  When I record I work to the brief of “put your life and soul into it and just hope people like it”. I am really pleased with it so far. I am working with Rob Toulson again (who recorded and produced Nerves of Steel) and I am learning so much from him.  We are a good team and I am optimistic about the release of “Rumplestiltskin” in the spring 2013. It’s going to be a little bit different but very recognisable as Flaming June.

I really loved your Blood, Sweat & Tears EP, how did you go about encompassing nearly twenty years of music into one EP?

Thanks, I glad you liked it. I wanted to pick songs that work on one recording.  So it was a case of picking five songs that worked as a collection. The songs on “Blood Sweat & Tears” are live favourites as well so that influenced the final EP.

You’re in the middle of the Oxjam Tour at the moment, how does it feel to be involved with the cause? Do you prefer festivals or events, or one-off shows in smaller venues?

Oxfam is a very worthwhile charity.  I am a firm believer that if you can do something you should put it to good use.  I have already used the songs I write to raise money for Refuge and raise awareness about important issues so to be asked to support Oxfam was brilliant.  I love writing and performing songs.  If you can do some good with that and help others then that’s an added bonus.  The Oxjam events we are playing look amazing with a brilliant line-up of bands so we are very excited.

I love playing festivals, the atmosphere is always amazing and it’s great to see so many other bands as well.  I don’t really have a favourite type of gig. Sometimes a gig just feels really good and you make that connection with the audience.  Where this happens can be quite random and unexpected.

You’ve been playing as Flaming June since 1995, how do you feel you’ve have changed or progressed in this time? How has the scene changed for you personally?

I have grown in confidence as a writer and performer over the years. I was immensely shy when I first started out and would sing with my eyes shut for the whole set! But I believe very passionately in what I am doing and I think that comes across very much now.

It’s always great to get good feedback as well, both at gigs and through the wider music scene. So people coming up after gigs and saying they can relate to the songs and really like the energy is great.  Wining the FATEA Award was amazing and these are important things to keep morale strong on what can be quite a lonely journey at times.

The music scene has changed hugely since I first started. Without wishing to give away my age, I started recording demos on 4 tracks which used cassette tapes. There was no “social networking” and uploading MP3s. I was living in London at the time and you got gigs by taking demo tapes to promoters, preferably in person. Radio play was very hard come by. We did get some in the early days by using companies that could get to the right people. Generally, people only heard your music if they came to gigs and bought tapes and CDs. Now of course it’s much easier to make your music available and independent musicians have many more opportunities to reach a wider audience through social networking and the myriad of internet radio stations which play some amazing independent artists. Bob’s Folk Show and Brian Player’s Acoustic Radio Show are two great examples.

So yes, the music scene has changed immensely for independent writers and it’s a change for the better in my opinion.

There’s a definite uprising of women in modern folk, how do you find being involved and associated with this movement?

There definitely is, I have been lucky enough to play gigs with Josienne Clarke, Moulettes and 6 Day Riot on the bill and it is fantastic how many women are creating new and exciting folk inspired music at the moment. I think the abundance of women in modern folk reflects female songwriters coming to the fore generally. The charts at the moment are dominated by female artists and again I think this reflects changes in society in general. I don’t associate myself with being part of a movement as such as I have been writing the songs I write with the same folk influences sound for around 20 years.  That being said I think there clearly is an “uprising”, but I am always surprised when people comment on there being few women involved in the local music scene.  I played a gig for Cambridge 105 FM the other week which will be available as a podcast on their website.  Presenter Tim Willett made a comment on how few females feature on the” Unsigned Chart” they run.  There are loads of us out there!  I love Mary Epworth’s music and it’s brilliant to see young bands like The Folk coming through as well.  Clearly we need to make some more noise though, where’s that megaphone?

If you could play with anyone, who would it be?

I am a huge fan of Seth Lakeman so it would be amazing if I could record a song with him on fiddle. I have seen him live a few times and he was unbelievable.  PJ Harvey would be another, but I would be so in awe I would be frozen with fear!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

My vision for the future is probably the same as all independent songwriters and performers. To get the songs heard by more people, sell more CDs, record more EPs, make more videos, play some great gigs and festivals and continue this amazing journey to wherever it takes me next, all the time having huge amounts of fun. We are all playing the same game.  In five years  I will also be a mother to two teenagers! That’s pretty scary, but they have already said they will come to shows to sell CDs and help out.

I am making new connections all the time as well. I met award winning bespoke jewellery designer Harriet Kelsall a few weeks ago and I am lucky to have some of her stunning pendants on loan to wear at gigs. I had a bit of a dilemma choosing which one to wear for the CAM 105 gig actually, but opted for a beautiful Lava stone piece. I love the fact that what I do brings me into contact with other inspirational and creative people…who knows where those roads will lead, and that’s what makes the journey exciting.

What can audiences expect from your live shows?

When I play live I put everything into the performance. I am very much an all or nothing person and gigs are definitely an “all” moment. Our gigs are high energy and passion. When I play live I have the amazing percussionist Paul Richards join me along with the fantastic Diane Llewellyn on fiddle, so we pack plenty of punch live.

Which new bands would you recommend? 

First Aid Kit are my favourite at the moment along with Mary Epworth, Moulettes and Bela Takes Chase.  I listen to all sorts of music and someone sent me a link to a band called “Metric” the other day, I can’t stop listening to it.

Words by Josh King