Interview: Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman

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Recently, we had the absolute pleasure of talking to Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman about receiving a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award, their award-winning album Hidden People, keeping the family at the forefront, and of course… Norwegian girl bands…

First of all, how does it feel to be the owners of a Radio 2 Folk Award?

It’s a nice feeling thanks. To be acknowledged by your peers is a humbling thing. It took a while to get the thing through Glasgow airport security though. The words ‘bludgeon’ and ‘pilot’ were used in the same sentence.

Being surrounded by so many high profile folk musicians all the time, which artists do you find yourself listening to on your days off?

Neither of us listen to a lot of folk music at home to be honest. If we can manage to convince our kids to let us play anything other than what they are currently obsessed with, we play a mix of real ‘classic’ albums or wade through the piles of discs we have picked up ‘at work’. Also we like to check out what has gotten good reviews by  music journalists. The one band our whole family can agree to listen to together with equal measures of enthusiasm is the Norwegian girl band Katzenjammer.

Do you find you work better, or are motivated to produce better music, when you’re working alone or together?

The fact that we can both work alone and together perfectly well and happily is probably one of the keys to our success. No difference, unless we are doing something alone and need a second opinion.

You’ve made three albums together now, what were your expectations when you first began making music together?

To conquer the world and headline Live Aid 2? No, if you go into playing music for a living with any other expectation than to feel lucky to do it day after day then I don’t think you deserve to do it frankly. It truly is a privilege. After all it is the public who decide whether you will have any longevity.

You’ve had quite a long hiatus between Hidden People and your last album, what made you decide to come back now? Has your sound, or approach to the music changed over time?

It really was the fact that our kids started at school full time and that freed up some time to be able to dedicate to the duo again.

Any change in our sound or approach, well that’s for other people to try and analyse  We are just on our musical journey and soak up the influences that mark our lives. I think if you think about things like that too much as an artist you may be in danger of lessening some of your personality in your art.

Do you feel that folk music has changed since you first started in the business? There is certainly more of a commercial interest in the genre, do you feel this has taken something away from the true feeling behind folk music?

Yes it certainly has changed, but we have been doing this for over 20 years now, so thank goodness it has changed!

The commercialism is purely a vehicle to enable musicians to exclusively pursue a life playing folk music whilst paying the extortionate costs of living in modern Britain. You couldn’t survive on £100 gigs like they did in the 80’s. For us it wouldn’t even cover the cost of getting to most gigs never mind the rent or the gas bill. However, for me it does seem a shame though that some artists seem to get pressured into making an album out of necessity  ie, to help fund a tour etc, rather than making a really great album when they are truly ready with a body of great songs/tunes, taking their time getting it right. That doesn’t happen that often these days in my opinion.

How do you both find the balance between family life and your musical life?

This is one of the areas that we give ALOT of attention to. Being a mother and a father to our kids is the most paramount thing in our lives and we consider very carefully the impact of our professional lives on them. It is hard, and we have to turn lot of work down as a result but we feel we have found a remarkable life balance.

So what do you plan to do next? What will the next few years involve for you two?

We have a full year in 2013 of gigs. I am still playing in Seth’s band as well which is obviously very successful in several territories around the world. We have more songs in the bag waiting for the right time for us to record. Also it would be nice to squeeze in a family holiday.

Basically we aren’t going anywhere. More of the same. We are in this for the long run. See you around!

Questions by Josh King