Kacy & Clayton
Sun · May 5, 2019
Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
Gateway City Arts
$20.00 - $25.00
The Bistro at Gateway City Arts is open until 10pm on show nights, during these events there is counter service and we are unable to take reservations. Due to the high volume of patrons entering for the show, we will be serving a special event menu. To find out more about our menu and dining hours, visit gatewaycityartsbistro.com or call (413) 650-0786.
After two years of relentless touring, Colter Wall wanted to make an album about home. Drawing on the stories of Saskatchewan, the young songwriter’s corner of the world takes shape throughout his second full-length album, Songs of the Plains. Produced by Dave Cobb in Nashville’s Studio A, the project combines striking original folk songs, well-chosen outside cuts, and a couple of traditional songs that reflect his roots growing up in the small city of Swift Current.https://www.dspshows.com/event/1828801/
“One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years, in the United States and playing in Europe, is that people all over the world really don’t know much about Canada at all,” he says. “When you talk about Saskatchewan, people really have no idea. Part of it is because there are so few people there. It’s an empty place—it makes sense that people don’t know much about it. But that’s my home, so naturally I’m passionate about it. With this record, I really wanted people to look at our Western heritage and our culture.”
Indeed, Wall captures the spaciousness of the Canadian plains by relying on minimal production and his resonant baritone, which he’s strengthened into a mighty instrument in its own right. It’s a deep and knowing voice you wouldn’t expect of a man who’s not yet 24 years old.
Songs of the Plains begins with “Plain to See Plainsman,” a sincere portrait of a man whose rural heritage follows him into the greater world. As Wall lists the kinds of people he meets on the road – beautiful women, bikers, junkies, hippies—it’s easy to imagine the autobiographical component. The darkly comical “Saskatchewan in 1881” recalls a stubborn encounter between a Toronto businessman and a steadfast farmer who cultivates the province’s land. And although Wall racked up a body count on his prior album, this time he stops just short of killing the title character in “John Beyers (Camaro Song),” which he says is inspired by true events.
Evoking the most remote reaches of the plains, “Wild Dogs” sounds like a cinematic Colter Wall composition, but he actually first heard the song in Little Rock, Arkansas. Wall had just finished soundcheck in the fried chicken restaurant where he had a gig, when his buddy Ron Helm (nephew of Levon Helm) dropped in with Billy Don Burns, an esteemed songwriter who’s had cuts with many of the country legends of the 1970s. Burns wanted to pitch a few songs, and since the restaurant didn’t have a green room, Wall crawled into Burns’ backseat to listen. He found himself captivated by “Wild Dogs,” which has a minor-chord progression, no rhyme scheme, and the unique perspective of being told from the dog’s point of view.
As a folk singer, Wall places equal importance on crafting songs as well as carrying older songs into the present day. “To me, a folk singer is somebody who sings folk songs—and it’s also someone who is writing their own music, while taking something from traditional folk songs. It’s somebody who sings those songs and is aware of passing down the traditions, whether it’s from their own version of the song or taking those old tunes and reinventing them.”
That sense of tradition is part of the reason he recorded Canadian folk hero Wilf Carter’s “Calgary Round-Up,” a snapshot of the iconic Calgary Stampede. Wall considers that annual event a cornerstone of Western Canadian culture because it pulls in families from the whole region. Besides that, he says, “I wanted to have a rodeo song and that one seemed to be perfect.”
To make it his own, he put a Western Swing feel to it and brought in steel guitarist Lloyd Green and harmonica player Mickey Raphael. The Songs of the Plains sessions also featured Chris Powell on drums and Jason Simpson on bass, with Colter and Cobb sharing acoustic guitar duty.
Through his favorite folk singer, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Wall discovered “Night Herding Song.” Because the song was a cappella, and because Wall doesn’t wear headphones when he records, he couldn’t nail down the campfire vibe inside the sprawling Studio A. So, for this track only, he went to Dave Cobb’s house, started a fire in the outdoor fireplace, and recorded it on the spot. The immediacy of his voice is unmistakable.
Wall says he spent the last three or four years trying to get better as a singer. By putting in the work, his range is now far more dynamic and expressive. He describes the vocal development as “less gravel, without losing the baritone that I’ve developed over the years.”
Meanwhile, Wall’s ability as a songwriter is especially clear in the second half of Songs of the Plains. “Wild Bill Hickok” distills that legendary gunfighter’s epic life and death into less than three minutes. Asked about inspiration for the song, Wall cites the HBO series Deadwood, as well as Tex Ritter’s “Sam Bass” from the cowboy singer’s 1960 album, Blood on the Saddle.
While “The Trains Are Gone” laments the loss of an era, “Thinkin’ on a Woman” hints at a heartbreak as a truck driver concocts a lethal combination of whiskey, wine, and a mountain road. Wall turns far more introspective on “Manitoba Man,” a devastating song he wrote about a dark period in his life. The desperation in that track quickly gives way to the outrageous traditional song, “Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail,” featuring verses from Blake Berglund and Corb Lund, spoons by Chris Powell, and a weird bottle of tequila by Dave Cobb.
“I went into the studio and knew exactly the story I wanted to tell,” Colter says of Songs of the Plains. “That made it easier on a sonic level and a musical level, to be able to tell Dave that it’s a record about my home. That changes it at the roots level because it’s like having a mission statement, saying, ‘All right, let’s make a Western album.’”
In Greek mythology, the sirens were mystical creatures whose magnetic voices and enchanting songs lured enraptured sailors to their doom. Kacy & Clayton’s haunting, evocative music has a similarly intoxicating effect on present-day listeners.
On their second New West release The Siren’s Song —produced by avowed K&C admirer Jeff Tweedy—the startlingly expressive voice and violin of Kacy Anderson combine with the intricate guitar work and warm harmony vocals of her cousin and musical partner Clayton Linthicum. They make music that seems to exist outside of time, tapping into centuries of tradition while effortlessly channelling fundamental human truths. Their 2016 New West debut Strange Country earned the Canadian twosome an enthusiastic following on both sides of the border, and The Siren’s Song looks likely to expand their audience further.
Kacy & Clayton’s music taps into a bottomless well of folk and country influences from North America and the British Isles, injecting centuries of musical and cultural history with youthful energy and a modern sensibility. Their vivid, character-filled songs explore the singers’ rural roots, often addressing dark and bittersweet lyrical subjects in a manner that counterpoints the joyous uplift of the pair’s musical chemistry.
Throughout The Siren’s Song , which Kacy & Clayton recorded with Tweedy in Wilco’s in-house studio The Loft, they extend and expand the spare sound of Strange Country , augmenting their emotionally resonant songcraft with subtly textured full-band arrangements that complement their distinctive voices and Tweedy’s organic recording approach, imbuing such tunes as “The Light of Day,” “Just Like A Summer Cloud,” “A Lifeboat,” “A Certain Kind of Memory” and the Clayton-sung “White Butte Country” with gravity and urgency. Meanwhile, “Cannery Yard” and “Go and Leave Me” harken back to the spare acoustic sound of Kacy & Clayton’s prior releases.
The critical acclaim and fan attention that have accompanied their album releases are a long way from Kacy & Clayton’s humble Canadian roots. Second cousins and friends since childhood, they grew up a few miles apart in the Wood Mountain Uplands, an isolated community in southern Saskatchewan, 12 miles from the Montana border and hours from the nearest record store. They both gravitated towards music early in life, learning about classic country and folk music from relatives and neighbors, picking up rare old vinyl when they could and discovering a world of vintage obscurities through the internet.
When a ten-year-old Clayton’s parents went on a trip and left him in the care of his great-uncle Carl, Carl taught Clayton to play guitar. Clayton also experimented with the instruments he found in Carl’s basement, sometimes performing with Kacy and her sisters. Soon, Kacy & Clayton were performing together in a local tavern and spending most of their Sunday evenings singing at the local senior citizens home. Since they lived so far apart, the teenagers often illegally drove to each other’s homes to rehearse.
“We both started playing music because we were nerds about it,” Kacy recalls. “The history of music and reading biographies and things like that; learning about artists and traditions and styles..”
Word of mouth spread, winning Kacy & Clayton club gigs and festival bookings. Clayton also did a stint in the Canadian roots-rock band Deep Dark Woods, and he and Kacy released a pair of indie albums, Kacy & Clayton and The Day Is Past and Gone , in 2011 and 2013 respectively. In 2015, the duo toured England, where they took the opportunity to spend a day perusing the legendary song archives of folk music historian Cecil Sharp.
“Lots of our songs are inspired by old stories from our family,” notes Kacy. “The common ancestors Clayton and I share were ranchers that moved up from South Dakota and settled in the Saskatchewan hills we both live in now. Loneliness and seclusion, sickness and death; the stories are often tragic, yet all recounted with fondness.”
“We’re both pretty obsessed with the old world,” Clayton adds. “The farmers and ranchers and old people in our areas are still strong characters. It’s kind of a neat thing to observe, especially when trying to come up with characters for songs, because there are always a lot of them around us. A thing that we love about early country and folk music is that those musicians conveyed characters, vivid imagery, and concise stories within short songs.”
“Because Kacy and I have been friends for our whole lives, that allows us to be pretty honest with each other when it comes to working on songs,” Clayton asserts. “A lot of times when you work with people, you want to be polite and you don’t want to offend them. But when you have a close, sibling-like relationship, you can feel comfortable offending each other, knowing that your fights usually lead to better material.”
Kacy & Clayton met Jeff Tweedy—whose production resume includes albums with the likes of Richard Thompson, Mavis Staples and White Denim—when they shared a bill with Wilco in San Francisco’s in September 2016.
“He said, ‘If you’re coming through Chicago, you should come by the Loft,'” Clayton recalls. “We were going through Chicago a few weeks later, so we stopped by and he showed us around the studio. We talked about rural Canada, where we’re from, and rural Illinois, where he’s from, and he said if we ever wanted to make a record there, he’d be glad to help us. So that’s what we did. It’s a very comfortable place to make music, with a comfortable atmosphere and lots of soft surfaces to sit on.”
“Jeff’s very positive, and very good at inspiring performances,” Clayton adds. “He would often tell us that we were being too hard on ourselves. Once we got onto the same page where we could refer to older records that we all have in common, that’s when things really started to cook. If we were trying to communicate how a part should fit in the mix, we’d say, it should sound more like the piano on Link Wray’s chicken-shack LPs, or we’d say that something should sound like John Renbourn’s acoustic lead tones on that Pentangle song, or the Sir Douglas Quintet’s ride cymbal sound. That’s how Kacy and I communicate, and eventually we got Jeff on board with that.”
The Siren’s Song gentle, full-bodied instrumental arrangements, fleshing out the acoustic textures of the duo’s prior releases with the key addition of a rhythm section, namely longtime associate Shuyler Jansen (who produced Strange Country ) on bass and Mike Silverman on drums.
“We wanted to make an album with a different set of influences, and an album that could be played by a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll group,” Clayton explains. “Part of it is that we wanted to have some material that we could play in a loud club. We’ve been touring with our duo material, and that’s good when you get a nice quiet venue. But when you play in a bar with people talking and eating chicken wings, it’s more fun to have some volume behind you.”
Having recorded The Siren’s Song with their new rhythm section, Kacy & Clayton plan on touring behind the album as a full-on four-piece combo. “There’s a little less room in the truck,” Clayton observes, “but otherwise it’s pretty fun. It’s fun to travel with more of a team, and musically there’s a lot more possibilities within the dynamic range of a four-piece band.”
Gateway City Arts
92 Race Street
Holyoke, MA, 01040