Annette Brown, Lifetime The story of June Carter Cash comes to life in the…
- Posted on Mar 10th 2010 4:50PM by Chris Mugan
Sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank have already beguiled audiences far beyond their native North East of England with a delicate take on traditional folk styles and increasingly strong lyrics of their own. They started out as Rachel Unthank & The Wintersets in 2004 and earned a place on the Mercury Prize shortlist for 2007's 'The Bairns'. They renamed themselves the Unthanks last year ahead of third album 'Here's The Tender Coming.' As they prepare for its US release on Rough Trade, Becky tells us more about their evolution ahead of SXSW.
Describe your sound in your own words.
It's all about storytelling for us. Our sound is dictated song-by-song by how we think we can best serve and tell that story through music. My sister and I sing a lot of traditional songs from the North East and songs written in that ilk. But at the end of the day a good song is a good song, so we look in all sorts of directions for that, including Robert Wyatt, Nick Drake and Antony and the Johnsons. We then try and tell that story through music too, whether it be a string quartet, a palette of Steve Reich-inspired sounds or just unaccompanied harmony.
How did your band form?
My sister and I have been singing together unaccompanied for years, then after meeting Adrian McNally, who became our record producer and manager, we got some musicians together to make an album. Three records later, and after a few line-up changes, we've dragged Adrian onto piano and have brought together a 10-piece band. We met Niopha Keegan our fiddle player when she came to study traditional music in Newcastle.
What are your musical influences?
Me and Rachel have been brought up on traditional singing. Most of our summers have been spent at folk festivals soaking up the music and generally having a brilliant time, so a lot of our influences have come from general folk club or sing-around performers, but we have always listened to all sorts. The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, The Watersons, June Tabor, Ben Folds, Sufjan Stevens, Nic Jones and Neil Young. Our parents were always a big influence as they taught us a lot of songs growing up.
What's your biggest vice?
What's in your festival survival kit?
Wellies and wet wipes; some alcohol always helps when sleeping in a tent.
Who was your first celeb crush?
Ronan Keating from Boyzone. My sister, who is almost eight years older than me, took me to see them when I was 11. I think I was just an excuse for her because she fancied him too. I shouldn't have admitted that should I!
What's your musical guilty pleasure?
Well, you've just heard about my boy-band phase. Rachel went through a grungy, heavy metal time as a teen but that was all a long time ago. These days, Rachel's would probably be Queen, although I don't think she'd see it as guilty, and I love musicals like 'Grease' but I draw the line at 'High School Musical'.
Beatles or Stones?
What's the craziest thing you've seen or experienced while on tour?
We decided for some reason that it would be a good idea to take our own piano on a 40-date autumn tour, which worked fine, mostly, except in Edinburgh, when the lads from our band had to carry our beautiful and expensive upright piano up three flights of spiral stairs. It was a tense half hour! They spent the whole show worrying about getting it back down again!