Farriers Contemplate Album Number Two
After releasing their debut album, Years Ago in Our Backyard, in 2012, singer/guitarist Stephen Macartney reveals how album number two might shape up
It has been a whirlwind year for Farriers. They released their debut album, Years Ago in Our Backyard, in May 2012 to widespread critical acclaim, and toured it on a wave of euphoria from their growing fanbase, who yearned for their first longplayer following on from 2009's promising Coastlines EP.
The shows have subsequently gotten bigger, and the band's reputation as a dynamic live act continues to grow. Years Ago in Our Backyard managed to capture that dynamism, that charm, on record, and has cemented Farriers' place as one of Northern Ireland's hippest bands.
For singer and guitarist Stephen Macartney, hard graft has been the key to their success. All those years performing live as a group – getting to know one another musically, developing the confidence to engage with a crowd, perfecting that distinctive alt-folk sound that has served them so well – were well worth it.
'I think our style of music is honest and people enjoy that,' he attests. 'We’ve always had a real desire to make the performances interesting and to have banter with the crowd, talk to them about the songs and what we’re doing.
'If you get up there and don’t say anything, you might as well have a CD on. There’s no real buzz. Whether we’re playing a sold out show, or to 50 people who have never heard of us in Birmingham, we still get really into it.'
Although still touring the album, Farriers are already discussing plans for their follow up. What shape the new songs will take, and whether or not a continuation of the themes and sounds explored on Years Ago In Our Backyard will inform future work, is yet to be decided.
'But,' adds Macartney, 'we’re trying to collaborate more as a band. There’s a few songs we’re playing around with that are a lot darker. The whole album, when it comes, is going to be a lot darker.
'I’d written some of the songs on the first album a few years ago, and they had some very positive ideas behind them. That's not to say we're a bunch of miserable so-and-sos now, but certainly we can explore different ideas. Recent songs have been about things like death and so on, but then there are going to be some more upbeat ones. We have been inspired by Wilco and that kind of thing.'
Then comes the revelation – Farriers' Bob Dylan moment. 'There will be electric guitars, with some distortion,' admits Macartney, not in the least bit fased to say so. That may come as a shock to some – a disappointment to others – but Macartney remains confident that the Farriers' fanbase will not be disenchanted.
'Stylistically and lyrically, we're going in a darker direction. The lyrics are more poetic. I suppose I've put a little more thought into them, tried to make them more beautiful. But it's definitely still important for us to keep things fun. That’s the whole point of going to gigs, to have fun. I'm wary of releasing an album that features miserable song after miserable song.'
Whereas Years Ago in Our Backyard was, in many ways, a typical alt-folk mixture of traditional acoustic instruments and warming, uplifting vocal harmonies, showcasing the band's unique musicianship, Macartney expresses the desire to experiment with new sounds, influences and instrumentation on future albums.
'We did a gig a while back with the Arco String Quartet,' he recalls, 'and that sounded beautiful (see video below). So we’re definitely going to try and get them in to do some strings. Also I have a liking for a brass trio/quartet, to make things a bit more dynamic. A warm, slightly Northern English kind of sound. There was a very American, folk influence on the last album, but I think you need to try and elaborate on what you can do. I’d quite like to bring in this side of the Atlantic more.'
Macartney and co-vocalist/guitarist, Rachel Coulter, have been mainstays in the Bangor live music scene for years, playing weekly shows in a number of the town’s taverns together. They formed Farriers with the ambitious aim of recording and playing further afield, and Macartney looks back on those formative years performing as a duo as important with regards to writing in the present.
'Rachel and I gigging together has been pretty integral to the band working as a whole, as we know exactly how to play off each other. It’s an instinctive kind of vibe that we’ve forged over the years. Quite a few ideas on the first album came about when we were noodling about and thinking, "That’s pretty cool”. We would get our phones out there and then and go back to it later on.'
Farriers recently had the opportunity to reach a much wider audience supporting fellow Bangorian songsmith, Foy Vance, on his UK tour. Now they are planning an early summer tour of Ireland with friend and fellow songwriter, Gentry Morris, who Macartney plays with Thursday nights at Alley Cat in Belfast.
A new video for 'Keep it Alive' ('the most poppy thing on the first album by far', according to Macartney – see video above) was released in March 2013, and Farriers are in the process of recording a brand new track for Belfast visual artist, El Mandrake, which will be free to download from their Bandcamp page in the coming weeks.
'He is someone I heard of through a friend,' Macartney explains. 'He does a lot of steam-punk stuff, a mixture of Victorian engineering with modern punk sensibilities. It’s very cool. We’re going to get the guys to record it in the next few days and put it up as a free download. People will hear a new track, and it will link in with El Mandrake's website and forthcoming exhibition.'
Is this new song potentially indicative of the next album in any way? 'It’s a track we've been playing around with,' says Macartney. 'It’s very obviously what Farriers do, it has that vibe. We could do a studio version of it and put it on the next record, but we’ll see how that goes.'
With their audience ever growing and a reputation as a formidable live act proceeding them, 2013 promises to be another big step forward for Farriers. For now, though, the mission continues. 'Let's see if people like it or not,' Macartney concludes.