Published on June 1st, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Stephen Hudson recommended the energetic psych-folk of Lancaster troupe Ottersgear when we interviewed him last month, so we fired over some questions to the group’s head honcho Mikey Kenney in the hope of find out a little bit more about the whole operation. First, though, listen to the sound they make…
Who or what is Ottersgear?
It all began as a recording project for me alone. I overdubbed so many parts that it only seemed right to form a band to help me realise the arrangements on the stage. That all began about four years ago, with the original demo recordings. The band consists of myself (fiddle, guitar and vocals), Andrew Raven (mandolin, guitar – we first hit it off writing silly songs together at a barn in Ravenstonedale), Dan Haywood (guitar, banjo – of Dan Haywood’s New Hawks fame, Dan was part of my old band One Chip Potato and I play fiddle for New Hawks), Charlotte Weatherill (accordion, keys – who I met working behind the counter at Lancaster’s Costa Coffee and then ended up seeing – everybody loves a barista!) and finally James Munroe (bass – who booked us to play Holmfirth Folk Festival one year and then asked us if he could play bass! I could only admire his cheek!)
How would you describe your music, if pushed?
I’d say genre-jumping. I like to explore too much to be happy sitting in one pigeon-hole. The songs and arrangements are largely a result of fiddle styles I’ve studied: Folk, Bluegrass, Country, Appalachian, Klezmer, Swing etc. If I were asked to draw a comparison perhaps some kind of Neil Young-David Byrne-Dubliners-Roy Orbison-John Hartford hybrid. The band members all play with their own self-invented styles as well. I think we’ve all ended up competing with each other to develop the most individual playing style – or maybe that’s what brought us all together in the first place!
Where are you based, and what do you use to record with?
I’m currently based in Lancaster, where the record was recorded (apart from a few takes which were recorded in a caravan in Bowness). My biggest recording weapon comes in the shape of a professional rugby player; Garth Dew, who also is a sound-production graduate. He’s been heaven-sent for me, as he’s a big fan of my music and has a great well of trust in my decision making. Having that kind of support makes all the world of difference within the recording process. In terms of gear we recorded most of the record with one omni-directional microphone and let the walls do most of the work.
Are you signed to a label? If so, how did you come to their attention?
Yeah, I’m currently signed to Sotones records, who are based in Southampton. I met them thanks to JohnnyfifthwheelandtheCowards when playing fiddle for them on a tour down south. After that I played a few gigs for them and then went on tour in the USA with one of their major players, Anja McCloskey, who kindly let me support her also. This was my way into Sotones, and it’s been a wonderful experience so far.
Is there a full album in the works? If so, what can you tell us about it? (Feel free to be as abstract as you like…)
There is a full album in the works yes – The Quest for Rest. It tells the story of an alcoholic on a journey of self-discovery in the Trough of Bowland – camping under bridges, rambling through woods, trudging through bogs, braving the elements and generally reflecting on the purpose of his existence. It’s like a lakeland romantic poem set to music.
Where can we hear your music online?
Which have been your most exciting gigs and/or overall moments so far?
My favourite time so far was travelling the USA in a big white S.U.V truck with Anja McCloskey. I pretty much partied my way through the States (in many states!) and made a lot of friends along the way. Also, we’ve made quite a bit of a following in West Yorkshire thanks to frequent appearances at the Holmfirth Festival of Folk. We’re like mini-celebrities in those parts these days! It’s an incredible feeling going back there and realising how much support we have in those parts.
Got any more coming up? (Gigs, that is…)
Yeah, quite a few. They can all be viewed on my website: www.mikeykenney.co.uk. The biggest thing I’ve got planned is a tour in Europe with Fort Wilson Riot, Nallo (both from Minnesota) and Anja McCloskey (of Sotones).
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming acts that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?
That’s very difficult for me to answer, but I’ll have to make some major sacrifices. Neil Young is definitely coming with me, he has a song for each one of my moods. John Hartford never fails to impress me, he’s coming. Michael Hurley is a new-found hero, he can come as I’ve still a lot to explore of his, but I know for certain it’s all gonna be good. The Beatles – you’ve just got to, it’d be a criminal offence for me not to have a Beatles collection to hand. Finally, Townes Van Zandt; the guy’s a marvel. I think I just listed my favourite songwriter, favourite fiddler, favourite guitarist, favourite band and favourite singer!
Mikey Kenney, thank you.