Published on January 31st, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Rocksucker was mightily impressed with The Quest For Rest, the debut album by Lancaster psych-folk troubadour Ottersgear (real name Mikey Kenney), so we fired him over some questions as he prepared to embark on a UK tour that carries on from now into May (click here for dates). First, though, check out this live rendition of a choice cut from the LP, which we noted in our review as possessing an “abundance of character dripping from his tremulous vocals, elegant lyricism and swoonsome swells of melody”…
Is there anywhere you’re particularly looking forward to playing on your forthcoming tour? What is your live setup?
I love being on the road so there are no particular favourites for me! I’m equally excited by the prospects of performing at some of my favourite venues and venturing onto unknown stages! I tend to perform without a setlist – it means I can adapt my set to suit my audience. I enjoy performing in unfamiliar venues because, on the day, my pending set will be as much a mystery to me as it will be to folk attending.
I enjoy performing in familiar venues because it’s comforting to have a bit of familiarity every now and then. It’s akin to coming home in the middle of a tour! Expect the live tour lineup to consist of Charley Weatherill (accordion, organ), Dan Haywood (guitars, banjo), George Hitchmough (bodhran, drums), myself (singing, fiddle, guitar) and the occasional special guest!
How much of the instrumentation did you handle yourself on the record? Who else is involved?
Apart from Charley Weatherill playing her accordion on the opening track “Quest for Rest”, I handled all of the instrumentation. I’ve always been a keen collector of musical instruments and though I am a fiddler first and foremost, I’m a dabbler with everything else I own! Most of it was recorded in my home in Lancaster (at the time; I’m now living back in Liverpool) and the rest between the Yorkshire House pub (Lancaster), a caravan in Windermere and a bungalow in Quernmore, Lancaster. Garth Dew sat in and engineered, produced and mixed the record, so he played an enormous part in its making. Finally, it was sent to Lancaster producer Mick Armistead for mastering.
How did you learn – and/or what inspired you – to get such vibrato on your vocals? It sounds great, like a musical saw at times…
Thank you! I’ve always been a singer, though my vibrato has not always been present… it was something that developed naturally and without consideration or deliberation. I think it’s something to do with my being a fiddle player; the fiddle has become something of an extension of my body and so my voice has become a melodic alternative to my fiddle to make do with often having to accompany myself with a guitar. I once heard somebody say that, because of the fiddle resonating beneath the jaw and against the voice-box, “anybody who can play the fiddle (violin/viola) can also sing”.
Have you given much thought yet to your next album? If so, what can you tell us about it? Will the alcoholic protagonist of Quest For Rest feature in it?
Yes, the majority of the second album has already been written. It tells the story of my ‘fleeing’ Ottersgear (haunted by the ‘Counsel of Owls’) in search of another inspiration to be found over the Atlantic ocean in America. It details elements of my tour with Anja McCloskey and my musings at the time. It helped me to find a nice way to excuse mixing Celtic/English affections with my love for Bluegrass music! Of course, Ottersgear’s protagonist has always been an exaggerated version of myself. I think that if you’re going to write about your experiences in the form of poetic narrative then exaggeration is the most useful of tools!
Any other projects on the horizon?
Besides Ottersgear I’m not thinking of much else at present. I’ll continue to work hard at it and see where this road takes me. I’ve always been a devoted friend, collaborator and fan of Dan Haywood’s and I’ve been working with him on his ‘New Hawks’ project for 6 years now. There’s no telling where that’ll take us either but it’s always been an incredible source of joy and of adventure. Besides this, I’ve been working as a session fiddler on some wonderful forthcoming albums by Stephen Hudson (Lancaster), India Mill (Darwen), TE Yates (Manchester), Cousin Jac (Liverpool) and Gamma Ray Sam (Liverpool).
How involved are you in the day-to-day running of Sotones?
In all honesty, I’m not as involved in Sotones as I probably should be. Living in Liverpool with Sotones based in Southampton makes it difficult for me to actively be involved in the cooperative. I’ve recorded and toured with Anja McCloskey and Johnny5thWheel and performed at Sotones events, besides releasing my music through the label, but that is all I’ve been able to manage so far.
Last year I discussed founding a label in Liverpool with Anja McCloskey and Andy Harris (the current brains of Sotones). The idea was that the label would operate as a Northern sister-label to Sotones. I’ve been working on it this past couple of months. It will be called ‘Superior Godwit’ and looks set to launch in March alongside a monthly live music event in Liverpool.
Which were your favourite albums of 2012? Any in particular you’re looking forward to in 2013?
Some favourites of mine have been Blood Rushing by Josephine Foster, which I didn’t hear until I was asked to play fiddle for her as part of her UK tour. I had to learn the fiddle parts whilst crossing the English Channel on a P&O car ferry and during the process I fell in love with it. Gillian Welch’s Harrow & the Harvest is another great favourite. I admire its bold lack of instrumentation and Dave Rawlings’s sympathetic guitar accompaniment. It’s probably the most earthy record I’ve ever heard.
Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill; I was touring with Dan Haywood when this was released. Being big Young-heads, we were desperate to acquire it and between European cities we were trying to snatch up tidbits of information related to the album! I’m obviously biased towards Dan Haywood’s New Hawks, being a long-standing member of the gang, but the Field Notes live album, released at the end of 2012, came as a nice surprise for me. It is a collection of live recordings captured somewhere between the project’s dawn and what I believe, and hope, to be its early morning (present day!). It was a huge surprise, and I was doubly entertained, because I had no idea which tracks Dan had chosen for the record until it was immortalised!
Mikey Kenney, thank you.
The Quest for Rest is out now on Sotones. For more information, please visit www.mikeykenney.co.uk/ottersgear