Image Courtesy of Sparrow-Folk
Canberra based comedy-folk duo Sparrow-Folk have been making waves on both the folk and comedy festival circuit in recent months with their unique, wry musical take on everyday situations. In what was probably the funniest interview I’ve ever done I chatted to Juliet Moody and Catherine Crowley, the duo who make up Sparrow-Folk, before their appearance at The National Folk Festival this weekend.
Gareth Hugh Evans: You guys have had a massively busy year so far. Just looking at your social media it seems like you’re everywhere, all the time.
Juliet Moody: Not musically, just stalking people.
Catherine Crowley: Have we been stalking the same celebrities?
GHE: [laughs] Has that been a concerted effort from you guys, to make it a big 2015.
JM: Last year kind of found us, rather than the other way around. We were able to The National Folk Fetsival last year which is fantastic. And while we were there lots of people were saying “are you doing this festival, are your doing that one” and we were like “no? We didn’t even know about them”. So last year was the first time we did any sort of folk festival so this year we made a concerted effort to just do every one that we can mixed in with comedy festivals and fringe festivals. We’ve basically done this to ourselves.
GHE: Which is excellent. And you’re obviously juggling jobs and family as well. It’s got to be quite a different audience going to a folk festival compared to a comedy festival.
CC: Yeah, the audience is really down to earth. We have lots of fun – both types of festivals are really exciting and we have different experiences but there’s something really nice about a folk festival and the audience we have there. Folk festivals are all about playing for your family whereas comedy festivals are really you throwing yourself out there. We love folk festivals because we feel we can share all of our music not just our really funny stuff.
GHE: Comedy audiences are a bit more demanding. They sit in front of you and say “right, make me laugh”.
CC: And folkie audiences are arms wide open audiences. They want to get to know you, they want to listen to what your music’s about and how you made the music.
GHE: So last year was the first National that you’ve played at as Sparrow-Folk.
CC: We started life at the blackboard gig in The Bohemia tent. I think it was the first year of the Bohemia tent. That’s where we first discovered each other.
JM: That’s right. We had other people that we were playing with at the time. It was more of an improv set. But our eyes locked…
CC: From across the microphones…
JM: And we went “let’s forget all these other guys on stage, we’ve got something here”. So literally that day we went away and said “we should do something together”. And our music actually started as folk music. I don’t think we ever intended to go into comedy. It’s just that people kept laughing at us. Which really is why we like doing the folk festivals because every now and then we throw in a serious song or a song that really means something to us and folk festival people really lap that up. Comedy people are “Nah. Move on”.
GHE: Folk as a genre lends itself to comedy as well because it’s all about lyrics. And audiences expect you to talk about the song before you sing it.
JM: I agree with what you’re saying. We find when we’re put in the folk festival circuit you get lots of people coming up and saying “this is great that they’ve put some comedy in”. It gives people an opportunity to relax or laugh a little bit. Some folk music can be quite heavy, some of the topics that they talk about can be quite dark or heavy. I totally think it lends itself to comedy. But there’s not a lot of folk comedy people out there so it’s good to get a chance to share what we do.
GHE: And you guys insert social comment into your comedy. And that’s really a folk thing as well, using the music to comment on society.
CC: I don’t think we could ever write funny songs without some sort of comment. We’re socially conscious women.
JM: Everything has an element of truth in it and I think that’s why people identify with our style of music. Even though we’re singing funny songs and they’re about stupid things sometimes they come from a place of truth. It doesn’t mean that the actual story has happened that way but events have happened in our life or we’ve met people and thought “that is hilarious” or “that’s really significant”. I don’t think we ever sit down going “we need to write something funny”, I think something happens to us and we go “let’s write a song”.
GHE: It’s funny that you guys said that you got together at a blackboard concert. So many musicians I talk to say that that was their first introduction to performing at the festival. It’s like a right of passage.
CC: When we were chatting to Pam [Merrigan], the artist director of The National Folk Festival, we told her our story about starting at the blackboard gig she said almost all of [the artists] started that way. That’s what she really loves about the festival, she was saying, that there are lots of these folk bands who started at The National, at a blackboard gig just jamming together. It’s nice.
GHE: After The National Folk Festival are you guys going to be focusing on getting to even more festivals this year?
JM: We try to get to as many as we can. It’s great for us – we obviously love doing them – but it’s also an easy access point for people to come and see us play. Because of the nature of what we do we can’t do these major tours that go on from months and months and months. Doing a festival circuit means that people can access our music first hand which is great.
GHE: And it must be great to play at all of these family friendly festivals as well.
JM: Absolutely. We played at Kangaroo Valley and it was the first festival that we decided we’d take all the family, which was fun. We hired a big house up there and had a great weekend with all the kids. It was crazy at times but it’s another wonderful thing about folk festivals is that they are so family friendly.
GHE: Although you always have to be careful taking kids to comedy-folk acts.
CC: For some of our songs we go “oh no, there’s some kids around”
JM: We do try to put a little warning if we’ve got some naughty stuff in there.
CC: Sometimes parents just come up and go “it’s great, it’s an education”. We keep getting put later and later on the bill for just that reason. We were playing a festival not long ago and started at 10:30pm and we thought “Great! We’ll pull out all our naughty songs” but there was still kids in the front row.
JM: It is a good folk festival thing for kids – they stay up late, run around and have a good time.
GHE: So what’s the evolution of Sparrow-Folk? You talked about how you never intended to be a comedy band. Would you ever focus on the serious side of your music?
CC: Sparrow-Folk seems to be constantly evolving. We have found ourselves in the comedy industry where we’re quite a niche. We’re doing music, we’re doing every day humour, so I think we’re liking the couch we’re sitting on in the comedy industry. But you never know, things are always happening. And of course inspiration for us, ideas for songs, come from everywhere so we never know.
JM: I read an interview with Tim Minchin recently and I kind of liken it to that. He doesn’t like to call himself a comedian so much as he’s a musician who has found himself in that kind of arena. And now he’s gone off and done this musical [Matilda]. If we found ourselves writing more soulful stuff that’s probably the direction we’d go. I guess you’re also in tune with what your audience wants to hear as well. It’s a journey that’s found us and we do what we love. Who knows what’s around the river bend … says Pocahontas.
CC: Who knows the colours of the wind?
JM: I do.
CC: Yours are green as far as I’m concerned.
JM: It’s all the curried egg sandwiches.
JM: Nothing like a good fart joke in an interview.
GHE: Thanks for that [laughs]. So at The National is there anything that you guys are involved in that people should know about?
CC: Yes! We have an [Infinite] Reggae entry.
GHE: That’s very exciting!
JM: We’re playing the greatest reggae song ever written.
CC: The greatest.
JM: We can’t tell you the title but it’s going to be awesome.
CC: You’re just going to have to wait and see. You cannot miss the reggae.
GHE: I’m looking forward to that!
CC: And if you can’t go to the folk festival we are doing the Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Sydney Comedy Festival.