Siobhan Wilson's French connection
I have a lot of ground to cover with Siobhan Wilson – from her childhood in the highlands to her new album, but firstly, given that our chat takes place the day after fire devastated Notre Dame Cathedral, of the five years she spent in Paris.
“I used to sit in the gardens for lunch,” she recalls of the time she worked in a souvenir shop to make ends meet – “selling Notre Dame keyrings.” Tourist tat? “Not ALL tat,” she laughs, “we had some sparkly cool T shirts, some pretty arty postcards. In Edinburgh you’d have postcards and a kilt.”
The singer has put that period to good use – with several French-language songs on each of the three albums she’s released to date. A far cry from her childhood in Elgin, where she developed her love of music. “I played bass in punk bands – I was a total weirdo, I didn’t fit the normal type for a teen girl in Bishopmill”
But it was classical music which perhaps influenced her most. She speaks fondly of a teacher, John Mustard, who recently resigned over the cuts to education in Moray. “He made it very accessible to children from different backgrounds.”
That led to a scholarship in Edinburgh, and then to France, though eventually she made the return to Scotland, and the capital, where she is now, along with promoting her new long-player, studying part-time for a masters in composition for screen. “It’s more or less film music,” she explains. But quite far-removed from ‘The Departure’, which is – comparatively – a pop album? “I’ve always been composing, that’s just what I do in my spare time,” she explains. “I don’t necessarily do it for money but as I’m classically trained I always need to be composing.
“I like the feeling of being kept busy and doing arts and culture requires an insane amount of time and care, and though it’s not always paid, you get as much as you put in to an extent.”
“Oh, one of my songs was used in a BBC drama a few days ago,” she suddenly recalls. ‘Back To Life’ is a dark comedy on on BBC3 starring Daisy Haggard, and yes, ‘Terrible Woman’ plays over the end credits.
“But yes,” she says, getting back on point. “I’m always interested in doing more genres and resistant to pigeonholing myself into one thing.”
Hence Wilson’s long line of credits and collaborations, perhaps of most recent note, with Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert, although the roles are reversed for once, with several guests on the new release. As well as Rachel Sermanni and Jo Mango, Honeyblood’s Stina Tweeddale appears on the new album. “We’re like almost the same age and have lost of points in common about music industry experience and things that matter to us.”
She’s now extra-busy, adding record company mogul to her CV / to-do list, as the new album is a self-released effort, albeit with some help from her fans via Kickstarter. Given that sophomore release ‘There Are No Saints’, via the now-defunct Song By Toad label, made the Scottish Album of The Year shortlist one might have imagined there would have been some interest from other record companies in putting out the new release.
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“I didn’t look. Didn’t ask,” she says emphatically. “One of the best things about the internet is you can talk directly to your fans, so that superficial world the internet has broken that magical wall that hides musicians and unicorns and the VIP world.”
And despite the advent of the web leading to less income streams for musicians, Wilson sees it as “a really important part of evolution of culture, means you can get your stuff out to more people, for me there’s more value to that than finance.”
“It really make it a lot more special,” she says of her DIY label, named Suffering Fools - “it’s a joke!” - while detailing the long process of sourcing information on the best record pressing plants and commissioning artwork via her web contacts. “I don’t know what people did before – send a letter?”
The singer is ebullient about the punk rock spirit required to run a homespun operation, taking inspiration from a perhaps unlikely source – Craig and Charlie Reid, who she toured Canada with. “The Proclaimers are surprisingly punk,” she enthuses, “they’re really DIY, and they’re incredibly interesting to talk to.
“I also hung with Dougie MacLean,” she continues. “He started by manufacturing their own vinyl, he was DIY at the start. When you think ‘indie music’ these days it’s really produced and with loads of money behind it and big labels and budget, and they say that’s the indie scene, but I think being 60 plus and cutting your own records, that’s independent.”
I joke that the Perth-based folk legend is indeed a pioneer, as everyone is doing vinyl nowadays.
“Not everyone’s releasing on frosted white rabbit vinyl!” she laughs. “It’s very pretty,” she says, detailing the process of selecting exactly the right colour for the special edition for her crowdfunding supporters.
“I don’t cast judgement on anyone, but I take indie quite literally because to be fully artistic and be as authentic as possible, I need to not be part of a machine.”
‘The Departure’ is out on May 10. More at www.siobhan-wilson.com.