Misty River are a London based Americana band, comprising of Carmen Phelan and Adam Morley. They’ve just had their track ‘Take This Dance’ featured on Netflix’s ‘A Secret Love’. The track also appeared on the Oscar winning short ‘The Phone Call’.
Socially distancing, I caught up with Carmen from Misty River, to find out ‘Take This Dance, the bands origins, staying authentic to Americana in London and future plans for releases once we return to the new normal.
Hello Carmen! How the hell are you?
Great, happy to be talking with you!
Misty River have Irish and American roots, how did the band meet, what’s your history?
We actually first met when we were kids, I’d just moved back to London from the States and met Adam’s younger sister at school who fast became my best friend. He completely ignored me as a kid (apart from laughing at my dress from Woolworths, my mother’s still furious). We were on totally different paths as teenagers, I studied classical music at a London conservatoire and Adam did popular music at Salford Uni. He graduated, I quit classical music and moved to Cork and then Kerry to play traditional Irish music but we met up again in London some ten years or so later!
Your song ‘Take this Dance’ features over the credits of Netflix’s new documentary ‘A Secret Love’, how did that happen for you?
By chance really. As it hadn’t been released but the video was on Youtube, I was shocked to find the film’s Director Chris Bolan had found it on the internet and decided it was good enough to go alongside tracks by Valerie June and Spoon. We were honoured to find it was used as the feature track at the end of the film.
Take this Dance has also been featured on the Oscar winning short ‘The Phone Call’. When you wrote the song, did you think could have a soundtrack life? What do you think it is that makes ‘Take This Dance’ such a special song?
It was one of those songs that kind of wrote itself, it just sort of popped into my head fully formed so it wasn’t obvious to me that it would be such a popular choice for sync placements. I think in terms of it connecting with people, I’ve wondered whether that may be related to its simplicity. I wasn’t trying to write anything clever or ground-breaking it was just an honest account of how I was feeling at a given point in time. The form is that of the trad. songs I grew up with, for example it doesn’t have a middle 8 or move beyond the
Carmen, you grew up London but your Dad is from Ireland. How important is your Irish heritage to you?
My Irish heritage has always been a massive part of my life, but I’ve always been surrounded by it. My father was very involved in putting on events at the Irish centre when I was growing up and we lived just around the corner from all his family. As my granny looked after me during the week whilst my parents were working I believe I’d a Dublin accent before I went to school. Moving to Ireland in my early 20’s on my own had a profound effect on me though, I really loved living there, I’d love to go back someday.
Lockdown has changed many things for musicians, from the way you write music, rehearse and perform live. What changes have you as a band made to try to continue to push your musical life forward?
My reaction to Lockdown has been very mixed. I’d love to say it’s been a period of unbounded creativity but it’s taken a fair bit of time to adjust and get past the initial anxiety of the situation. Being higher risk meant it started two weeks earlier for us than the official date. Watching the live side of the music industry melt away (alongside peoples livelihoods overnight) was and still is, a bit of a shocker. Musically, the roadmap has had to change for us and of course all the festivals and gigs have been cancelled including those booked to support the release of the first studio single.
On the upside, I’m amazed at how fast people are adapting and finding ways to connect, write and perform. We do our first live stream this week with Rippla TV, I never would have imagined I’d be up for doing something like this in the past but now it’s becoming the new normal. The added bonus is that it will force me to brush my hair and get dressed properly, or at least the top half anyway.
Is it easier or harder to write new material in these strange times?
I think one thing that’s important to me as a songwriter is that what I write about is relatable and universal and of course that’s very much the mood of the moment. I’ve been thinking about the considerable contrast in peoples’ experiences during this time so some of that is definitely finding its way into the new material!
The band has recorded its first full band release, will this be a series of singles, an album? How long did it take to record?
We have an album worth of songs that we’ve have been writing over the last couple of years. They really came to life when we worked on them in Nashville with Vance Powell (Jack White, Chris Stapleton) and are a far fuller, bigger sound. The current plan is to release the first of the Vance tracks within the next couple of months followed by our debut EP. We are so excited to share it, the first single With You Arounds is a song about togetherness and seems even more important to share it at a time like this.
Any funny stories from recording?
Well funnily enough, when we started rehearsing songs for our record I sent the keys player a rough demo of one of the tracks, a loose, late night rough recording. His friend was making a small independent film and he intuitively felt that he felt the song was a good match so heforwarded on that late night demo without my knowledge. They replaced the Coldplay track they were thinking of using for my demo, and that little low budget film went on to win an Oscar. We didn’t even re-record the song as they were committed to the demo version.
What three Americana albums would you suggest we listen to as a good introduction to the genre?
It’s a pretty wide genre, it’s hard to choose. Whilst gender equality in terms of representation on radio and live is improving, its still a problem. I’ll take the opportunity to point you in the direction of some brilliant female led bands, Yola with her Walk Through Fire ( A black British artist that has taken the States by storm of late), Shovels and Rope, a husband and wife team fronted by Cary Ann Hearst with their awesome album O, Be Joyful and Brandi Carlile the artist and producer behind The Highwomen, an all female supergroup of sorts.
As Americana artists, how do ensure to keep your authenticity, especially when you’re based in London?
I think one reason so many people outside of the US are involved in making Americana music, is that it’s melting pot of so many culturesand traditions. It isn’t a static tradition. The music from Appalachia very much reflects the traditions of the immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia as well as of course the music of the black African musicians; they brought blues and hymnals as well as instruments including the banjo, to the region.
What all of these traditions do share though is honest story-telling and an appreciation of song form accompanied by great musicianship. At the very heart of Americana is a tradition of travelling, hardship and adapting. As a kid I learnt to play fiddle from a Bluegrass player near to the Appalachians and then my family moved back to London and I went on to Cork, so it suits me very well to be involved in a form of music that finds unity from diverse musical and lived experiences.
When the Lockdown ends and we get to the new normal, what venue are you most looking forward to playing in?
We were due to play at The Slaughtered Lamb last month. We had our launch show booked there with a great grassroots promoter. I love the venue as the atmosphere and the sound are great, yet it’s a very unassuming place; Testimony to that are the amazing bands that have played (and continue to return to play) there even after achieving considerable success. But for the future, I’ve got my heart set on playing the Ryman Theatre in Nashville, made famous by the Grand Ole Opry. I’ve had the privilege of playing many beautiful theatres across the world as a touring musician but I never got to play there, so getting up on stage, in my own right, would be a dream come true.
Who’s on your wish list of people you would like to collaborate with ?
It’s a pretty long list – Certainly the Milk Carton Kids, Vampire Weekend, The Highwomen, Jack White to name a few!
Have you picked up any skills during lockdown? How are your banana bread skills?
I’ve a veritable smorgasbord of new skills that I’ve recently acquired and I’m seriously shite at most of them; these include making pizza, cutting hair whilst drunk, a wee bit of Spanish and yeah, Banana bread muffins. Shite, but I’m delighted with myself nonetheless.