JO Beth Young and Martyn Barker are the dreamy, otherworldly…
PHOTO CREDIT: Eamonn J. McCabe
duo, Talitha Rise. The East Sussex pair are a combination of Art-Pop and Progressive-Folk: borrowing sprinkles from various decades and artists; they fuse it with their own original, patented blend of kinship and incredible musicianship. The listener is transported into a bohemian-fantasy world it is hard to extricate oneself from. Live, the duo offers a psychedelic, raw experience both tribal and visceral – utterly emotive and pure. Both Barker and Young have years of experience and some wonderful stories to tell. I ask them about their debut E.P., Blue, and how new material is shaping up; what the scene is like in East Sussex and what the rest of the year holds. Barker talks about reuniting with the band, Shriekback – the first time he has played with them in twenty-five years – and working with Robert Plant. Young discusses her favourite album and the secret behind Talitha Rise’s bond. It is a candid, full and frank interview from one of the most exciting and popular Folk duos of the moment.
Hi, guys. How are things? How has your week been?
Jo: We’ve had a great week, thanks! Just finished the mastering of our new single and rendering the video. Plus, putting touches to one of the new album tracks; booking some new tour dates – so busy, but good!
Martyn: Hi Sam. Another busy week at the studio getting our new single mixed and mastered!
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
Jo: We’re Talitha Rise, A.K.A. Jo Beth Young and Martyn Barker: a Prog.-Folk, Art-Pop band of two. We make weird bohemian music we love…and invite you to come and find out what it is!
Martyn: Well, I’m Martyn Barker – the other half of Talitha Rise.
Tell us how you guys came together. Were you always friends or was it a chance meeting that got you two into Talitha Rise?
Jo: It was a chance act of fate!
I was recording my debut record, Tales from the Aquarium, when the appointed drummer never showed up to the studio…
To this day, we still don’t know where he went!
…I finished the record with my own bad drumming then got introduced to Martyn through our mutual friend, The Strypes’ tour manager, Clare Partington.
He did some awesome drumming and then we bonded over a mutual love of old Prog. and hang-drums. The rest, as they say, is history.
Where does that name come from and what does it mean to you as musicians?
Jo: We became a band by accident, not by design. We originally called ourselves Big World Blue. As things got more serious, we realised it was a bit long and sounded like an airline. We chose the name Talitha Rise from a biblical story where Jesus brings a young girl back from the dead by holding out his hand and proclaiming “Talitha Koum” (which means ‘Talitha, rise!’).
To us, it felt very apt. Our music is often focused on existential experiences: what it is to be alive and to be human; how you can live through the worst things that can happen and still find hope. It represents rebirth and a phoenix rising from the ashes. I, personally, have been saved by music many times and hope that something we write will at least help someone know they are not alone in their thoughts, experiences and feelings.
Martyn. Your guitar playing reminds me of Folk and Rock legends. I know you have performed with the likes of Robert Plant. Which musicians do you admire most and have influenced you as a performer?
Well, My favourite drummers have to be Ringo (Starr), Phil Collins; John Bonham and Max Roach.
There are so many musicians I admire that are not famous but hugely influential – especially in my guitar playing!
Jo. Your voice evokes suggestions of Stevie Nicks. Is she a big idol of yours and which singers/vocalists have meant the most to you?
Ha, ha. I always laugh at this because no, I actually did not like Fleetwood Mac at all when I was younger – but have become very fond of them now I’m older; and I do love Stevie! I don’t see the comparison at all (though it is very, very flattering!) apart from my penchant for wafting around in vintage dresses and my love of bohemia in general.
I was originally inspired as a child by listening to The Beatles and Genesis – and a lot of my vocal idols originally were men. Tim Buckley, Thom Yorke and Mike Patton (of Faith No More) being some big ones I could mention. Though I sang since early childhood, my first love was guitars – and I wanted to be a lead guitarist – so I didn’t take singing songs seriously until later. I have always deeply loved Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Björk so there is a lot of that going on there, too. I think there are so many vocalists I love. Always those not afraid to be different: even at times, ugly in their sound and using their voice like an instrument, I lean towards that and anything that feels genuine in emotion.
Your debut E.P., Blue, saw guest appearances from Chris Difford (Squeeze) and Juldeh Camara (Robert Plant). What was the recording experience like and how would you say your music has changed, if at all, since those days?
Jo: We recorded Blue in a small room in Little Horsted -just the two of us playing most things. We were experimenting and trying out these landscapes of sound and story together and were really lucky to have some amazing support from people like Chris and Juldeh.
I think our music has matured since then though we still recorded the new record in tiny rooms and again: just the two of us playing everything most of the time.
We’ve found ourselves through our music and it’s become rawer and even more emotional. I think we’ve got braver as time’s marched on. The new album has gravity to it that Blue, perhaps, doesn’t. The E.P. was pastoral and I’d say the forthcoming album is more existential and otherworldly. It’s like a teenager that grew up and finally left the safety of home.
The chemistry between the two of you is evident in the music and live performances. What is the secret behind that bond, would you say?
Jo: I think we’ve got a rare connection that is what I would call a spiritual friendship. We’ve spent so much time in the same room and breathed the same air we have an instinctual knowing and sensitivity of what the other is thinking and feeling. We have a great love and respect for each other and a desire to get the best (out of the other one). We both play all instruments and there’s never been a moment where we’ve argued: “No, I’m playing bass this time!”.
It’s always been organic and equal. It’s luck that you meet someone you can make music (you’ve always wanted) and not want to murder each other! There is humbleness there – very Zen; very balanced and it’s always evolving. I’m like a firefly and Martyn is like a slow-moving ship – that is good combination! I don’t know any secrets apart from just to listen, be respectful and honest. Then, you always feel safe with each other.
Martyn: There is no secret about our chemistry…
We just get together in a room and magic that is inexplicable happens. We very much share the same musical influences and we (also) play lots of different instruments. I think we just take each other to places we didn’t know we could go to. The energy is always exciting when we play live. Our music is so wonderful to play (and it’s us)!
Talitha Rise are based in East Sussex. What is the music like where you are and do you feel there are enough opportunities to get your music out there?
Jo: I think the music scene in Sussex is great! There are so many amazing musicians here at all different stages and it’s wealthy in creativity and inspiration.
We’ve met brilliant people here and you’re never short of finding something brilliant from Brighton to an old country lane and abandoned barn. Amazing art is everywhere.
I think, regarding opportunities to get your music out there, it’s an age-old question. We’re all on a rock in space together and I think we have to see music opportunities nowadays as both global and local. We’re always trying to choose places that suit the music we do instead of gigging for the sake of it – and Sussex has some lovely old churches and venues that work great for that. The world is saturated with entertainment and music but no-one ever tires of genuineness. I’m hungry always to be hit in the chest by something real and I have faith others do, too.
Martyn: It’s limited really out here. I think it’s deep with creative people and the landscape is so inspiring. In fact, a lot of our music is influenced by the energy and landscape of East Sussex. But, we do need to get out into the bigger world. That’s where we want to inspire mostly.
I believe you guys have an album coming out. When can we hear that and what sort of songs can we hear on that?
Jo: Our first album, Tides of Gravity, comes out later this year. As it’s self-funded, it’s still up to us to earn the pennies to mix it – but it’s pretty much done now. The songs are of an arc but all very different. We’ve got too many tracks for the record so are asking them which ones want to stay and which want to be bonus tracks right now.
There’s some dark Folk; some World influences and, as I said, a bit more grit than the Blue E.P. We’ve got a great track with songwriter Nick Webb on there called Bloodfox which I’m very excited about and a hypnotic track called Valley – which Kathryn Williams wrote the lyrics for. I think when people hear the new single, The Lake, next month they will get a good idea where the album is focused.
Martyn: We have a new single and video called The Lake that we are very excited about as it will be the beacon for an up-and-coming full-album (to be released later in the year).
Will there be any live dates following that, and if so, where are you guys heading? Can we see you in London anytime soon?
Jo: We’re doing a mini-tour in April with Nick Webb which includes a headline gig at The Con Club in Lewes – with a very special guest joining us on stage. I’m not allowed to say who it is yet.. but I am beyond-excited by this person’s vision and sound (and that I will get to work with them live)! Then, we’ll tour the album later this year. We’ll be in London for the Acoustic Highways Sessions in King’s Cross (in August) and I’m sure more dates will get added during the next few months, too.
Martyn. You are back on tour with Shriekback – the first time in twenty-five years. Are you excited about that and what compelled the move to ‘reunite’, as it were?
Very excited about it! It will be a great show and experience to play tunes with old friends after so long.
Looking back at your careers so far: what have been the favourite memories for each of you?
Jo: I think there are many brilliant memories but one of the best was our Christmas show in Lewes (in 2015) with Juldeh Camara on riti; the legendary Henry Thomas on bass and Tony Shepherd on drums. I remember playing and feeling like I was flying. It was surreal and one of those pinch-yourself-moments. I could have been with these people in a broom cupboard or Madison Square Gardens. It wouldn’t have mattered: it was (just) magic!
Martyn: Some amazing concerts with Shriekback, Jo Beth and Robert Plant; memorable studio experiences with Jo Beth – and too many people to mention.
2017 has only just begun. What kind of plans do you have for the remainder of the year?
Jo: This is a mega year for us. So, it’s more a case of fitting it all in! We’ve got the new single and video about to come out; finishing the album, gigs; another single I should imagine (following). Then, releasing and touring the album; fitting this all in around Mart’s Shriekback gigs, too. It’s an exciting time, so we’ll just go with it and see where we end up by the end of the year!
Martyn: The release of the new Talitha Rise album that we want to show the world. Concerts (too) with Shriekback.
If you each had to select one album that has meant most to you; what would that be and why?
Jo: Dream Letter by Tim Buckley. This is a record I listened to solidly (as in nearly all I listened too) for about two years. At the time, I was travelling around a lot. I was painting fishing boats in Cornwall (actually painting the boats in a yard) working in a restaurant in Helford whilst living in a caravan on a farm – where all you could see were crates out the windows and no view.
Moving on (I went) to working in a rowdy bar in Glastonbury. All with my guitar wrapped in a jumper – as I didn’t have the case for it. This record changed my life; it changed how I thought songs were meant to be and it showed me the power of spontaneity and being totally brave with your instrument – whether that’s your voice, pen or guitar. Tim is one of my biggest loves and inspirations and I never grow tired of this record. It’s pure in every way.
Martyn: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis.
What advice would you give for songwriters coming through at the moment?
Jo: The older I get… the less I know for sure. However…
Keep doing it! Once the God of Song has chosen you, she doesn’t give up! Accept it; go with it and don’t try to fit in with anything else around you – no matter how tempting it seems at times.
If you were hoping for a normal life, turn back now. If you have to work full-time to support your music career: don’t worry, you haven’t failed. You just happen to live in England and it’s quite normal right now. You don’t need to believe in yourself: you’re not a fictional character. But keep faith in your art. Repeat this mantra: rejection is my protection!
Regarding the music industry: don’t expect and don’t assume anything. Or, as Martyn wisely said once, the music industry has changed. It now lives in your heart. Don’t worry about your age, your popularity and all this stuff so much. Only you can sing your songs and ‘real’ will never go out of fashion.
Martyn: Believe in yourself; be brave and be happy in your work!
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Jo: I have the biggest girl-crush on Aldous Harding. I just think she is amazing: not only vocally and songwriting-wise but her ability to (just) be totally herself. I love it when someone can express themselves and not try to be anything or anyone. It’s raw and real.
We’re living in a time where we are rich in artists and poor in exposure (of the) weird and wonderful. Things have been somewhat homogenised in the popular market for the main part. She is a totally rare find as far as I’m concerned and I’d urge anyone looking for something enriching and heart-piercing music wise to check her out.
Martyn: Haley Ross. She is a singer-songwriter I have been producing on Barracuda Records.
Finally, and for being good sports, you can each select a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Jo: Just because it never gets boring – no matter how much you hear it – and it’s one of my most favourite tracks: Moments of Pleasure by Kate Bush.
Martyn: Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who
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