On her richly immersive new album No Summer, the currently Ireland-based folk artist Amelia Baker presents what she characterizes as a musical “scrapbook of visuals from where I live and feelings of kind of being caught between two worlds, like two different homes.” Baker releases these songs under the moniker of Cinder Well, which has been the vehicle for some poignant collaboration-oriented pieces in the past. This time, she explains, she wanted to dial into more of her personal experience in the music-infused culture of Ireland. Each one of the songs truly feel like musical snapshots via the rich intermingling of an emotionally grounded core with immersive and experience-oriented instrumentation.
The Environment of No Summer
The songs all feature a rich palette of instrumentation, with appearances from a violin, a fiddle, an organ, and more. (Mae Kessler and Marit Schmidt contributed the violin and viola, respectively, among other collaborators.) All of the moving music circulates around Baker’s soulfully poignant singing, which she uses a vehicle to tell stories from her own life and that she’s developed in the shadow of her Irish community. For instance, “Our Lady’s” is written from the perspective of an abandoned asylum building in the area where Baker has been living, which she heard stories about from locals. “In being really fascinated with this place, I would sometimes bring it up in conversations with local people that live here, and would get little anecdotes, because it was in operation until the early 2000s, so people have family members that either went there — were hospitalized there — or worked there,” Baker explains. “So yeah, I just kind of imagined the perspective, like if this building was writing something, what would it say.”
Baker has lived in Ireland for a few years at this point, and she explains that she moved there in order to study the local music. “It’s been really amazing,” Baker shares. “I moved to Ireland a few years ago to study the music, so I basically just followed that and ended up in a small town where it’s really musical — like, there’s a lot of traditional pub sessions. Obviously not right now, but that’s what drew me here — being in a small place where you can basically go play every night. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve just learned a lot of music from the people here.”
Baker explains that more than particular sound styles, she’s been particularly inspired by the overall ethos of the local music culture. By her description, music is very much a part of the local people’s lives. “To be honest, I think I was so influenced by the approach to music of people here; people who don’t have an aesthetic with their music,” Baker explains. “They just show up in the pub and they sing a song, or they’ve been playing fiddle their whole life. I learned so much musically from my time here and the way that people are really like sensitive to each other playing in a session together and the dynamics of that music. That’s kind of what I took in… even though there’s all these incredible bands out there doing really cool stuff with folk music, I was trying to draw from something more local.”
Baker’s own personal experience with music includes her spot in the California-based group Blackbird Raum, who are tagged as — among other things — folk punk on their Bandcamp page. “Basically I came to Ireland for the first time after a tour with Blackbird Raum and realized, wow, here’s Ireland, this place where people gather to play traditional music nightly,” Baker explains. “So in a way of kind of just wanting to get better at the fiddle and really dive in with something, I just got really drawn into it.”
Baker notes that she’s definitely familiar with “a lot of old-time music” from the States, pointing out that there are folks like Rhiannon Giddens and Jake Blount who are “playing and speaking about American traditional music and exposing its African American roots.” Over in Ireland and the U.K., folk-oriented artists like Lankum and Stick In The Wheel are among those who “have been really capturing the attention of the world” lately, she adds.
“Those are big moments where I was kind of like oh wow, these are kind of punks or people from DIY, more fringey music scenes who are looking at their own traditional music, the traditional music from where they’re from and doing something kind of weird with it, and also something that’s not nationalistic — they’re just using it to make something creative,” Baker notes, discussing some of her first exposure to the folk-oriented music that’s made waves in Europe.
Developing the Tunes
Folk music and its many variants definitely seem inherently conducive to creatively sharing tales that have been adapted from personal experiences. There’s an especially personal vibe that shines throughout much of the music on No Summer — there’s not an overabundance of instrumentation, so there’s an essentially consistent opportunity to focus on the particular thread of the tale getting unraveled via either the acoustic guitar, Baker’s powerful singing, or any of the other vibrantly diverse elements that bloom across the record’s soundscape.
“I had kind of a cool process with this album, because in the past, I’d had all these sound references of other albums or other bands that I kind of wanted to draw from, but I had a really different approach this time, where instead of having an idea of how I wanted it to sound sonically — like, you know, I want this this and this instrument — I actually really zoned in on what I wanted to translate with the music,” Baker explains. “I was really inspired by the place I live and this kind of very rainy, gray, cold place, where there’s a lot of churches and the particular architecture and feel of the place. I had sort of this image in my mind, like a visual, just as a really overwhelming, visceral experience of living here basically, and I wanted to translate that with the music. So, with each song I kind of let the instrumentation happen that way and would really only add what I felt was needed, so I’d dig deep into the song and then if I felt, okay, we need to add another layer here, of like an organ for example, then we do, but if we didn’t, then I just leave it.”
There’s a small electric organ that leads off the album as the background music for Baker’s rendition of the traditional song “Wandering Boy.” (There are two other renditions of traditional songs on the record, including “The Cuckoo” and “Queen of the Earth, Child of the Skies,” the latter of which is entirely instrumental.) “I liked it because it reminded me of the uilleann pipes in Irish music, the Irish bagpipes, where you kind of turn on the drone-y part of the instrument — like there’s a switch so the air is moving through — so I kind of was trying to emulate how the uilleann pipes sounded on that weird instrument,” Baker shares. “The studio, at Anacortes, was founded by Phil Elverum of The Microphones and Mount Eerie, and he has a lot of instruments that are just kind of left there from his recordings, and I’m pretty sure that was one of them. So Nick the engineer brought it out and was like, I dunno, check this thing out, and just left it.”
The instrument flows nicely with the record as a whole and helps No Summer feel like a journey right into the vibrant Irish countryside.
Photo via Jim Ghedi
Check out No Summer below! The album is available via Free Dirt Records.