Interview: Two Wings

I recently spoke to Glasgow-based glittering folk-rock ensemble Two Wings for The List. Here’s the full transcript of our chat.

Hanna – can you please tell me a bit about the ways in which birds have informed / inspired your art? I remember an interview Nalle did with Plan B magazine some years back, in which you spoke about the possibilities of communicating with birds, and I believe you’ve studied bird-life since – do they continue to inform your work?

Hanna Tuulikki: I’ve been fascinated with our feathered friends for as long as I can remember. Over the years, within various art and musical projects, I have made drawings and written songs about them, imitated their sounds with my voice and and attempted to interact musically with them.

Perhaps I’m drawn to birds because they are the most recognisably ‘musical’ of species other than ourselves, but also symbolically, they connect us to the sky and the heavens, as well as carrying a variety of other meanings in our folklore and mythologies.

Where do you think this avian fascination originated?  

HT: To be honest, I’d much rather have a syrinx and wings than a larynx and arms! After all, birds are the masters of the two things that I admire (and long for) the most: to sing and to fly. I have managed something akin to the first of those but don’t think I will be able to physically fly in this life time!

I always think your love for birds rings true in the moniker Two Wings, although I’m guessing the name actually derives from Ben’s earlier solo LP of the same name?

HT: The name Two Wings for me is definitely symbolic of this yearning, but yes you’re right – really it comes from the title of Ben’s first solo guitar album. It also happens to be the first record we collaborated on, as I did the artwork for the cover. However, Ben’s album was in turn, named after a gospel song by Rev. Utah Smith called ‘I Got Two Wings’.

Two Wings, though, is perhaps less about birds, and more about our song writing collaboration – each of us is a ‘wing’ in this process!

Hanna – can you please tell me a bit about how your singing / writing with Two Wings differs (or not!) from your experiences in Nalle and Scatter, and maybe also where the RM Hubbert collaboration fits into this?

Nalle draws upon folk music from the four corners of the globe, exploring loose song structures with acoustic instruments (sometimes it was called free-folk, psych-folk, avant-folk etc.) In contrast (but not in opposition!) Two Wings grows out of the more Anglo-American traditions of folk, folk-rock, soul, gospel, country, rockabilly, rock, pop and so on, and a shared passion for the craft of composing and arranging songs. This is reflected in a slightly more conventional set up of two guitars, bass and drums, as well as 3 part harmonies and guitar solos!

Going electric has also meant that I have had to learn to sing louder and stand up when we perform, which in itself has been quite liberating! But I would say that I will always be drawn towards exploring the different facets of my voice and that goes for all projects!

In terms of writing, where as with Nalle I was the main songwriter bringing songs to the group, in Two Wings Ben and I share the writing process. Occasionly we will sit down together and write a song from scratch. But often we write one step at a time, for example, I’ll come up with an idea and then Ben will add to it or vise versa. But sometimes we also write alone and then give each other our completed songs to then arrange and play about with. I think we are learning alot from one another. Really, we are lucky to have found each other!

I was only part of Scatter very briefly.

As for RM Hubbert, I was totally honoured to be involved in his album. What a lovely man! He approached me with an instrumental piece that he had written on guitar in collaboration with Marion Kenny on guzheng (chinese harp). I then went away and wrote a vocal melody and lyrics, and that became the song Sunbeam Melts the Hour. It was a pleasure to work with Hubby and Marion and to play live a couple of times.

What would you say are your main sources of inspiration in terms of Two Wings’ music and aesthetic?

HT: I write songs to help me navigate through my current thoughts or feelings and have a tendency to be drawn towards analogies and metaphors. So I look to art, mythology and poetry that does the same, but I guess personal experience is my main source of inspiration for lyrics. Love’s Spring is very much an album about relationships and all their joys and struggles…

Ben Reynolds: Some of the songwriters I admire are Ray Davies, Tom Verlaine, Smokey Robinson, Mickey Newbury, Bruce Springsteen, and Richard Thompson. Musically, I like the live arrangements found in old soul music and then later in Van Morrison and Dexys Midnight Runners.

I like the ‘Nashville’ sound, rockabilly, the foot stomping folk-rock sound of Steeleye Span, as well as the more polished 70s studio production of pop bands like Wings or Fleetwood Mac…. guitarists that have been most influential on my playing are people like Richard Thompson, Grady Martin, Scotty Moore, Steve Van Zandt, Tom Verlaine, Elliott Easton, George Harrison, Peter Green, Lindsey Buckingham and Prince….

HT: My favourite vocalists are often those that explore the outer reaches of their voices in some way. Examples might be the playful phrasing of Billie Holiday or Patti Smith, the freedom of Van Morrison and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the diverse textures or timbre of the voice such as Buffy Sainte Marie and Wanda Jackson, or the unusual ornamentation of Paddy Tunney and John Jacob Niles.

I also tend to become obsessed with singers that have explored different characters within their voices over years of making albums such as Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Tim Buckley, Bjork or Bob Dylan. Then I absolutely love to sing in harmonies and take inspiration from the Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris, The Young Tradition, Fleetwood Mac, Richard and Linda Thompson, Linda Perhacs and The Watersons.

I think good harmony singers change their voices through listening to each other in order to create a cohesive blend. I really enjoy singing harmonies in the band with Ben, Lucy and Kenny and feel like their voices in that context influence my own.

But the music Love’s Spring owes as much to other members of the band as it does to mine or Ben’s personal influences. Kenny Wilson (bass and vocals), Lucy Duncombe (vocals) and David Hayward (drums) all brought something new to the mix, as did producer John Cavanagh. It was recorded quite early on our journey and captures us getting to know one another musically. Since then, David has left the band as he lives down in England and so we have a new addition Owen Curtis Williams on drums. Since Owen joined, we have been able to play together more regularly as finally we all live in the same city! As a result, it feels like we are starting to find our own shared sound as a band that feels more cohesive than previously – perhaps we understand each other better now!

Is being in Two Wings as much fun as it looks?

HT: Yes it is fun to play!

BR: Absolutely. It’s a real pleasure to work with good friends who are also excellent musicians, in a musical context that just seems to work.

Ben – can you please tell me a bit about how your singing / writing with Two Wings differs (or not!) from your experiences in Trembling Bells and Ashtray Navigations, and maybe also where your work as a solo artist fits into this?

I had very little writing input in either of those groups (Ashtray Navigations was wholly improvised). Two Wings has been entirely different in that the songs have been written either by myself or Hanna individually or by us both collaboratively. It turns out that we make a great team in this respect! There seems to be very little conflict between our respective approaches to writing and arranging and I think we have a lot of respect for each others differing strengths.

Ben – when you released your solo Two Wings album in 2008, did you have any sense that its title would take on such a colourful, lively, communal life of its own?

I had no idea at all. Especially as at that time I was most concerned to develop my steel string finger-style skills, something I have since entirely abandoned for the far more satisfying craft of playing electric guitar solos!

Two Wings play Glasgow’s Nice N Sleazy on April 8, more tour dates here. Love’s Spring is out at the end of April.

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