Rag Foundation are a welsh five piece with quite a distinguished variety of influences. While they draw a lot of inspiration from traditional Welsh folk, their forthcoming single 'Run' has more in common with the likes of Noah and The Whale and Fleetwood Mac, as its layered harmonies make it hugely listenable and more than a little catchy. We caught up with them for a quick chat.
Contactmusic: Please tell us about Rag Foundation, how you guys formed, who is in the band and what your aims are.
Rag Foundation: We are an Alt-Folk band from South Wales. Neil Woollard (Vocals), Kate Ronconi (Fiddle & Vocals), Richard Cowell (Guitar), Danny KilBride (Bass) and Huw Rees (Drums). Neil and Kate met at Art College and formed Rags. Rich came along and cemented the early Rags sound. You can hear this on our first album MINKA which was on Fflach : tradd. It's very much an English language traditional album of folk songs from Swansea and South Wales drawing from the songs of Neil's ancestor Phil Tanner, the traditional singer from Gower in South Wales, often referred to as the Gower Nightingale.
We've always been quite a restless band musically so Huw joined on drums to explore new sounds and beats. We'd known Danny from the folk scene for years; he was in a Welsh trad tunes trio with his brothers called the KIlBrides, so when he relocated to Swansea it was a real natural fit to ask him to join the band. We're very committed to pushing our boundaries as musicians, songwriters and arrangers, which is why it's probably taken us so long to release new material.
CM: Where are you from and what is the scene like there?
RF: We're all from South Wales and live in Swansea. The scene in Swansea is not as healthy as it used to be. However, there are still great artists working in the city such as Andy Tamlin Jones from Boys from the Hill, Dai Godwin from The Caves and Boatbar to Hamburg, with young bands like Nineteen Fifty Eight and Prosperina who are just emerging, the future looks bright. You should totally check them out as they're amazing. There's a real strong scene at a Wales level though, the Super Furries, Gryff Rhys, Catrin Finch, Cerys Matthews and the Manics obviously. But check out Kizzy Crawford, No Thee No Ess, Georgia Ruth, Richard James, The Gentle Good, Sweet Baboo and Joy Formidable, I've missed out loads but if you tune into Adam Walton on BBC Radio Wales he's a great advocate for what's going on in Wales.
CM: The Sparrow And The Thief is your fourth album, how is this release different from what you've done before?
RF: For a start it's done entirely by us- concept, writing, recording, publishing: the whole lot! Everything else has been done in partnership with a label before, these days getting that level of investment from labels is a lot harder to justify and of course the whole digital change since Minka has meant that instead of looking to a label to front the cost we can do it all in house and then look around afterwards to find a partner to reach more people.
The other main thing is that this album has taken a lot of time to write- it's eleven songs that have survived scrutiny, bashing around, re-writing, ditching and re-imagining. There is just more work gone into this than into anything else we've done. It is exciting though to know that this is our work driving this. We also worked with an amazing producer called Gavin Monaghan, who's worked with The Editors and Ryan Adams, he brought a real freshness and energy to our sound.
A common theme in folk music is the murder ballad. Dark songs about broken relationships and betrayal; songs about death and more. Imagine 200 years of musicians with the same obsessions as Nick Cave! The seed for the album started out with one song "In Your Hands", some of which makes up the track YOUR HANDS. It's true to say that there is so much more to say about dysfunctional relationships than there is about happy ones. So we took this dark song apart and used the idea of tracing a relationship from beginning to end. It's the first time we've deliberately looked at a narrative arc for an album.
CM: There has been comparisons to Fleetwood Mac and The Decemberists, are you fans of these bands and would you say these comparisons ring true?
RF: That's really flattering, and yes we're fans, but we've not been led by those sounds. We know and respect their work and we like a lot of what they do, and it is a nice comparison. What does ring true is that there is a sonic landscape in both bands that you could find in our music.
CM: There's a definite folk influence running throughout your music, what kinds of stories do you tell via your songs?
RF: Well spotted! We are proud of our folk music heritage. It's where we began and although this album is purely original material, don't expect 'The Sparrow & the Thief' to be a pure folk album, it's the seed but not the tree. The narrative in 'The Sparrow and the Thief' springs from the Murder Ballad tradition, likewise, as you'd expect from a bunch of working class Welshies, we can't help but harmonize.
CM: Run is the first single taken from the album, tell us more about this.
RF: 'Run' is one song from a wider narrative on the album. It's about hope. It's about the start of a relationship: That first flush of passion where you just want to run away together. What could go wrong?
CM: There was a folk resurgence a few years back and it went away again, what are you bringing to the scene that's different?
RF: It never went away, it was just in focus for while. One of the great truths about folk music is that it is always here but when it starts making money it gets called something else. Some of that is because if it makes great pop music then it is by its nature, ephemeral. What we have is authenticity, families of tradition bearers, and lifetime devotion to our native music, the ability to make the modern and ancient at the same time. Plus we'd like to think it sounds really, really good.
CM: Are you going on tour soon? What can audiences expect live?
RF: We're still working on that! We're concentrating on getting the album out to as many people as we can. We are aiming at festivals this coming summer and next and looking at how to start getting the live shows out across the UK. Audiences can expect pretty much what they hear on the record plus lots from our back catalogue. What you hear on the album is what we sound like live, layered harmonies, beats, Kate and Rich doing extraordinary things with the fiddle and guitar and then there's Neil's vocals and presence with a live audience. Plus the great thing about doing this live is that the energy is enormous. It's not like recording, which is precise and painstaking in the preparation, when we play together on stage it becomes a spontaneous electrifying show with the whole band connecting with the songs and the audience.
Run is released released 20th April 2015 via Rhondda Street Studio Recordings.