To celebrate 10 years together – as well as eight babies, innumerable house-moves and many memorable gigs (some for the right reasons) – the folk string quartet release their third album, Vortex, next month. They tell Big Issue North the story so far.
Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
Our paths first crossed at the EAC summer school, which is held at the magical Ruskin Mill College in Stroud every summer. The course founder, Chris Wood, has been a big influence with his approach to discovering the individual voice inside all of us. Miranda then brought Methera together out of a longing to explore the sound palette of the string quartet through the medium of the traditional music we were all passionate about. We always play in the round, in a close inward-facing circle. It means we hear every detail of the collective sound and can bounce off each other’s ideas in real time. The individual notes we play are rarely set in stone – rather, they are influenced by the room, the acoustic, the audience and what we are hearing in the moment.
How have you evolved as a band over the years?
In the first years, we would spend days on end playing around with one tune, experimenting with the sound and the format a folk string quartet could take. Sometimes we used arrangements by our contemporaries as a starting point, with the manuscript pegged up on a washing line. We found ourselves distracted by paper and props, and the method was quickly replaced by time-consuming but extremely satisfying democratic arranging as a group. Now, 10 years, eight babies, innumerable house-moves and so many lovely, memorable gigs down the line, we have a tighter schedule, which has resulted in condensed, inspired rehearsals with slightly less cake! We have had several influential collaborations over the years. In 2009 we did a double bill tour with Kerr Fagan Harbron and it was lovely to discover the soundscapes we could make when accompanying singing. Another has been our collaboration with Swedish storyteller Mats Rehnman to create Strange Lovers – a show that explores the body language and voices of the string quartet and the rhythm and dance of the narrator. It has been an ear-opener for Methera to work across different art forms. Several of the pieces on our new album have stemmed from working with Mats.
Were there any alternative band names before you arrived at this one?
No, just plenty of bad ideas before we arrived at Methera, which means four in an old northern sheep-counting system. At one of our recent gigs we were given four beautifully hand-crocheted sheep by a member of the audience!
What are you up to at the moment artistically?
This year is our 10th anniversary as a gigging quartet, and we are celebrating with the launch of our third album, Vortex, and a national tour starting on 18 November.
How to you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
Our intimate settings and the connection our music has to the room, atmosphere and audience, giving a unique and memorable performance. We have been performing in the round since the birth of Methera, and have stubbornly stuck to it even though some venues would prefer otherwise. It always pays off though – in our gig book, audiences write “so magical to see and feel your interaction” and “you create a vortex of sound that spirals out of the circle”, which sums up what we are trying to convey.
What’s on your rider?
No PA please! Four armless chairs in the middle of the space with audience seating set out in the round. Backstage: hummus, celery, cake, fine tea and a babysitter.
Tell us about your worst live show.
We once did a church gig in February with no heating, and were then hosted in a freezing house with multiple dogs and cats wanting to share our beds (and breakfast). Another time, we were preparing for a sold-out house concert and Lucy got a desperate call from home – her husband had appendicitis and was alone with their two toddlers. So Lucy got in the car, drove five hours home, looked after Jamie and arranged babysitters, then drove five hours back to the gig, to arrive (not entirely in the right mood) in the interval. The rest of Methera joined forces with our brilliant companion/recording engineer/colleague Rob Harbron to create a spontaneous support act. Meanwhile, a member of the audience was heard snoring (apparently that’s a sign of being utterly content).
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