5 Minutes with… Windborne

Live to your Living Room Windborne-at-WOMEX22-by-Eric-van-Nieuwland-1-1024x815 5 Minutes with... Windborne

US vocal harmony group Windborne will be joining us live online on 25th January as part of their UK tour. Ahead of the gig, we caught up with them to find out more about their music, online gigs and going viral on TikTok!

We’re so excited to have you joining us as part of your UK tour! Have you toured much here before, and what are you looking forward to about being over here?

Lynn: This is our fifth tour in the UK, so one of the things we always look forward to is visiting our friends from past trips! We also very much enjoy going to beautiful places and taking jumping photos, getting to see historic sites (like castles!) when we have time, and we always make sure to have cream tea!

For anyone who hasn’t come across Windborne before, how would you describe your music?

Lauren: It’s always a little bit of a challenge when someone asks us to describe our sound, because our repertoire is so wide-ranging, from American and English labor songs to ancient Corsican polyphony, to modern takes on traditional Occitan folk songs. But the thing that really ties it all together is the interplay of the voices and stretching the boundaries of what might be considered “typical” harmonies for a particular style. In our music, we bring together the social singing we grew up with at pub sings and Shape-Note singing parties, the study of singing traditions from places like the Balkans, Corsica, and the Republic of Georgia, and our current inspirations listening to other groups who are also reimagining vocal folk music.

You’re known for your amazing vocal harmonies – how do you arrange your songs together?  

Lynn: Arranging the songs is a collaborative and improvisational process for us. One of us sings the melody while the others just make things up in the moment and try out a lot of different ideas while we record ourselves. Then we listen back and throw out what doesn’t work and choose which bits we think bring out the lyrics best in certain moments. We all discuss each bit and try out many different ideas and eventually work out a whole arrangement.

In terms of the songs you perform, you often focus on themes of social justice – how do you go about finding and choosing songs?

Will: We’re really passionate about keeping old songs alive, so we do a lot of digging around archives and old recordings for interesting material. In terms of our social content, we see the issues of the current moment as being connected to issues that people have faced in the past. This really started for us with a song from the 1840s called Song on the Times. It was written during a time when the gap between rich and poor was really quite dramatic with the rich having balls and elaborate dinners while people starved in the street, but that’s true again today with massive inflation hitting everyday folks where it hurts, all the while companies are posting record profits.

So what we try to do is to revive this old material, labor songs, songs for people’s rights, democratic rights, racial and gender justice, and make connections either through framing or adding verses to show how the struggles of today descend from the struggles of the past.

We heard you’ve been going down a storm on TikTok – tell us about that! Do you think channels like TikTok could play a role in bringing folk to a broader audience?

Jeremy: TikTok was kind of a surprise for us. We got on during the sea shanty craze in 2020, but it was actually a video of us singing Corsican music in Mont Saint Michel that first gave us a taste of virality. The platform is really good at showing people what they probably might like – as opposed to what they already know they like. And it kind of changed our perception of who was interested in our music, because all these young people who had never encountered the kind of music we do were getting so excited about it. It’s continued to be a really fun aspect of how we are drawing new folks in. 

What are your thoughts on online gigs – have you done many before?

Lauren: We started doing online shows during the pandemic, and we quickly realized that livestreams are such a special way to perform. We heard from so many people who said how much they loved feeling like they were in the front row, and it was really fun to watch the chat throughout a show and see folks connecting with each other across many miles and time zones. It’s also an incredible way to address issues of accessibility, not just in terms of pandemic safety. With most venues or concert series, we might tour there once every few years, but with livestreaming, we’ve been able to play for those folks every few months, so it has strengthened our connection with a lot of our audience.

We’re especially excited to have an online show during our UK tour, because so often our audiences on this side of the pond have had to stay up til the wee hours to watch our livestreams, so now they can catch our show at a reasonable hour!

What else is in store for Windborne this year?

Will: In March, we’re headed off for a tour of the West Coast of the US and Canada, and later in the spring we’ll be visiting some of our favorite communities in the Midwest. We’re also planning a new album based on themes of Midwinter and the Winter Solstice, so we’ll be working hard on that to get it out by the holidays.

To find out more about Windborne, check out their music on Bandcamp and all their videos over on YouTube. The band will be playing live online on Wednesday 25th January, and tickets are available here.