Daria Kulesh is a name that is becoming more and more familiar around the UK folk scene as a solo artist, duo and founder member of KARA. She's now launched a new band in which she will take the lead, but certain not be simply supported and I was fortunate to be invited along to a band practise to find out more about the new line up and where their music will take them.
First some introductions: Daria features highly in award nominations, including being holder of the 2017 Laurel Canyon Music Album of the Year for "Long Lost Home", which has rightly received rave reviews for its exploration of a land and culture which is so far removed from our own.
Kate Rouse is acknowledged as one of the finest hammer dulcimer players in the UK and has been partnering Daria for many years as founding member of KARA. With a background in classical music she is also in demand as a session musician, including playing on Ange Hardy's "Esteesee" and has led tune workshops at festivals. She's also a trained herbalist.
Marina Osman will also be familiar to those who have seen Daria performing evenings of traditional Russian music at Pushkin House in London. Marina is a classically trained musician, a pianist who who hails from Belarus and has many years of experience as both a performer and teacher Daria and Marina met in the UK through a mutual friend, much to both their delights, and formed an instant bond with their shared musical culture.
Last, but by no means least,Tristan Sueme is also a well know and highly respected guitarist on the folk circuit, playing with Jackie Oates' band for many years as well as being a composer with two solo albums to his name. His inclusion in the band is one of those acts of serendipity that sometimes comes about as he'd initially been contacted as a potential replacement for Ben Honey when he had to make a choice of direction and chose to leave KARA. Tristan actually left the e-mail unread and so Pete Morton was asked to join. When change in circumstances meant Tristan eventually got around to replying to see if anything was happening he found himself in just the right place at the right time.
Having met the band I wondered what sound they were going for and the audience they were targeting. It soon became clear that a lot of thought had gone in to this. Kate told me they were looking at the bigger folk clubs, which would be necessary anyway to find room for them all, as well as festivals. Indeed they're working on a set list which will cover both a full 90 minute club booking and 45 minute festival slot. Daria was also keen that the festival sound would include bigger, faster tunes that would get people moving.
So, would it be a "folk" band? That's possibly a harder one to answer. Daria has been exploring her heritage recently and will be able to bring that with her, helped by Marina, so we can certainly expect both Russian/Ingush songs and these may well be traditional. Kate can write some beautiful tunes and is working on more. I got the impression that Daria and Kate will be the main writers for the quartet although Tristan is also a composer. In addition, old friends such as Ben Honey may still be contributing songs and there is the back catalogue to call on. There will also be some traditional tunes in English, if they're the right ones. So there will be old and new material and a mix of styles, but generally under the heading of acoustic and traditional.
The talk of musical styles inevitably led on to KARA, a band I'd seen many times and always enjoyed seeing. It came as quite a surprise to me that I took possibly the last picture of them, when they played at Dunton Folk Club back in October, although none of the audience were aware of it at the time. So what happened? In the end it came down to questions of time and identity. Daria, Pete Morton and Phil Underwood all have established careers as both solo artists or within collaborations, which meant that organising dates when the band could get together became difficult. Then there was the question of where the musical boundaries and separate identities lay in what had become an ensemble. Daria told me that one of the most popular requests at a KARA gig was "The Moon and The Pilot", a beautiful tune she had written but one they didn't play as it was part of her solo career. Although the passing of KARA is sad they leave behind a legacy of two excellent albums and many happy memories and that is the best way to finish if you're going to.
It was time to move on to the future and see what that would bring as I watched the band both build and rehearse "The Lovers' Tasks", an American version of the better known Scarbrough Fair. The fascination for me was watching how the piece evolved. With very gifted musicians playing there could be possibilities for conflict, but the four of them continually worked on what was best for the song. It started with Kate opening on the hammered dulcimer before Marina came in with the piano, they then stepped back to allow Daria's vocals, supported by Tritan's guitar, to take over. There was this incredibly democratic honesty, too, with Tristan at one point saying that one of the others should taking the lead on a particular section, rather than him, as it would sound better. This interplay between the four was a feature of the session, with everything being discussed and everybody being willing to try something new. There was plenty of laughter, too, to keep everything light and I discovered that Daria no longer offers to count in a song. Apparently she can chose some funny speeds to do it at! She does, however, offer to make the coffee whilst the others are working the more musical problems out. This is quite clearly going to be a quartet of friends who enjoy being in each other's company.
Ultimately, they will be judged by the sound that comes from the stage and I think that judgement is going to be very favourable. Before I heard them I had wondered how the dulcimer and piano would work together as it's a combination I'd not seen before and to my untrained musical mind they appear to be very closely related. However, there are some key differences; two hammers to ten fingers, a sustain pedal on the piano and a bigger sound box. I found that the two complemented rather than competed and, as mentioned earlier, weave in and out of the song. It added, rather than subtracted, to a rather otherworldly sound which goes very well with Daria's voice.
The impression I came away with is that this is a band that is going to build over time, and get better as it does. There's a real strength in depth amongst the members and they have the range to cross boundaries, both physical and geographical. There will be new songs, undoubtedly. During a break we discussed song writing techniques and where the music comes from. Daria described her method as like picking locks, there's the original idea which then gets worked and teased until a result is obtained. She was working a new song at the time and just a couple of days later came the message that "the lock had been picked" and a new song, with a few tweaks, was ready.
Eventually the rehearsals have to finish and I'm looking forward to seeing the quartet playing live in front of an audience. We don't have too long to wait as the 2018 diary is starting to fill already. The opening evening for the band will be on January 17 at the Lamb Folk Club in Eastbourne followed by dates in Westcliffe-on-Sea, Cambridge, Oxford and St Albans. The first festival slot has been confirmed as well, at the Festival at the Edge in July. It's an impressive start, with lots more to come I sure, so it's worth checking the website on a regular basis.
I would like to thank all the members of the quartet for letting come along. It can't be easy to have an outsider watching a work in progress, but they were obviously excited for the future and rightly so. This is going to be a band that will attract attention.
Tony Birch - Words and Pics
Interview shared with laurelcanyonuk.com/