Guitar duo Oka Vanga appeared seemingly from nowhere in 2014 with the release of their album "Pilgrim". Before long they were attracting excellent reviews and airplay on a number of internet and terrestrial radio stations.
Entirely instrumental, "Pilgrim" featured on a number of end of year lists and also gained Oka Vanga the Fatea Instrumental Album Of The Year award, up against some fierce competition.
Mid-October sees Oka Vanga showing off their unexpected new direction with the release of "Tales Of Eyam". Fatea has been lucky enough to be the first to feature their new video, "Song Of The Dale" which seemed to create a great opportunity to catch up with Will And Angie.
You seemingly burst onto the scene out of nowhere with the album Pilgrim, but I'm sure like a lot of sudden successes there was a lot of hard work behind it. How did the duo come about and how you pick your name?
Will: We like the name Oka Vanga because it's bold. I think it's one that doesn't immediately pigeon-hole us to one genre. We have been playing together for 7 years so yes, it does feel as though it has been quite a journey! When we started off by jamming together as a duo I think our first gig was at an open mic and luckily we had a great reception! I think after that we instinctively knew that we were onto a good thing.
Whilst on the subject of names, "Pilgrim" seems and interesting title.
Angie: We decided to put the album together after our daughter was born. We had taken about 10 months out of playing and a few people told me that I might as well kiss goodbye to playing guitar if I was going to be a Mum. So putting out an album was really important to me. I knew that we had some great pieces to share with people and I think, metaphorically, it was the culmination of that particular musical journey. "Skull & Bones" is one of the first pieces we ever wrote together and "Wild-flower" (written for our daughter) was the last piece we wrote for the album. The title "Pilgrim" seemed to fit the idea that we had reached our musical destination.
What was the inspiration behind the album?
Will: We were keen to make a 'listenable' album that perhaps showcased some of our quieter more introspective pieces. We very much wanted to present an album that was 'substance over style' and too often guitarists can lose their way and it's about finding a balance. Up until then we had been regarded as very much a 'high octane' guitar duo, so we really wanted to give a platform to some of our quieter pieces such as "Beneath the Southern Sky". Up until that point, we had put together some recordings, but because we were still finding our way musically we just hadn't been ready to release a full album.
And was it a difficult decision to go instrumental throughout?
Angie: We spend a lot of time performing instrumental music live so we were very comfortable with idea of a purely instrumental album. We listen to a lot of instrumental music ourselves, and I think it was a natural choice. I feel that each of our instrumental pieces have their own narrative and many listeners have commented that they are like film music! So I think the tracks on the album are very accessible to listeners.
It rapidly got a lot of attention on internet radio and then via regional BBC stations was that something you were expecting?
Angie: To be totally honest, we had no real expectations! It basically took 7 years to make the album and we were totally overwhelmed by how well it was received. We have always been independent, we don't have management or a publicist or a record company so we very much rely on radio stations and publications like FATEA for their support.
Finally on the album, congratulations on it winning the Fatea Instrumental Album Of The Year, the first guitar duo to do so, but also the album featured on a number of favourite lists for the end of the year. How unexpected was that?
Will: It was very unexpected! It was a strong category with Kathryn Tickell + The Side and The Hut People so we felt it was a genuine honour to have the album recognised in that way. It was amazing to have the support of so many radio stations and, of course, FATEA Magazine so a big thank you again!
Moving onto the new EP, "Tales Of Eyam" coming off the back of Pilgrim, what prompted the decision to go to a vocal driven EP?
Will: We really believe that this is a story that needs words it would have been easy for us to put together another instrumental album but we like a challenge! The story of Eyam was something Angie was really keen to explore, and she basically had her mind made up but we knew we had to find the right platform and sound. Working with Ed Cook at Harbour Studios made it a little easier because he had already worked with us recording Pilgrim. He knows what we are about and he is great to work with. I think that with the introduction of vocals we have now added more diversity to our sound, and singing songs has also given our live performances a massive boost and a different dimension.
It does blend the narrative without compromising the instrumental integrity, how important was that?
Angie: Very important this project really allowed me to exercise my orchestration skills and it was great fun to be able to write music for other instruments. I have got into the habit of writing out music because I think it helps to experiment with different ideas, and over the years I have done this quite often for our instrumental guitar music anyway. Writing for other instruments was a new challenge, and working with Isobel Smith who plays the cello on our EP was a stroke of good fortune. She was wonderful to work with.
The story of Eyam, is one of great sacrifice, was it difficult to balance the history against the wider inspiration that the village conjures up?
Angie: The story of Eyam is heart breaking it's a very human story. We did quite a bit of research for this project and I think the themes of love, and loss and self-sacrifice are very universal. But I remember at one point thinking we would have to stop the whole project it's just because I thought it was going to be too difficult to find that balance. In the end I wrote all the songs and the pieces and then we just sat back for a while. When we finally put together the track list for "Tales of Eyam" we instinctively ended up choosing only 5 tracks, and the tracks we chose I think do strike the right balance. But we had to leave off 3 tracks to find that balance because we felt that it was important for all the tracks on the EP to work together to make it work as a concept EP.
What plans are there around the EP ?
Will: "Tales of Eyam" is coming out on 17 October, and is now available for pre-order now via our website and Bandcamp. Then we are looking forward to hitting the road, doing some radio shows to promote the EP including a live set on Sue Marchant's BBC radio show on October 25th, and various Folk Clubs including the Cambridge Folk Club on November 20th and at the Bracknell Folk Club on December the 1st.
Finally where does this sit in the longer journey ?
Angie: These are exciting times and we are always on the lookout for interesting projects. We already have a bag of new songs and some new tricks up our sleeve so we hope to have our next album out in the Summer 2016. Watch this space!
More about Oka Vanga and their releases, live dates etc can be found at: http://okavanga.com/
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