I was surprised to discover earlier this year that Snakefarm were releasing their sophomore album "My Halo At Half-Light" on English indie label Fledg'ling. Surprised because it had been roughly thirteen years since their debut album "Songs From My Funeral" had been released.
In the intervening years "Songs From My Funeral" has spent a lot of time on my various record/cd/mp3 players and all the indications are that "My Halo At Half-Light" will do the same.
I discovered Snakefarm duo to lead vocalist Anna Domino's solo work holding prominent slots in my collection back in the 80s and 90s. Michel Delory joined Anna's band, became her partner both musically and emotionally and Snakefarm came to be.
With songs interpreted from the American Folk idiom, both albums can easily be considered, dark, almost gothic, as much aural images and stories as songs. The albums are full of powerful events and people, stories that have survived long after the people that inspired them are dead and buried and whilst you'll know the songs, Snakefarm make them their own.
A chance to talk to Anna and Michel was something I just couldn't resist.
#SF=Snakefarm #NK=Neil King
#NK First of all thank you for taking the time to do this interview
#SF: … indistinct mumbling, shuffling of feet… cough
#NK I guess we need to start with the length of time between your debut "Songs From My Funeral" and the new album "My Halo At Half-Light" why so long ?
#SF: Short answer: life/death got in the way plus apparent and total lack of interest from industry. We do like to work as a team, being in truth a one man band. It get's lonely in a vacuum.
Long answer: after last tour I sat in the crummy motel room, exhausted, heart broken and broke. Label dropped us, the tour was all wrong, health and bank account spent. Couldn't stop myself from continuing to write but I didn't pursue labels for some time and when I did there was no response. But then I know few people in the label world. Eventually it HAD to be finished so we could move on and for that we needed to get out of the house! So, I went to Ian Anderson at fRoots and he put us in touch with David Suff (Fledg'ling) and then, through more friends, I found some one to help with the mix and mastering (Luc Weytjens) and a cover artist (Kiekebiche) both miraculously free and brilliant. Thinking up the title took a really long time…
#NK With such an extensive range of songs from the American folk songbook, was it a difficult process selecting the tracks for this album?
#SF: Nope, the cast of characters just came, like ghosts or old friends, to visit me one by one. We wanted to include a few more but I'm trying to stay strictly in the public domain so, for instance, Irene, though recorded, was left out… for now
#NK Whilst "My Halo At Half-Light" still feels like a dark and brooding album there is, for want of a better term, a lower body count, was that a conscious decision?
SF: Not at all. Didn't set out, on either record, to focus on murder and death, but there is a lot of it about, in the canon. I don't set out criteria for a project it's more a process of opening the studio door and listening, sort of.
#NK Anna, when you were recording songs like "Pome To Doctor Sax" during your solo career did you expect slightly macabre tracks like that to lead you down this road?
#AD: "Pome on Dr Sax" was done for a Kerouac tribute. With its surprise appearances of Bella and Boris it seems more goofy than macabre. Was already working on Snakefarm at the time. But really the Snakefarm songs are just what I grew up with (me Anna, Michel has a different soundtrack in his head) these are the songs I first learned to play, that my grandfather and father sang…"And he laid her down in a love-a-lie grave" (my grandpa, after dinner, all 62 verses, but what is the song?)
#NK And following that through to both of you in more detail, what do you think it is about the human psyche that makes murder ballads and funeral songs so easy for people to take to their hearts and give them a life way beyond the years of the people they are about?
#SF: Oof, that's the great puzzling heart of the thing isn't it? For me these songs are more complicated than simple murder ballads. They each tell a different story which sometimes ends, or revolves around, a death. That Great Unknown. True, there are a passel of ballads wherein a young woman is enticed to a lonely spot (often near water) and done in but even within that subject there is a lot of variation: "Tom Dooley" killed Laura Foster at the behest of his new girl friend. Laurie was probably pregnant and a problem, they claimed she had venereal disease at the hearing and Tom is left to face his death alone. "Banks of the Ohio" describes the death of a virginal innocent who refuses the advances of an older man who is in anguish after his violent impulse leaves her dead. "Omie Wise" has to die as she was pregnant (again) which would have been a great burden to young John Lewis. But before he throws her in the river he hugs her and kisses her, he loves her. "Sadie", well there's no explanation there except a man in a mood with a gun meets a girl and kablooie, catharsis attained! I could go on and on and on…
These songs express feelings everyone entertains but can't act on or often express: desperate longing, anguish of betrayal, murderous rage, heartbreak, loss and plain old FEAR. When we sing these songs together or to each other we are comforted, we are not alone with our terrors, loneliness and fury. The death of innocents is a great cathartic call to weep for our own innocence. And what do we think happens to Maggie? Corey? The fair young maid in "The Bachelor"? And is Michael's boat plying the river Jordan to freedom or is it the river Styx?
From album "Songs From My Funeral"
Songs From My Funeral
My Halo At Half-Light
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