Evelyn Downing, Jamie Field and Mermaid Kiss
artists' website: Mermaid Kiss
album reviews and artist reflectionsMore Evelyn Downing and Jamie Field
mermaid kiss review and artist reflections
Love Her Madly review
Reviews, interview and HTML © 2003 Russell W Elliot
all images © 2001-2003 Evelyn Downing and Jamie Field
used with permission Last Updated: 22 May 2003
Their fanbase already spans all corners of the globe, but artists Evelyn Downing and Jamie Field are only just emerging. Their hard-to-classify sound is certain to delight a broad audience blending rock, folk and singer/songwriter textures under Evelyn's stunning voice. That the lead singer is also an incredible flautist serves to broaden the depth of their sound. Read reviews of the artists' two released CDs and a demo of their forthcoming album being produced under the moniker Mermaid Kiss. Find out all about their musical and other projects in our indepth interview with them below.
Interested visitors should also read our review of Love Her Madly featuring the standout track "Summer's Almost Gone" by Evelyn and Jamie. Vocal layers perfectly blend with instrumentals and a stunning flute solo by the singer in this absolute knock-out. Those female vocal enthusiasts that follow Karnataka (Delicate Flame Of Desire review) and Mostly Autumn (album reviews) are certain to enjoy Evelyn Downing, Jamie Field and Mermaid Kiss's music.
Musical Discoveries: Please tell me a little bit about your backgrounds prior to Mermaid Kiss and the time between your last projects and the latest album.
Evelyn: Jamie and I met five years ago, when I was fourteen, so my history is somewhat short! I was primarily a flautist at the time and it took some persuading to get me to sing. But when I did it was great and we started writing more and more songs together.
Initially we arranged and performed these with a couple of my friends who were also melody instrument--clarinet and violin--players so this made arranging very hard but gave us a very good grounding in writing melody lines and counter-melodies and I think we have that to thank for some of our recent harmony work. Anna and Emily left to do other things and we continued writing and playing together. Jamie and I released Shine in December 2001 having written, recorded and played most of the instruments ourselves.
Jamie: Since then we have also released an ep Electric in December 2002. The new album’s come together much more quickly because we’re now doing the music full-time. This has also meant the songwriting has developed more quickly as well. Some of the songs on the new album are very adventurous
The question we hate most, and the one we get asked most when people find out we’re musicians is "Oh, so who do you sound like?" Because we don’t sound like anyone else--another problem for us is genre--we don’t fit neatly into any genre, the new album especially!
How did you get involved in the Love Her Madly project?
Jamie: I came across the Skipping Discs site when I was surfing the net--it may been via the CDBaby site. We’d only done one cover song before, but we played some Doors albums and liked "Summer’s Almost Gone" more than anything else, so we did that. It’s not one of the Doors more famous tracks! We contacted Rick at the label, sent him a demo which he liked and then we did the finished track.
Who are your favourite artists/bands, I mean, who else do you find yourself listening to all the time?
Jamie: That depends on the mood I’m in, time of day, wind direction and other factors. At the moment I’m listening to Sparklehorse, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Catherine Wheel, Tori Amos and lots of unsigned artists, like Transmissionary Six, Code Monkey, The Barnacles, RuinTheRain. The web’s full of great new music, much more interesting than so much of the mainstream. Lots of female stuff too: P. J. Harvey, Ani Difranco--Living In Clip is a terrific live album--Heather Nova. Half my CD collection is at Eve’s house and I’ve got a fair proportion of hers at mine!
Evelyn: Like Jamie, it depends what mood I’m in--my CD collection is quite varied really. I’ll listen to anything from John Coltrane and Nina Simone to Sparklehorse and Travis. I also listen to a lot of female singer/songwriters. Heather Nova is a favourite as she was one of the first women artists to inspire me but I also love Tori Amos, Paula Cole, Natalie Merchant, Rickie Lee Jones, P. J. Harvey, anyone with a great voice and an ability to write a song! I also have a lot of respect for Avril Lavigne--going against the mainstream pop rubbish we hear so much of and succeeding is quite an achievement.
Evelyn, how did you develop your vocal style? Can you elaborate further on your musical 'training/education'.
Evelyn: I actually have had no vocal training whatsoever. I have picked up tips from books and friends but basically I open my mouth and see what comes out! OK, so I think a bit more carefully that that sometimes. I have also found that as my voice has developed it has become a lot lower and I now can’t sing some songs in the key we wrote them in.
Flute was my first instrument. I started playing at the age of ten and was classically trained for many years so I got all my grasp of theory and reading music from that. Since I have been writing songs though I have found it essential to play either guitar or piano so I have picked up a bit of both. Jamie taught me guitar and my little sister taught me piano. Both are very useful instruments to play but I wouldn’t say I was good at either.
How about you Jamie, what kind of training/eduction have you had?
Jamie: I am totally self taught. Unlike Evelyn, I started quite late--didn’t pick up a guitar with any serious intent until I was seventeen. I was clueless--didn’t know where to begin, didn’t know any chord shapes, so couldn’t play other people’s songs, so just started making things up instead--putting fingers on various frets to see what sounded good to me and then singing along. That’s how I started songwriting, it really was that simple.
Once I had a couple of chords I was away. I made up for the lack of chords by concentrating on melody I think. I still use very unconventional chord-fingerings and unfortunately I’ve passed these on to Evelyn! Strangely, there’s no musical heritage, as it were, in either Evelyn’s family or mine, we’re both kind of first generation musicians.
What artists to you feel have influenced your music over time?
Evelyn: I get a great deal of pleasure from trying not to sound like anyone else but that doesn’t mean I don’t have influences I guess. As I said before, Heather Nova was a big influence as she was one of the first artists I heard who was doing something similar to what I wanted to do. I only really strarted listening to ‘good’ music a few years ago, before that it was just radio. REM are quite an important influence for me in terms of their songwriting and Sparklehorse for the atmosphere they create in their music.
Jamie: Showing my age here, but the band I first got seriously into was Crosby, Stills Nash and Young. I adored their harmonies. There was nothing else like it at the time. The chordings I use much of the time have weird harmonies in them. David Crosby’s solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name opened my ears too. There are some extraordinary tracks and harmonies on that. Around the same time I was also listening bands like Yes and Caravan. The musicianship of those guys was amazing, just a sheer pleasure to listen to and gawp at!
Now I suppose it’s groups like Sparklehorse that I enjoy listening to, but I will listen to anything that’s a little bit different. I don’t think we’re actually influenced by anything we listen to now--we’ve got our own sound--that’s one of the things we’ve strived for: not to sound like anyone else.
Explain the creative process to us please.
Evelyn: The recent addition of a pc and home recording software has completely changed our creative processes but basically it is a team effort. Generally Jamie or I will produce an idea. Perhaps it is an interesting chord sequence or a verse or chorus, which will then be batted around between us until it develops into a slightly more coherent song. These days it will then be recorded in some form on the pc where we experiment with ideas, sounds, drum loops, musical lines, vocal harmony etc until we end up with a demo with a ridiculously large number of tracks. Twenty six is the record so far I think.
This will then be transferred to the bigger better pc with more knobs and flashy lights at the "Goatshed," where Andrew Garman works, and yes it is a converted goatshed! We met Andy three years ago when we were involved in a community film project for which we wrote and recorded the music. After that we wrote and recorded a score for a production of Twelfth Night with Andy and found we all worked well together so we continued to work with him on our own music. Andy is now a member of the band.
Jamie: We’re really very self contained--the three of us do everything--and it means we can get things done very quickly. For me, the most important part of the process is the songwriting. If you’ve got a good song, you’ve got a chance. Evelyn and I work amazingly well together. We’re very, very honest with each other about the work we do. If we don’t think something’s right or working, we say so. I’ve always felt music has to touch people on an emotional level to really succeed. We try to capture emotion at the writing stage and then carry it through the whole process.
There isn’t really much of a pattern to the songwriting, except we never, I think it’s true to say, start with the lyrics alone. Sometimes the process is amazingly fast. The song "Mermaid Kiss" was one of those that just seemed to come out of the ether. We wrote, arranged and recorded that in an afternoon and evening--start to finish. Others have been hanging around in various forms for literally a couple of years. We’ve just finally finshed one called "Words Are Not Enough." We wrote the chorus at least a year ago and have been working at verses for it ever since. We like to think it was worth the effort.
But since we’ve been working full-time I think we’ve become a lot more efficient and proficient. We can now write, arrange and record a song in about 2 weeks--not a bad average.
Do you have a career or work outside music?
Evelyn: Music takes up the best part of most days for me. We are both very lucky to have the love and support of our families which means we can afford to devote a lot of time to the music. I do work part time to keep myself in pocket money but nothing interesting really!
Jamie: Effectively it’s been full time since Evelyn left school last July. She’s too modest to mention it herself but she got 4 grade A ‘A’ levels! We work together every weekday from 10 until 4 and then do most of the admin outside those hours. Weekends we try and keep free. We’ve also been doing some songwriting workshops in schools which have been terrific fun and very successful. The students have produced some amazing songs.
Outside of music, Evelyn and I have also written plays together and we’re currently about 150 pages into a fantasy novel. It helps to pass the time on long car journeys to gigs etc.
What about your live performances?
Evelyn: I really enjoy playing live. From a very early age I have loved being on the stage and at the age of eight decided I was going to be an actress, an ambition that I soon gave up! Despite this, however, I still get stage fright. It's something I am slowly learning to overcome since it’s only experience after all. I think the live performances I have done have been well received.
Jamie: She’s being modest again. Evelyn actually has an astonishing stage presence and is very charismatic without actually having to leap around or going over the top in any way. Andy and I keep well in the background! We made a promo video last summer, but weren’t happy with the result so shelved it. I think we were maybe a little too ambitious in what we were trying to do but we learnt a lot from the experience. But we’ve just made arrangements to film a new one, for the song "Mermaid Kiss" and we’ll be shooting this in the spring.
Evelyn: We’re looking forward to this shoot - its gonna be fun. We are trying to create a very enigmatic video on a low budget with very simple images capturing the atmosphere of the song.
What are your plans for 2003?
Evelyn: Well, we hope to have the new Mermaid Kiss album completed soon and after that it will be a case of promoting that to the best of our ability for the rest of the year! Not that we will stop writing and recording though!
Jamie: We’re putting the live show together to promote the album in our heads at the moment. Part of that will be a dramatic monologue we’ve written interwoven with songs--something a little different! We’re going to pay a lot of attention to the lighting and also the set for the concert to create an atmosphere for the songs. We want to try and put them in some kind of context. There are other things being talked about. We’ve done a cover version of a U2 song, "Love Is Blindness" for another compilation album. And there’s a film soundtrack we might be contributing to as well. Oh, and more workshops probably. The problem is finding time to fit everything in.
How has the internet influenced your musical career and the promotion of your music?
Evelyn: The internet really has revolutionised the independent music scene. We live in a very small town in rural Herefordshire so the local audience for our music is very limited. Through the internet however we have contacts across the world, from America to Sweden.
Our recent stats indicate that people have hit our website from Australia, France, Poland, Japan, Argentina, Korea, Israel and America. We can hardly claim to have a large fan base in all these places but it is certain that without the internet people in these countries could never have heard of us. Sites such as Garageband, mp3, Intomusic, and CDBaby have given us a platform from which to launch our music.
There is little doubt that the website has brought us new fans, even if some of them are only after more photos!
Jamie: We’ve actually got a far larger fan base in the U.S. than we have in the UK. I’m not sure why this should be--maybe Americans are just more familiar and comfortable using the internet as a means of finding and listening to music.
Shine. Evelyn Downing's debut album (Flame (UK) 200012 cdus, 2001) was recorded when the artist was just seventeen. Released in December 2001, it is the first evidence of her collaboration with Jamie Field (acoustic and electric guitar) and Andy Garman (bass, percussion, keyboards, spanish guitar). In addition to providing all of the vocals, Evelyn's flute graces several of the tracks. It is a wonderful introduction to the group.
Evelyn's voice is sweet and tender--crystalline in texture across a broad range--and full of emotion. Of the eight tracks on the album, seven feature her lead and backing harmonies. Keyboard adds orchestral texture to otherwise singer/songwriter-styled material. While the album opens with the upbeat "Shine On You," it is contrasted by slower tunes "Last Night's Strangers," the heartfelt ballad that follows it on the CD.
The engineering and production are especially well done throughout with vocals and flute mixed way up but not overpowering. Such is the case with the flute solo in the beginning of "Heart Sings," one of the album standouts, as well as Evelyn's soaring lead vocal. Get to know the artist a little with the short spoken word part in the bridge. An instrumental version of the track styled with Spanish guitar and flute is also included on the album.
Flute lovers will be enthralled with Evelyn's opening solo in "Dark Cover," which features an extended instrumental introduction. Listen for Evelyn's soaring Kate Bush-style vocal and Andy's tremendous keyboard solo (styled as an electric guitar) in this broody track. "In My Dreams" begins similarly with flute supported by cello flavours. The evocative ballad is sung tenderly with orchestral keyboard washes underneath. Evelyn's lovely flute solos are pervasive throughout the track. Evelyn's multi-layered vocal harmonies are wonderful.
Complete with a memorable hooky melody, the accessible "Burn This Candle Out" is one of the more upbeat rock oriented tracks on the album. We especially enjoyed how Emily Williams' harmony vocals complimented Evelyn's on it. The album concludes with the short acoustic ballad "Sleep Come Down." With Emily Williams on backing vocals, this track, with its gentle accompaniment really illustrates Evelyn's vocal virtuosity.
Electric. The group's second CD is a clear advancement in their sound and was released in December 2002, only one year after the group's debut. The "Limited Edition EP" (flame 20022 cdep, 2002) is comprised of six tracks and an un-named bonus track. As the name implies, but merely by coincidence, the recording is more electric. Various guitar distortions and vocal effects contribute to the sound. Again the group is comprised of Evelyn Downing (vocals, flute, sax), Jamie Field (acoustic and electric guitar) and Andrew Garman (drums, bass, keyboard). Evelyn also contributes piano, bass and drums on three of the tracks!
The opening title track is a highly accessible rock track complete with a hooky melody. Multilayered backing harmonies support Evelyn's soaring lead on "Pretty Dress," a mid-tempo ballad that will certainly draw the listener further into the recording. The keyboard washes add lovely texture to the track. "Girl In The Mirror" is an upbeat electric-styled track sung very much in a Kate Bush style with sax solos echoing the main melody weaving in and out of electric guitar, bass and keyboard textures.
Evelyn's multi-tracked vocals support her tenderly sung lead in the torch-style ballad "My Own Way," a lovely light track with a rich guitar-based arrangement. The standout track "Goodbye" has great vocal work, evocative sax solos that are joined by both acoustic and electric guitar and blends ballad, jazz and almost progressive rock textures into one. A demo track entitled "Ophelia" concludes the EP. Tremendously moody with lead vocal, multi-layered harmonies and piano working perfectly together, it is another clear favourite. The un-named bonus track is actually a repeating chorus of "My Own Way" recorded backwards.
Mermaid Kiss. Our demo CD is comprised of three tracks by the group. "This Feeling" opens with a lovely flute solo. Evelyn's voice is extremely confident and sung in a similar style to her sound on Electric with additional harmony layers adding texture to the overall sound. We especially like the way the band have continued to use flute in addition to keyboard washes within the arrangement and the use of acoustic percussion.
A clear progression in the band's style is evident in the progressive styled ballad "Write My Name In Stars," reminscent of Storm-era Karnataka. Again flute and keyboard provide the perfect core of arrangement for Evelyn's vocals, sung here in a lower than normal, but even more emotional and evocative, range. Vocal arrangements are more complex and are a further definition of the band's growth. The demo concludes with "Mermaid Kiss," a heartwrenching and evocatively sung ballad accompanied by acoustic guitar. As with the other tracks on the demo, it is full of lovely backing harmony vocal layers.
It is going to be a challenge to wait through the year for the full album!
Recordings by Evelyn Downing, Jamie Field and eventually Mermaid Kiss are available via the artist's websites. There you'll find further information on the band's progress, their live performance schedule and additional photos. Join their mailing list by writing to email@example.com. The newsletter is quarterly and they don't spam.
We thoroughly enjoyed the three CDs reviewed above as a natural follow-up to hearing them perform on Love Her Madly. While the band do not have any Mermaid Kiss material yet commercially available, the debut album Shine and "Limited Edition" Electric EP can be obtained online either directly from the group's website (in sterling, cash/cheque only) or from www.cdbaby.com (any currency, credit cards accepted). You will also find RealAudio and mp3 soundbites there; Shine and Electric are presently available.
Our readers are clearly going to enjoy Evelyn Downing's voice and the group's music. The stylistic similarity to Kate Bush may not be intentional but it is wonderful. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, the material is worthy of exploration and is a must listen!
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