Babelfish

by
Babelfish
A Devon-based band that will make you jig, Babelfish – composed of violinist Lisa Sture, vocalist/guitarist Chris Millington, and saxophonist John Hextall – answer some of Nickie Shobeiry’s questions.

So, for those new to Babelfish, what’s your history?
Then there was Babelfish. We met, we played, we play – that’s it. We met fourteen years ago and have been playing together since.

Could you describe what it was like the first time you played together?
Natural, fun, on the edge.

I’m guessing at least one of you is a Hitchhiker’s fan – why ‘Babelfish’?
It seemed the most ridiculous name we could think of at the time – and because we stick it in your ear!

You use a real mix of instruments, giving you a full, beautiful sound. Are there any other instruments that you’d like to try out in the future?
We have got lots of unusual instruments and play many more than we currently use in the band. It will be fun to use as many of them as possible when recording – it is too much to take lots out to gigs though!

Out of all your performances, which one has stuck with you the most?
We went to Stranraer this year to support an amazing Scottish band called Shooglenifty, who are total legends. We had an amazing time travelling up in the van together, playing at the festival, as well as making loads of friends. It was good to know our music was loved by Scottish audiences. It was a long way to go for a one hour set! Somehow, Chris can’t remember it…

If you had to pick three artists who have influenced your sound, who would you pick? How about non-musical influences?
Definite influences for us are Ossian, Silly Wizard, and Cordelia’s Dad. Ossian and Silly Wizard are traditional Scottish bands from the 80s – their music is beautiful and moving. Cordelia’s Dad are a quirky American group. Also Kornog and M’Larkey. John brings in a bit of Pee Wee Russell, Arvo Part, and Hilton Ruiz. Non-musical influences are obviously the sea and a belief in following our own groove.

What does folk music mean to you?
It tells stories and will tackle any emotional state or weirdness. It values songs without words as well as songs with words.

Do you have a favourite song to perform?
The set that is a big favourite with everyone, including us, is I Love The Trees. When we do it live, all kinds of songs get caught in the mash-up, usually a chant or two and something else… It’s always surprising, fun, and seems to connect to the deep love and respect that (we have realised) most people have for trees.

What’s the writing process like?
Our arrangement of I Love The Trees just happened. In fact, all of our pieces happen spontaneously and develop over time. Chris is always throwing something in that we haven’t done before at gigs, and sometimes Lisa starts a tune we haven’t done before, says we have been doing this for years – and everyone joins in and jams it. It keeps it fun and very alive. So people see us smiling and enjoying ourselves and laughing and don’t realise we’re fuelled up with adrenaline because we are flying on improvisation! Bits of this get left behind and our arrangements grow and develop over time.

I Love The Trees And Mother Russia is incredibly powerful. Where did the inspiration for it – and the mysteriously-toned Upwards At 45 Degrees – come from?
Unfortunately we can’t claim to have written I Love The Trees – but we can certainly claim to have made it our own! The first part of Mother Russia, which is the tune in the middle of the song, is an Iron Maiden riff that had a second part added to it. Why put them together? It felt good of course.

It’s funny that you mention Upwards At 45 Degrees – it’s a quirky Julian Cope song that probably comes from acid, about alien abduction. We haven’t done it at a gig yet… we’re waiting for the right moment. We had a day on Dartmoor and visited Spinsters Rock and Chris just started playing it, and it was instantly a favourite. Luckily, we managed to film it.

Some of your song titles let the imagination run gleefully free, like Lynn’s Lentil Soup And The Happy Campervan (and the dance-fuelled Lynn’s Mental Loop!), or The Slade Jig and The Bean And The Cheese Fairy. What’s the story behind them?
The lentil soup of fame was very, very, very garlicky! The Happy Campervan was big and very orange. The police stopped us in it one night for passing around a bottle of water! There were so many other things they could have stopped us for… Lynn’s Mental Loop was our attempt at putting a techno rhythm to Lynn’s Lentil Soup. We need a specialist to work with us to do more of this, probably. The Slade Jig is named after an area in Ilfracombe that Chris used to live in. Lisa named The Bean And The Cheese Fairy after an amusing story in a book of Devon folk tales.

You say you’re “breaking the mould, not the tradition”, which is evident in your music. Could you expand on this philosophy?
The Spirit but Not the Letter, telling the stories in our own way, disregarding dogma but holding the tradition. If it moves you, if it grooves you – it’s in.

Babelfish has performed for Shimnix Productions before, playing the beautiful Katie Cruel. Now you’ve filmed a music video with them. What was the process like, and how did you decide what to do for it?
It was great filming for Shimnix. Jess is fantastic to work with; she really keeps things easy. We were going to film it in the street, outside the local pub with people passing by, but the weather wasn’t good so we squashed in Chris’ kitchen, which turned out perfectly with the help of a few candles. We have now made another film with Shimnix – it’s of I Love The Trees. All our videos can be found in the video section of our web page.

What advice do you have for bands who are just starting out?
Chris: Play as much as you can anywhere, with anyone. Have fun!
Lisa: I learnt to play sitting in pubs with old traditional players. One of them was called Pop Hingston – he was not big on advice, but incredibly generous and welcoming. He taught me to play by ear, to learn, listen, and pick up what’s happening musically – the most important lesson ever.
John: JFDI.

If you could have any rider request, what would you pick?
Lisa: Not really a rider, but what I want is for the whole gig (including backstage) to be filmed, produced, and promoted, and to have Cordelia’s Dad and Ossian each play a set with us.
Chris: [To Lisa] I couldn’t write what Chris said, so I amended it to “World peace and happiness”!
John: A light-up globe… it’s a small world!

What can we expect next from Babelfish?
We’re planning an album in the near future, and are looking to play festivals next summer and to do a tour – and any other fun things we get asked to do!