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Interview: Smoke Fairies on touring with Public Service Broadcasting and working with Jack White

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Just ahead of their tour with Public Service Broadcasting stopping off at Newcastle’s Riverside, we caught up with one half of dream pop duo Smoke Fairies, Katherine Blamire, to find out a bit more about the band and their journey so far.

“We grew up in Chichester in West Sussex and around those areas it’s very rural. There are a lot of winding roads and at night the mist gathers into the roads and kind of forms these misty figures that we used to call smoke fairies,” explains Katherine delicately. “And we just thought it was a great name, so we stuck with it ever since.”

Katherine met band member Jessica when they started the same secondary school and discovered they both had a passion for music. “As soon as I met Jessica, it just kind of made sense. We started to sing together and it felt like we had something a bit different in the way that our voices were blending,” she says.

“Our inspirations are kind of varied. I mean, we started out being influenced by folk and blues and now I think our influences are a bit more psychedelic and a bit more modern. There are a lot of great bands around at the moment. I was just listening to the new Alabama Shakes album which is really great. That’s probably my favourite album at the moment,” she says.

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The tour with Public Service Broadcasting is already several dates in and it’s worked out to be an ideal tour for the girls. They were put in touch with the band by their management and as it happened, they ended up living just down the road from each other and having a lot of similar interests.

“We ended up collaborating on their record on a song called Valentina which is about the first woman in space, so that was pretty exciting,” says Katherine. “We went round and recorded some vocals and then we ended up being on the tour with them which has been really great.

“As a band, we’ve felt like it’s been the perfect audience for us and we’ve been getting really good reactions from the crowds. It feels like they’re kind of pleasantly surprised by what they’re seeing which is really great for us.”

This stint with Public Service Broadcasting isn’t the first high-profile support slot Smoke Fairies have had. A few years back, they toured with folk songstress Laura Marling. “We supported her in the US and that was a pretty crazy tour. We were all in a tiny van whizzing across America. We were travelling across such vast distances that you never really know what you’re going to find at the end of it and you have different amounts of support in different places. I suppose just the whole experience of being in America is different. It’s just massive. We’re on tour now in the UK and it’s very small.”

Small, it may be, but you can’t deny we have some beautiful and interesting places to play. “We once supported Richard Hawley in a cave. It was called The Devil’s Arse, near Sheffield. It was freezing cold and half the audience looked like they were about fall off into a ravine,” laughs Katherine.

As well as incredible tours and gigs in caves, Smoke Fairies have actually worked with one of the biggest names in music – the one and only Jack White. They signed to his label, Third Man Records, in 2009 and he produced their double single Gastown/River Song.

“It was really amazing working with Jack. For us, he was a perfect person to meet because we could learn a lot from him and he’s got very specific ways of working that are really interesting,” Katherine says. “He was really encouraging for us, to record a record with him at that time when we were just starting out. We flew over to Nashville and went to his studio and it was amazing.”

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Support from the likes of Jack White surely goes a hell of a long way in the music industry and Smoke Fairies gathered a lot of support through the experience of working with him. Even so, Katherine feels that, as a girl band in the industry today, they can sometimes surprise people.

“I think there are things we’ve experienced that certainly make us feel like we’re not necessarily what people expect. At the moment, our show is very loud and rocky and I don’t know whether people necessarily expect to see women as front-people rocking out on a guitar. I don’t know how easy that is for some people to digest.”

Smoke Fairies had a busy year in the studio in 2014, working on not one but two stunning albums. “They were both approached in quite different ways. The self-titled one, we recorded over a number of weeks, whereas there was one called Wild Winter and we were literally only in the studio for a few days with it. The writing process was very quick because we’d only just released the other record. They’ve both got very different feels and I think we’ve sort of realised that  actually having a bit less time is sometimes a great thing. The pressure and recording all the instruments as live as possible… I think that’s possibly the direction we’ll move in next.”

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