On throwing a “Caribou Party,” touring Scotland, and recording in a barn.
Music can be recorded in a variety of places. There’s the classic recording studio, the comfort of one’s home, a close-cornered dorm room, a dimly-lit basement, a closed-up music venue, and I’ve even heard of a band using an old dumpster.
The dumpster story’s for another time, but how often have you heard of a record being made in a barn? All acoustic things considered, I’m guessing not too often.
For their Caribou Party EP that’s due out this month, Boston folk quartet Corner House went down that creative route. Guitarist Ethan Hawkins, fiddle player Louise Bichan, cellist and banjo player Casey Murray, and mandolinist Ethan Setiawan combined their talents while maintaining their distance during the COVID-19 pandemic to frame a truly stellar record ideal for the string enthusiast.
Setiawan and I chatted about how the band started out, hitting up the highlands of Scotland, making music mostly outdoors, and combining influences to create something original.
How did you, Louise, Ethan and Casey start Corner House? Did you all go to college together, or do your collective roots run deeper than that?
The band started in 2017, I suppose. At the very beginning it was just myself, Louise Bichan, and Ethan Hawkins, and we were all living in this one big house where a lot of roots musicians live in the Boston area. Louise and I were both going to Berklee and Ethan had been there for a summer semester a couple years ago. A lot of different collaborations have come into the scene from that house in particular, and this is one of them. We then played some shows around Boston through Berklee and that kind of thing, and we also did a tour in Scotland in 2018. Then we went on from that ready to reinforce the sound, and that’s when we added Casey Murray into the mix.
How did you end up going to Scotland? How did that work out?
Louise is from Scotland so she kind of set it up for us. We were all over the place. She’s from Orkney, which is a group of islands in the north of the country, so we started up there and made our way down to Glasgow. It was a time being there.
Being a mostly instrumental band, do you feel a bit more freedom without the need of a vocal in your sound, or do you specifically use a particular instrument in the place of a vocal to have that tone that goes in front of the rest of the music that’s being played?
We all sing a couple songs here and there, but for the instrumental stuff a lot of our repertoire and influences come out of fiddle music positions. There’s also melody, which is the important thing and everything else revolves around that. It’s not always the fiddle playing the melody, everyone kind of takes turns playing melodies or solos, and it’s kind of improvisational that way while being arranged in some other ways. There’s usually a focal point and there’s a wide amount of texture all the time, which is super cool and we like to get into that too. In the way our arrangements work, there’s a melody that’s based around this one central focal point.
The Caribou Party EP was recorded in a barn in Westboro, Pennsylvania back in July, so how were you able to make the record in that environment?
Ethan Hawkins was living in Pennsylvania for most of last year with some music friends of ours on this farm. It was quite the logistical thing, we had this barn that was fit with electric wiring running through it so it had power. We also did a lot of recording in this little cabin which didn’t have any power so we had this big industrial battery hooked up to a generator. That was kind of our DIY power source for a lot of the sessions, which were done mostly outside and that was an amazing setting to record in. It was a good time.
Did COVID-19 become a huge obstacle at all during the recording process? Or because the barn was such a big space with social distancing, did it all run smoothly?
We did have a little pod that we recorded in. We had our guidelines sorted out by the time we got to the farm, so we did spend a couple days sort of integrating into each other’s pods by the time we got into the thick of recording the record. We were all spread out during the course of the process, which was kind of the impetus of using a barn and cabin with all these doors and windows wide open. There was a lot of ventilation and plenty of space between all of us to do that kind of thing.
What can people expect from the EP?
It’s a big mix of original music. We all wrote some tunes and it’s a mix of all of our influences ranging from Scottish folk, bluegrass, “olde tyme,” and others coming together and being this big conglomerate of all our different influences.