DATE OF INTERVIEW:
18th December 2009
KATHARINE BLAKE; SARAH KAYTE FOSTER
(Sarah Kayte Foster on Mediaeval Baebes' costumes)
"...you kind of get away with that with mediaeval dresses, don’t you, bums aren’t really a concern. Breasts are sort of more out there!"
Katharine Blake and Sarah Kayte Foster in The Chapter House at Sheffield Cathedral, UK, 18th December 2009
Photograph copyright © 2009 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview and Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Of all the Baebes who have come and gone, who do you miss the most in terms of their contribution to the band?
KB: Ruth Galloway is very much missed because she used to get involved more in doing arrangements of mediaeval songs rather than composing them from scratch. That’s something in the band that I do miss actually, is having that dynamic in there, the actual proper Mediaeval music which used to be really interesting. I prefer to write stuff rather than arrange old stuff but, yeah, she’s very much missed. And then Rachel Van Asch used to make all our costumes, that was a very big contribution as well.
MD: Who makes your costumes now?
KB: We just bought them in a shop near our office in London. We just went out on this mad dash - it was pouring down with rain, but “we’ve got to have some new costumes!”; I had the pram and everything! It was nuts, wasn’t it?! [laughs]
SF: Yeah, it was absolute glamour! We took over the shop, running in and out of the changing rooms in various states of undress! I don’t think they knew what had hit them!
KB: Yeah, we had a half an hour window to do it, didn’t we, and we got these ones and the white ones.
SF: Yeah, the white ones are a dream; they’re very ‘Wicker Man’.
KB: It’s really hard to find dresses…because everyone’s different shapes and sizes…so finding dresses that actually look good on everyone is a challenge, but I think we’ve got there now because it’s really nice when they all match. The problem with that is that someone normally ends up thinking “I look fat in this” or “I haven’t got any tits, it doesn’t work on me”…so it’s really hard to find something that works for everyone but we’re there at the moment, I think.
MD: Does my bum look big in this?…kind of thing…
SF: Well, you kind of get away with that with mediaeval dresses, don’t you, bums aren’t really a concern. Breasts are sort of more out there! [laughs]
MD: Yeah, more kind of prominent! Would you describe Mediaeval Baebes as a progressive band with the various paths your music has taken over the years?
KB: Definitely. I think a lot of people misinterpret that we’re a classical cross-over act or something but we haven’t really got that much in common with classical cross-over acts - they’ll be taking classical music and just maybe slightly changing the arrangement by putting a beat behind it or something, but they’re essentially playing classical music whereas we write our own music, so that is progressive in itself. We’re doing something new. I’d like to think that we’re innovative.
MD: Definitely. I interviewed Tim from Pythia recently and he said he’d like to get all the Baebes singing on a Pythia track in the future - is that something you’d be amenable to?
KB: Sure, I mean Emily’s our bandmate and that’d be fun. I want to get all the girls singing on one of my side projects as well, so I’d definitely be up for returning the favour in her direction.
MD: And you’ve done much solo stuff?
KB: I’ve done one solo album called ‘Midnight Flower’ and, at the moment, I’m writing and recording a duets album with Nick Marsh. He’s written a lot of the Baebes stuff with me as well so we’re like musical partners.
METAL DISCOVERY: You’ve performed in various countries other than just the UK - do you notice any variation in audiences in the different countries you’re performing?
KATHARINE BLAKE: America’s a bit…they’re less inhibited, aren’t they.
SARAH KAYTE FOSTER: Yeah. What have I done since I’ve been part of the band?…Europe, UK, America. Americans really get involved in the mediaeval vibe because they don’t have their own sense of history. I mean, I couldn’t believe it when I stepped into the Renaissance Fair and just…you’ve never seen anything like it. Thousands of people just go to town with their costumes; they really buy into the whole world of it. I guess, yeah, they’re less reserved and that’s no big surprise.
MD: It must be pretty cool to look out and see a whole load of mediaeval costumes.
SF: Yeah, it definitely brings something to it. At the Renaissance Fair, performing on ye olde stage…
KB: It’s all in the woods, isn’t it.
SF: Yeah, and having to pee in the woods out the back, so it’s very authentic!
MD: Yeah, proper authentic stuff! Have you been surprised by your success in the States?
KB: I think it’s a bit of a no brainer really. The Americans are just really into English history, aren’t they, so we’ve got that on our side, definitely.
MD: You seem to have a cross-genre appeal and attract fans into all different genres of music, and a wide age range too. Why do you think your music has such a wide draw?
SF: I think it’s not easy to pigeonhole the music so it doesn’t attract a type. You know, it can appeal in different ways to different groups.
KB: There’s a lot of different age groups too - children really like it.
SF: I often find it hard to say when people ask what kind of music it is. It’s hard to tie it down to a genre. We end up with a bit of this genre, a bit of that genre, and you end up with a hybrid of seven words that makes no sense whatsoever! [laughs]
KB: We’re pretty out there on our own which can be a benefit and a curse because no-one really knows where to place it. What radio stations we get played on I don’t know…it’s hard in that way but great in the way that we are one of a kind.
MD: I think in terms of record shop classifications you seem to go under the classical tag. Is that something you’re comfortable with or do you not really care?
KB: The last album wasn’t really that classical, but I don’t know where you’d put it otherwise. It’s not really folk; it’s not really alternative…
SF: We transcend genre!
KB: Yeah, that’s one of my lines that I use sometimes! [laughs]
SF: I pinched it without realising! [laughs]
MD: The majority of the music was, and obviously some still is, composed in mediaeval sounding scales - although that’s obviously important for your aesthetic as you’re called Mediaeval Baebes, did you begin to find that limiting and that’s why you started experimenting with different styles and scales, or was that always going to be a natural progression?
KB: I just really like writing in modes personally, it’s naturally what I do, I think. You have the Dorian or Mixolydian mode mainly, you know, the ancient version of major and minor. I just find it a lot more enigmatic or something.
MD: Dorian’s traditionally a very rock based scale as well.
KB: Yeah, and like ‘Venus in Furs’ is in the Dorian mode and it’s got this quite mysterious quality to it that I like. So I don’t feel limited by that, no. I just love it! [laughs]
MD: You’ve sung songs in many different languages, and dialects as well of course - are you all multi-lingual?
KB: I’m not, no.
MD: Is it a challenge to learn all of the different languages and dialects?
KB: Yeah, it’s a really good challenge, I love it. I think it’s fun using lots of different languages because it does dictate the style that you write in. It makes things different; it gives a different meter to it because of the different places where the emphasis falls…and it’s a really good way to change your style of musical writing by doing it in a different language.
MD: What’s been the hardest dialect to perfect…or hardest language?
SF: Personally, I find mediaeval Latin the hardest to get in my head in terms of learning songs. It’s interesting because I find it much easier to learn mediaeval Italian, or Spanish, than Latin.
MD: The version that you do of ‘Summerisle’ seems to have a more pronounced Scottish dialect than the version sung in the actual film.
KB: I don’t think that was deliberate; I think we just sort of sung what we heard! We’ve done three Robert Burns settings - that’s an example of the Scottish dialect. We’re doing one tonight which is called ‘Yonder Lea’, but we did a setting of a ‘Red, Red Rose’ - we call it ‘Till A' The Seas Gang Dry’ - and we did a setting of the poem that’s called ‘The Lament’ on ‘Mirabilis’ because I’m a really big fan. It kind of sounds like Old English, the Scottish dialect, in some cases. It has an old romantic quality which, even though it’s not mediaeval, it works really well with our style.
MD: The Baebes have obviously experienced many lineup changes over the years, and obviously you’ve progressed your music a lot since the first album, but you still manage to perpetuate the essence of the band. What do you think it is that manages to sustain the essence of the Mediaeval Baebes through all the changes?
KB: A lot of it’s about how much fun we all have! I read somewhere recently that estrogen is addictive and that would explain why the band’s been going for so long! [laughs] You get that sort of contact high, apparently - women get it from in the company of other women; the estrogen feeds off itself. So that could be a reason why it’s been going all this time…I’m just addicted to this estrogen! [laughs] I’ve gotta get to rehearsal for my next hit, you know! [laughs]
SF: It reminds me of the olden days when women used to get together and sing and chat and, you know, with babies around.
KB: A big part of it is how much fun it is, I think, why it’s kept going for as long as it has. It really is a lot of fun. We laugh a lot, you know! [laughs]