LONDON, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Emily Barker’s yearning, elegiac music will be familiar to viewers of BBC TV’s “Wallander” and “The Shadow Line” as her songs “Nostalgia” and “Pause” were used for the theme tunes.
Now the 33-year-old Australian singer-songwriter is branching out into film scores, composing music for a Peter Mullan-starring British road movie about a homeless man called Hector, due for release later this year.
The film, which will follow Hector as he travels from Glasgow to London to reconnect with his family, is a good fit for Barker as it explores themes of rootlessness and separation. Based in Britain since 2002, Barker has derived her lyrics from personal experience of self-imposed exile and distance from loved ones.
Speaking to Reuters at Kings Place in London ahead of her performance in the roots-oriented Americana Showcase last week, Barker described how she is writing the score while the film is still shooting, working from the script.
“The director Jake Gavin highlighted points where he wanted music and gave me some key words as to the mood,” she said. “I’ve written three full-length songs and now it’s a case of taking motifs from those, changing them and using different instrumentation.”
Alongside elements as diverse as pedal steel, a horn section, piano and electronica, Barker will be working with her band The Red Clay Halo. This comprises Gill Sandell on accordion, flute and piano, Jo Silverston on cello, bass and banjo, and Anna Jenkins on violin and viola.
Barker has also collaborated with composer Martin Phipps on music for an American civil war thriller, expected out later this year. Directed by Daniel Barber, the film features Hailee Steinfeld from “True Grit” and Sam Worthington.
It was Phipps who brought Barker’s music to a wider audience by using a re-recorded version of “Nostalgia” for the Kenneth Branagh-starring “Wallander”.
Q: You’ve just returned from the Sydney Festival where you ran your Folk in a Box project. How did that go?
A: It’s one performer, one audience member and one song in the world’s smallest music venue. I booked 60 local singer-songwriters but we had massive queues. It was so popular we had to break our own rules and allow more than one audience member in the box.
Q: On your latest album “Dear River” you combine your own experience of leaving home with broader themes of emigration and dispossession, focusing on the Australian landscape and its people. What inspired this kind of song-cycle?
A: I’ve been preoccupied with the feeling of where home is for quite a long time ... thinking about where I come from and growing up on stolen land. I was also inspired by PJ Harvey’s album “Let England Shake”, which had a very strong theme of war running through it.
It starts out in Bridgetown, Western Australia where I was born. I explore childhood, indigenous Australian relations, colonialism, then it moves out into the world. I now live in Stroud (in England), so it explores finding a home away from home, but it also looks at people who haven’t had that choice and examines exile and emigration. I got really studious about writing these songs and looked at history written from an Aboriginal viewpoint.
Q: Musically this album has more of a country feel than your previous ones, and the closing song “The Blackwood” is similar to an American spiritual. What prompted that?
A: It wasn’t really influenced by anything that I was listening to, it was more about the land. Australia has similarities in its landscape to America with the wide-open spaces and roads that go for miles where you drive forever. I’ve always been a fan of country music so it seemed naturally to head in that direction with this subject matter.
Q: What else have you got coming up this year?
A: For Record Store Day (on April 13) we’re recording a 4-song 10-inch EP direct to vinyl. We’re doing it live which means we have to space the time in between the songs because it keeps on rolling. It’s four covers - Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman”, Tom Waits’s “The Day After Tomorrow”, Patty Smith’s “Easter” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest”. (Editing by Mark Heinrich)