words Linnea Enstrom, portrait Sequoia Ziff
20th November 2015
Twin sisters Imogen and Ellie Mason have been singing together since they were kids, eagerly circling the piano with their family to the point where family friends would refer to them as the von Trapps. At six they picked up the violin and formed a string quartet with their siblings and, as teenagers, they began writing their own songs.
Teaming up with fellow singer songwriter William Stokes, Imogen and Ellie now go under the name Wovoka Gentle and make folk music draped with sparkling electronic and experimental sounds, fusing the soundtrack of their upbringing with a desire to create something new.
Today, we're premiering the London trio’s track Likeness from their new blue EP (the follow-up to their yellow EP, released earlier this year) - a song, fittingly, about family.
What have you been up to today?
Today we were celebrating our birthday, so we had a load of friends over for breakfast at our house in South East London. There were lots of flowers and bacon.
How would you describe your new EP?
It’s punchy and uncompromising and, at times, quite layered. It may take a bit of excavating, but at its core is a set of simple and approachable songs. The blue and yellow EPs are two parts of a single body of work which we made over the first three months of this year in Scotland. They were actually recorded at the same time, but because we mixed the blue EP after the yellow one with a different producer in a different studio, we feel that it still represents a progression of some kind.
You have made music together for a long time, but how did William fit into it?
We were mutual fans of each other's music for a long time, and since our individual projects began to wind down at similar times we naturally gravitated together. We were so excited by the band dynamic and the new sounds we were making that it seemed like such a natural transition to explore, turning the band into a full time project. Our first outing as Wovoka Gentle was scoring a physical theatre piece at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer.
You use your instruments in an unconventional way. How did that transpire?
It started with hitting guitars with drumsticks because we liked the combination of the melodic with the percussive, and then started to consider the sonic potential in all sorts of instruments beyond the ways they are conventionally used. We like doing things like playing the tops of synthesisers with drumsticks, putting vocal mics through guitar pedals and using mobile phones as part of our live set. Maybe there is no “correct” way to play an instrument.
You have previously said you want your listeners to be part of your music's narrative. In what way?
The music we respond to the most has often been stuff that has taken multiple listens to yield its best aspects. As Wovoka Gentle, we want to create music that is accessible but also intriguing and at times challenging. We want to experiment but not in an esoteric way, so maybe that narrative is one of coming around to find meaning in something you didn’t initially think of as easy or digestible.
When did you first discover folk music and 60s psych?
We have been surrounded by traditional folk and Americana music for as long as we can remember - it was always playing in our house growing up. More psychedelic bands, like The Beach Boys and The Beatles were also a big part of our musical upbringing. Will grew up listening to people like Paul Simon and James Taylor, but really got into folk music later on through his association with the West London folk scene in 2008 and 2009.
What is Likeness about?
Likeness is a song about inheritance and taking on characteristics of your father. It’s kind of like a response piece to Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse.
Wovoka Gentle is launching the blue EP with a headline show at London’s Elektrowerks on Monday. The record is released on the 27th of November.