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Transatlantic folk fusion ready for Highland flings

By Kyle Walker

Corner House.
Corner House.

Fiddle maestro Louise Bichan’s latest project Corner House – a blend of Scottish and American folk styles borne out of studying in Boston – sees its north of Scotland bow over the coming days. Kyle Walker grabbed the Orcadian for a chat about how the group started, first-time visits, and where on earth she finds the time...

Hi Louise, thanks for answering these! You’re no stranger to the north of Scotland of course, but are you looking forward to bringing this new project up for a string of gigs as part of Corner House’s first tour? Have your bandmates been to the Highlands before?

I am really excited to have these chaps coming for some gigs, it’s their first time in Scotland, so I can’t wait to show them some of the best bits!

So I’d be keen to get a bit of history about the band – how did you guys all first meet back in Boston? How has the musical partnership between you all developed?

We actually met first while studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston, then we ended up all living together in a big house (hence, Corner House) full of musicians. It has two sides with six rooms in each and has long been a music house. We have lots of fiddlers of all different folk styles, banjo players, guitar, double bass, drums, mandolin, poets, song writers, just all the creative types under one roof! There’s lots of playing together and so this group came out of that. Our first concert was a slot at FreshGrass festival near Boston, as part of the Berklee American Roots showcase.

How would you describe your sound to new audiences? What styles/artists do Corner House particularly draw upon for their music?

We mostly draw from Scottish and Appalachian Old Time fiddle music. I think we display a love for rhythm, groove and dance. We play some traditional songs and tunes, as well as a few of our own compositions, inspired by those fiddle traditions and our individual musical upbringings.

You’re playing the Sofar Inverness session here as part of the tour – have you had experience of playing one of the Sofar nights before? How do you feel about these small pop-up gigs? And can you give us any clues about who/where we can expect from this latest show?

This will be our first experience of Sofar Sounds, though we’ve watched lots of Youtube videos and love the idea. We really enjoy playing intimate gigs, where we can really interact with the audience, so we’re excited for this one. We’ve been sworn to secrecy - and also only know of one other act ourselves. But it’s someone fairly local, who has visited us and stayed at the house in Boston and someone who’s music we’re a big fan of, so that’s all we’ll say!

There’s an EP out this summer as well – well done! How has the recording of that been for the trio? How have things come together?

We recorded most of the EP with our great friend Rob Flax (an awesome multi-instrumentalist with a brilliant musical mind) at his home studio in Boston, and we finished it off in the tower room of our home! As well as music, I also do photography (I studied at GSA originally) and so I took the photos and designed the layout of the CD. Ethan S did all the mixing and then we sent it off to Bruce Bartlett in North Carolina to be mastered and had them produced by Golding Products in the UK.

Corner House is of course just one of your many many projects as a fiddler – where do you find the time!? I suppose, more seriously though, I should ask how you decide on what projects are for you?

Haha! Honestly, I’m not sure! But I have had so many fantastic opportunities to play with lots of different people, and I am really thankful for that. Corner House is something pretty different to any of the groups I’ve had the chance to play with so far. For the past three years at Berklee and the brilliant Boston music scene, I’ve learned a lot of Old Time Appalachian fiddle music and I’ve also worked a lot on improvising.

Corner House is a group where I get to put those things into practise while still staying fairly true to my own musical style and background. I think also that the more you do, the more it is apparent when there is a great musical connection and you click with a musician or a group and you know when it’s worth investing your energy into a project.

Across all your projects, you’ll have played pretty much everywhere – what has been your favourite gig you’ve played? And what has been your strangest?

That’s a really difficult question! I’ve loved a lot of gigs for different reasons, most recently I had a really great time playing with a new group called Apiary, with fiddlers Katie McNally and Jenna Moynihan from Boston and Laura Wilkie from the Highlands, along with cellist Natalie Haas (Boston) and guitarist Anna Massie (also the Highlands) at Celtic Connections. We played at the ABC in Glasgow and supported Le Vent Du Nord, and had a really great time playing strings on a couple of their numbers. I am very excited about Apiary and can’t wait to play with them again! At Berklee, as part of Berklee World Strings lead by Eugene Friesen, we had the chance to play with Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan, who’s music was as inspiration to me when writing my album.

Weird in the best kind of way, was the Insider Festival, going back a few years now. The theme for that year was something to do with sports and I played a set with fiddlers Laura Wilkie and Siobhan Anderson, dressed in rowing outfits, as the “Ham-Strings” ! That was great fun, what a brilliant festival that was.

With an EP and this tour, Corner Sounds are busy – what have you yourself got planned throughout the rest of 2018?

So in July I’ve got another trio coming over from Boston to play a few gigs, fiddler Katie McNally and guitarist Conor Hearn. They came to Orkney last summer and we had a brilliant time, so they are coming back and we are going to play a few gigs on the mainland as well. Katie plays a lot of Cape Breton fiddle, as well as Scottish and Conor grew up in the Irish scene in Washington DC and sings as well. After that I am heading to an Old Time festival in Virgiania called Clifftop with the Corner House chaps, before heading to Alasdair Fraser’s fiddlecamp in California, "Valley of the Moon". Then I’ll be back in Boston for my final year at Berklee College of Music!

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