Interview: Anna & Jordan
With an album and a stack of live performances under their belts, folk duo Anna Armstrong and Jordan O’Farrell are taking on the world together. The lovely couple called to chat about touring, influences, and where it all began.
You’ve had a very busy few months touring and releasing a new album last month. What’s next on the agenda?
Anna: Now that the tour’s over, I’m a bit bound by school terms because of my violin lessons, but…on the Easter school holidays we’ll hopefully be doing some shows and going down to Canberra. [We’ve got] things in mind for the future, but nothing’s locked in yet.
Do you have a favourite track from the album?
A: I really like Oh My Dear, but I think the highlight of the album is the last song, Horizon, because that one was really collaborated. Our EP was [very much] “Jordan’s song, Anna’s tune”, but with this album we’ve tried to make it more like “Jordan’s song with Anna” and “Anna’s tune with Jordan”. [Horizon] is one of Jordan’s that we spent many, many hours arranging together and I wrote a tune to put into it, so that one’s probably the most “Anna and Jordan” of all the songs. We really like that one.
What made you decide to pursue a professional music career together?
A: We both went to TAFE about three years ago and did a diploma in music and music business. We met there and…decided to form as a duo. Because I play lots of Irish music, we got a gig on St Patrick’s Day, and I said, “Jordan, I need a guitar player”, and instead of just doing all Irish stuff we did half his stuff and half my stuff to [prevent one person having to learn] too much. That evolved into [what we do now] – we brought our two styles together.
How has your study and training influenced the music you’re playing now?
A: I don’t know if it’s necessarily made us better, but it’s [helped us to] know what we were doing before and why it worked. I suppose it has opened our eyes to a lot of different aspects of things that we wouldn’t have thought of before.
When did you start writing music?
A: Jordan started when he was little, I know that he got a guitar when he was in primary school and started writing songs [after that]… I’ve been playing for ages, and I probably started writing tunes about four years ago. You get to a point where you’re playing other people’s tunes and you [think], “You know what? I could do this.” I think everyone gets to that point. We definitely prefer originals, but obviously [you do a lot of gigs] where people say, “Come on, play something we know!” because that’s people (laughs).
What inspires your song writing?
Jordan: All sorts of different things for different songs. A lot of the time it’s not necessarily even specific, sometimes it’s a bit more general, like… the idea of the ocean or something like that. It changes around a bit!
What does the writing process involve?
J: We do a mixture of instrumentals and songs with lyrics. I tend to write the songs and then we put them together and Anna puts her touch on it and vice versa. We’re starting to write together a little bit more. We’re working on that at the moment.
Who inspires you musically?
A: For the past year or two, we’ve been pretty obsessed with the band Castlecomer from Sydney, because we saw them at National Folk Festival and they were the only rock band…[They do] epic harmonies and cool songs. We really like the band Oh Pep! from Melbourne as well because they do the old-timey pop thing. They’re really cool. Those are probably the two main ones. Jordan listens to a lot of proper rock stuff, he’s right into the Arctic Monkeys, and I suppose that’s inspiration for his band Tongue-Tied Thieves because they do all that stuff and I know that he twiddles around in that section of my phone (music) library (laughs).
You can’t really go wrong with a bit of Arctic Monkeys.
A: Definitely not! I remember when we’d only been going out a few months and he had a CD player in his car but he didn’t have a CD, so I burnt him a copy of my Arctic Monkeys and put it in his car and he [said], “This is the best day ever!”
You’ve been influenced a lot by your travels in Ireland; what do you like about Irish folk music?
A: I really like how pure the whole idea of passing things down to people is. I teach violin as well, so I suppose [I like] … the fact that when you play a tune, you think, “The thing I’m playing right now was written by someone [whose name I don’t even know so many] years ago, and [we’re] still experiencing whatever they were portraying through that tune.” I find that really cool, that regardless of the time people still feel the same things and it still comes through in that music.
You guys have been busy playing shows at a lot of cosy venues over the last few weeks. Do you prefer intimate performances to big crowds?
A: I would say yes. Intimate concert venues are our favourites, but we like playing to bigger crowds as well. I think it’s really nice to be playing a gig [in the] kind of environment where you can really talk to the people who are listening.
What’s your favourite thing about performing live?
A: I think it’s just the idea that the music we’re playing could influence someone positively, maybe (laughs). Even if no one’s paying attention, there might be some sort of an influence going on there. From that point on, some little kid might [think], ‘I could start songwriting’ or some old guy might go, ‘That reminded me of [someone]’.
What’s it like touring together?
A: It’s great. We’re a couple as well, so it’s very convenient. Jordan bought a van a few months ago, so for this tour we just hopped in our van and drove up and down the coast. It was great. It’s nice [having your partner there with you]. I still get homesick – last time we were on tour in the van, I was feeling like I just wanted to go home, but I watched some Friends on TV and it was all good (laughs).
You toured the east coast in March 2015 – what was the best thing about that experience?
A: The whole tour had that fresh feeling about it. It was kind of naive. We just thought, “You know what? Let’s try and do this.” We were on the road thinking, “This is great!” like little kids [who] have just been given a new toy (laughs).
You’ve been finalists for the Folk Alliance Australia’s Young Performer of the Year Award for the last two years – is that something you’re working towards again this year?
A: We’re hoping to be involved in it again this year and have the opportunity to meet all the other young acts again because we love getting to know all the new people on the scene each year. It’s a great opportunity for young folk artists because it’s a very supportive industry. Once you meet a few people, you end up on a daisy chain of new, nice people who are really supportive.
What advice would you give to kids who want to do what you do?
A: Just see as much music as you can and be inspired by as many people as you can, even though you can’t get into a lot of the venues (laughs). I remember that being really annoying, and complaining like “I’m studying music, but I can’t go and see my favourite band!” I’d just say go for it. Don’t be afraid to show your songs to your mum. Your mum’s your best critic (laughs).
Catch Anna & Jordan at Brisbane Folk Night #4 , presented by AAA Backstage!