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Beatrix Players are an all-female trio whose unconventional but evocative music straddles the boundaries of folk music, prog rock, acoustic music, classical music and pop.
The group was formed in 2013 by Jess Kennedy (piano, flute, accordion, backing vocals), Amy Birks (lead and backing vocals) and Amanda Alverez (cello), after they arrived separately in London, Kennedy from Melbourne, Birks from Stoke-on-Trent and Alvarez from Madrid.
Their debut EP ‘Words in Lemon Juice’ came out in 2014 and they have now followed this with a self-produced album which was released at the end of March. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Beatrix Players about 'Magnified'. They elected to be interviewed by email and collectively.
PB: You have been described as a prog rock act, semi-classical, and a folk and a chamber pop outfit. How would you describe yourselves? Do you see yourself as any or all of these things or essentially genreless?
BEATRIX PLAYERS: All of these genres resonate with us, and we have also referred to ourselves as Dark Classical Pop in the past, but in some ways we are also happy to be genreless. We never sat down and said, right let's aim at this market or that... It has very much been an organic process; drawing influences from all of our musical backgrounds from the cinematic sounds of Michal Nyman to the beautifully bold pieces of Bach, to the more singer-songwriter territory of Natalie Merchant and Portishead.
PB: You have drawn a lot of comparisons with Kate Bush and Tori Amos, yet none of you grew up listening to either of these artists. Has that surprised you?
BEATRIX PLAYERS: Not especially.
Amy adds, "I did listen to Tori Amos through my uni days and my father played 'Hounds of Love' on numerous occasions, so, although not an intentional influence, it must have had some sort of an affect. You can't ignore the brilliance in tracks such as 'This Woman's Work' and 'Silent All These Years'. Pretty sure these ladies have had some sort of impact on the majority of the female artists over the past two decades. We feel very flattered to draw these comparisons."
PB: You formed the band after arriving about the same time in London from Staffordshire, Melbourne and Madrid respectively and meeting through a website called find-a-musician.com. Did you go through a lot of trial and error before coming up with the line-up that you have or was it pretty instantaneous?
BEATRIX PLAYERS: Yes, it took quite a few years to get to the core that you see now. We experimented with guitars, drums and electric bass but found that we were being pulled in too many directions, so a leaner Beatrix Players set the direction for the sound you hear today. Having said that, we work with some fantastic session musicians for recordings and live performances but the core of Beatrix and writing of the songs is very much kept to the three of us.
PB: Your lyrics are set in the real world and deal with things such as relationships, change, childhood events and adult affairs, yet your music is not like anything else. Do you see yourself as making the ordinary extraordinary?
BEATRIX PLAYERS: Well, what a lovely thought. Life is extraordinarily cruel or wonderfully uplifting if you only look at the detail and the reasons behind reactions and feelings. You just have to dig a bit and bring out that detail and we try to do that in both lyric and music. Hopefully people can draw very different meanings from their listening experience as these songs very much mean different things to the three of us.
PB: ‘Unpolished Pearl’ is about the three of you who you have self-described as being “rough around the edges.” Yet your music seems to me quite sophisticated and complex. Why do you describe yourself as that?
BEATRIX PLAYERS: Well. this track was written a few years back, before we received any recognition and were struggling to get our music out there. It essentially describes how hard it is to heard in the music business and that it's like you're experiencing perpetual sleep paralysis - Sleep paralysis being the condition where your mind and body are out of sync and you temporarily lose the ability to move or speak. It's a frightening experience and we did think at times that we would be left to be unpolished pearls... So it's more of a running joke as opposed to us really thinking that our sound is like that...
PB: Your debut EP ‘Words in Lemon Juice’ came out in 2014, yet it has taken another almost three years for the album to be released. Why has it taken so long for ‘Magnified’ to come out?
BEATRIX PLAYERS: We learnt a lot through recording 'Words in Lemon Juice'. Since then, between self discovery as writers, working out whether we should be releasing another EP or a full album and building a great team around us, to ensure that this record got the leverage it needed to go anywhere other than the mastering studio, it's taken time.
We really wanted this album to be as true to our sound as possible. We went through a period of around six months where we were trying to find the right producer to work with and in the end, found that we were the only ones that could produce the sound that we wanted without compromising on the direction. So, yes, it's taken a while but we hope it's been worth the wait.
PB: The bulk of your music seems to be written by Jess providing the piano parts and Amy the lyrics and then you handing it to Amanda to provide cello lines. Do things start with Jess or Amy or does that change around a lot?
BEATRiX PLAYERS: It depends on each song really but most of the time it will start with Jess coming up with a piano piece. The later tracks such as 'Lady of the Lake' and 'Obey Me' also had production ideas and a pretty solid structure for Amy to then take that idea and write the lyrics and vocal melody. Cello parts would then follow from Amanda unless there is a definite idea in mind, as is the case for 'Obey Me' or 'Molehill'. Extra vocal harmonies are also added at a later stage, written by both Amy and Jess.
Some of the tracks needed a more conventional jamming session, such as 'Molehill', in order to find its natural groove and direction. Some songs are written in minutes and some take weeks of listening and waiting for the penny to drop. One thing we never do is force the song. If it doesn't feel natural then we don't push it. We simply move on.
PB: You self-produced the album. Had you much experience of production beforehand. Was it easy or hard?
BEATRIX PLAYERS: The one thing we haven't found is a lack of unity on the general direction for this record. We all had a very fixed vision but we thought that we needed a producer to articulate this for us. It turns out that we were okay to be left to get on with it, with Jess in the end taking the lead on producing the tracks. It was more of a confidence thing really which subsided as the project progressed.
PB: Robyn Hemmings plays double bass on some tracks while Anna Jenkins contributes violin and viola. Who are they?
BEATRIX PLAYERS: Both are great talented musicians, who brought the pieces to life in the studio. We've known Robyn for several years from playing the gig circuit in London and Ana was recommended by Jim Moray, who did a fantastic job of mixing 'Magnified'.
PB: Your launch gig for ‘Magnified’ is on the 11th May at the Hoxton Hall Youth Centre in London. It seems to be the only date for now. Do you have other gigs planned for later in the year and will you be touring?
BEATRIX PLAYERS: Yes, very much looking forward to our album launch gig at Hoxton Hall, it is a beautiful venue. We are currently planning a series of gigs for late summer/autumn. All dates will appear on our website once confirmed.
PB: Thank you.
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John Clarkson speaks to all-girl London-based trio Beatrix Players whose music combines folk music, prog rock, acoustic music, classical music and pop
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