Experimental folk duo Buck and Shanti Curran, also known as Arborea, moved to Lewiston, Maine, in 2000 after meeting in Virginia, where Buck was working in a record shop after a stint in the military. Buck, who plays the guitar (which he made in his other life as a luthier) and Shanti, who plays a banjo, among other things, use alternative tunings, harmonies and the heavy influence of eastern music to create a sound that's not quite like anything else at this year's SXSW. The duo's latest, "Red Planet," has earned a lot of praise, including a nod from Rolling Stone's David Fricke. Over the phone from their home in Maine, Buck Curran talked about his background, their approach to recording and the state of folk music.
Arborea seems to draw on a number of different influences. How did you get into music?
Buck Curran: My parent's record collection informed me, so I was raised on all kinds of music — classical guitar music, the O'Jays, the Beatles, all kinds of stuff. My dad had gotten into taking guitar lessons but he really didn't stick with it, and eventually the guitar became a point of fascination for me, and I discovered Jimi Hendrix and stuff like that, and new wave stuff, I just loved music, period. When I got out of the service, one style of folk music I really liked was folk, a lot of British Isle stuff, artists like Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny. Shanti and I kind of drew from elements like that and combined it with some rock and psychedelic stuff.
There is a tension on your albums between instrumentals and more traditional folk songs.
We are very aware of that. Going from album to album we do have these instrumentals that are strictly improvisational. The piece "Red Planet" (the title track to their most recent album) was improvised on tape. A lot of things, a lot of the tracks especially on our 2008 record, were first takes. We try to keep pieces that create an atmosphere. When it does work, it's almost like providence, or magic or something. It doesn't necessarily happen every time. We've been playing together for so long that we've hit a stride where everything flows together organically. But there are also times when we really thought about how the lyrics should go over the music.
On your blog recently you declared 2012 ‘the year of avant-folk.'
There are different sub-movements within the folk movement, there are people doing John Fahey-influenced things. It's that kind of ethereal but really primitive Americana thing, I think it's gone through some different phases. In the 2000s, the core of what Devendra Banhart was doing just with acoustic guitar and singing was reviving that kind of thing, then there was a re-interest in what Bert Jansch was doing, even though he never really stopped touring over the years. He didn't really re-emerge, I think some of the younger kids were just picking up on it. It seems like it comes in waves, but it's good to see and know that there are a lot of really valid acoustic musicians keeping the fire burning.
Official showcase: 10 p.m. Friday at St. David's Episcopal Church.
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