Ballads and Battles is the debut release from husband/wife, harp/guitar duo Casey and Kate Stapleton. Blues-driven harp and guitar arrangements topped by ethereal vocal harmonies combine to create a wondrous sound. The Stapletons baroque folk sound is rich with hints of Appalachian balladry, Delta blues, and echoes of the English folk revival movement. On September 17th, 1862, the Allegheny Arsenal exploded into flames. On September 17th, 2017, The Stapletons will release their debut album, Ballads and Battles, which includes the Ballad of the Arsenal Girls, a ballad telling the story of the 78 Arsenal Girls who died in the fiery explosion at the Arsenal, 155 years ago.
In this interview spotlight, we chat with The Stapletons about influences, the new project, challenges and much more.
Full Q&A along with links and a stream of Carry Me Home below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
We are a husband/wife, harp/guitar duo. We were raised in two different galaxies. Casey was raised in LA, with a ship captain for a father and a mother from Mazatlan. He began playing music on a handmade Mexican guitar, and spent time as a mariachi and a monk. Kate was raised running barefoot over the driftless hills of Southwestern Wisconsin, where her writer father made the unconventional choice to raise pigs and organic vegetables in the heart of cow country. We fell in love while separated by the Blue Ridge Mountains, married, and settled together in Pittsburgh. It was a huge culture clash. However, Pittsburgh is an amazing fit for us. We have a chicken coop in the backyard and a view of the downtown skyline from the front porch. Pittsburgh has such a rich legacy of art, culture, architecture and history that it feels like a big city, and offers the possibilities of a big city. At the same time, the grittiness of the steelworker culture remains, and people are incredibly real and down to earth.
I guess you could say we play baroque folk. We use blues driven harp arrangements, acoustic and 12 string guitars, and intricate vocal harmonies. Our musical inspirations for this album included the Delta blues, Appalachian balladry, Gregorian chant, and the Folk Revival movement. The technical term for our musical style is chamber folk, which makes sense because it sounds stunning in a chamber, i.e. room. That said, the process of recording this album let us add multiple layers of vocal harmony and reverb effects. We like to think our music is the perfect balance of ancient and cutting edge.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to stay the course?
We fell in love in part because we were both musicians. Well, that and the fact that we are both so tall! (Kate is six foot tall, Casey is six five.) Then we got married, started having kids, and set aside our instruments. The harp was gathering dust in the corner. Casey didn’t play a single note on his guitar for six years. Then one morning, we sat down in the kitchen, pulled out our instruments, and played a few notes. Those notes turned into our first song, and that song turned into an album.
Making music together is an extraordinary thing. It’s a joyful process that brings out the best in both of us, and it’s been an amazing adventure for our whole family as well. We’re spending more time together. This summer we went out on tour with our three kids. We’re happy to be creating and performing beautiful music, and we’re passionate about making it possible to continue to do so.
How is your new release different than previous ones? Did you set out to accomplish anything specific?
Ballads and Battles is our debut album. When we wrote it, we were inspired by the place we were in- both physically and personally. It’s an album of civil and marital strife. Our neighborhood is rich in history, including a park which was once an Arsenal. Today, it’s a peaceful green hillside. One hundred and fifty five years ago, it was the site of the worst civilian disaster of the civil war. A mysterious explosion killed 78 people, most of them young women and girls. Many of the girls were recent Irish immigrants. Two of the girls shared Kate’s maiden name. This eerie coincidence led Kate to research their story, and to write the Ballad of the Arsenal Girls. We spent a lot of time thinking and writing about conflict and harmony, and the music we made reflects that.
Technically speaking recording the album was challenging but exhilarating. We learned a lot. It took us two years to write, arrange, record, and mix the album. Other than one session at a local recording studio to track instruments, we made this whole album in our attic- which is literally thirty five degrees in the winter, and a hundred degrees all summer long. Because we were looking for a very specific sound, Casey decided to learn how to mix the album himself. While it was a steep learning curve, we gained a lot of new skills along the way. We’re really happy with our homegrown debut album, and we’re already working on new material.
Do you face challenges as an indie musician in a digital age? How has technology helped you (assuming it helps)?
I think that the digital age challenges us to succeed. We write our own material, recorded and mixed our album, we do all our own lights and sound, and we do all of our own promotions. We built a low cost, high tech, great sounding recording studio in our attic. We’re simultaneously running a global and local press campaign, and we’re doing an interview with you right now. We’re learning as we go. The internet is an incredible source of practical knowledge about the music business, from how to mix an album or fix a sound system to how to build a budget, book a tour, and reach reviewers and fans. The internet puts the whole world at your fingertips, which can be overwhelming- but if you are willing to learn, there is an unprecedented amount of support available in building a career as an independent musician.
Where can we connect with you online and discover more music?
Thanks for asking!
- You can purchase our album on itunes: http://bit.ly/balladsandbattles
- Or Google Play: http://bit.ly/balladsandbattlesgoogle
- Check out our website: https://www.thestapletonsmusic.com/
- Follow us on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stapletonsmusic/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/stapletonsmusic
Anything else before we sign off?
It was great to talk to you! Thanks so much for the interview, and for all that you do to support independent music and musicians.