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The Unthanks

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The Unthanks: “We have a reputation for being on the melancholic side of things”

The Unthanks are, by their own admission, a little on the dingy side. Known for bringing live audiences to tears with the depth of their beautiful folk pieces, the two Northumbrian sisters – who pair up to deliver winding and enthralling vocals – and their accompanying band explore the vaults of English folk, something they were born into.

“We’ve always been surrounded by songs and stories,” Rachel Unthank tells us. “They come back into your imagination, and a time comes where it’s the right time to sing it. For example, ‘Sorrows Away’, once we felt like it was the right time to sing this song, it made sense of our new album, as a song that gave us comfort and reminded us of singing with people. There are a few songs on the album that came from that idea.”

“The songs sometimes remind us of our past, like singing on a Northumbrian beach with 40 people on our singing weekends. We do find some tracks in the archives, too, that don’t have those kinds of memories. There’s a really strong musical and cultural identity in the North East of England, and there’s a very healthy selection of songs, tunes and dance traditions that were a big part of our upbringing.”

In fact, that distinctly local feel is part of what has delivered The Unthanks to an international audience: with their feet firmly on the ground they grew up on, they don’t feel in the least bit contrived.

“People do tap into the vernacular, in the North East, into hearing their own accents and their own stories being told,” Rach says. “We were brought up in the folk tradition and taught not to Americanise our accents. It makes sense to us to sound like we do.”

The new album, ‘Sorrows Way’, is a return to The Unthanks as an ensemble, a glance at their broadest and most considered style. “We consider this the first studio album in a while,” Rachel says. “We’ve done a lot of ‘diversion’ type albums, project albums, in between. Like the poems of Molly Drake, and Emily Bronte to music, unaccompanied tours, that kind of thing.”

“This is us as a band, and it’s not as directed, it doesn’t have a specific outcome. That means us finding songs and bringing them together, focusing on stuff we want to play [as opposed to a theme]. We were really drawn to songs that gave us comfort and joy, and sometimes that is a miserable song. For an Unthanks album, we do have a reputation for being on the melancholic side of things, and we feel like this is a little bit more hopeful, with opportunities to sing along. In the context of our band, of course.”