YORK duo Odin Dragonfly release second album Sirens tomorrow, fully 15 years since their debut, Offerings.
Heather Findlay and Angela Gordon met in their late teens, first writing, playing and singing together when on the road with York prog-rock band Mostly Autumn.
“Lovingly crafting away behind dressing room doors, in hotel rooms, on the tour bus and in airport lounges while we whiled away the spare hours touring life brought, in 2007 we decided we had collected enough songs together to make a record, and so our debut album was born,” they say on their website.
They duly offered up Offerings, released under the name of Odin Dragonfly, an anagram of their surnames Findlay and Gordon.
They have gone on to play together across Britain, Europe and the United States, while Heather has built up her solo career post-Mostly Autumn and Angela has performed with Leather’O, a gypsy, Celtic and folk band, and Stout Boots, who specialise in “Celtic pub songs played hard”.
Sirens has emerged under contrasting circumstances to Offerings, under the shadow of the pandemic. Last May, Heather posted: “Myself and Angela are tracking our instruments for the new Odin Dragonfly album in our home studio spaces and we are planning to get together to record our vocals in the very near future!
“This album has a very mystical, evocative and oceanic vibe to it and the artwork is being created by our wonderful and very talented friend Howard Rankin, whose work we absolutely love!
“We’ve been brainstorming with him online and the three of us will be heading to a blustery Yorkshire beach next month [June 2021] to capture some vibey, windswept shots!”
At the time, Heather was hopeful Sirens would come a’calling towards autumn, and yes, she and Angela did meet up to record their vocals and did make it to the beach for photographing Rankin’s beautiful album artwork. However, the album launch was moved to today, preceded by the January 7 single, Driving, and pre-orders for the limited-edition “1st 500” bundles of Sirens.
Now the day has arrived, Angela says: “It feels like the most personal piece of work I’ve been involved in. It has my heart and soul in it. I think people will hear that. It’s been kind of strange, listening back, how current some of the themes sound, given that some of these songs are 15, 20 years old.”
Heather reflects: “In creative terms, I feel Sirens features some of our most accomplished song-writing. As Angela says, it’s been quite magical to see how these songs have woven themselves together into this one body of work, which has ended up feeling so cohesive.
“It’s almost as if Sirens was written completely as a concept album, made to reflect the current times we are sharing on this planet.
“It kind of confirms to me the sense that songs really do come from somewhere else. I imagine it almost as though they were like a message in a bottle that was always meant to be washed ashore right now.”
Heather found the album’s journey to the finishing line becoming increasingly cathartic and therapeutic against the backdrop of Covid’s stultifying grip. ” It was magnifying glass to a lot of what was going on: the enforced separation that led us to look within. The recording process we had to do brought out what was already in the songs,” she says.
Angela, pianist, flautist and singer, explains the lengthy hiatus between albums: “Sirens has been a long time in the making because it was a backburner project for us as we’re both busy with lots of other projects, but then we found time to record the piano and guitar parts separately, and after the first lockdown we were able to get together for Heather to record my vocals and flute,” she says.
“The songs were devised before Covid struck and some of them we’d been playing live for a couple of years, so a lot of the collaborative work had been done.”
One progression for Angela has been in her confidence in singing. “Heather has coached me through my vocals, where I can be front and centre in my own songs for Odin Dragonfly, to the point where I can sing some lead vocals for Leather’O and Stout Boots. Heather has fed my confidence for those other projects.”
Heather, vocalist, guitarist, low whistle player and percussionist, says: “It’s difficult to express it in words, but I know what shape the voice needs, or what way the face should be pulled, for singing. It’s a very unschooled way of ‘feeling’ the other person’s feelings, but I would say Angela needs a lot less coaching than she thinks!”
Angela rejoins: “Part of having confidence is being able to get up and perform in front of people, but it was more personal than that for me. It was about mine and Heather’s relationship with the songs, and this album came from deeply expressed emotions that are really difficult to sing.
“So, there are things on the recordings that I wouldn’t have kept, but Heather’s super-skill is her ability to draw out both the emotion and the technical craft. I wouldn’t have kept as much of the emotional side if I’d been working with someone else but that would have been detrimental to the album. It became like a therapy session as much as a recording session, expressing those deep, deep feelings.”
Heather concurs: “The more singing you do, the more it opens your heart to show your vulnerabilities. If something is tugging at the heartstrings so much that you need to sing about, it becomes cathartic.
“You have to sing from your heart; otherwise you will not connect with the song; it has to have that authenticity,” she says. “But I’ve had awful experiences with a lack of confidence, where I’ve had to have a word with myself about ‘self-sabotage’ when singing.”
Performing a song requires you to “connect to the moment”, suggests Heather. “When you are singing or using the instrument that you’ve grafted over till it becomes part of you, that’s when you should be in ‘the moment,” she says.
Angela notes: “If you’re performing your own songs, it’s different to performing music written by someone else or your ensemble or a cover version. The feeling of vulnerability comes when you’re singing your own song.”
“But at other times, it can come from a fear of being judged when there’s already a precedent there for singing that song,” says Heather.
Describing herself as “an instrumentalist before a vocalist,” Angela says: “You can express yourself through that instrument, and I believe the ultimate musical experience is not singing your own songs but performing with others.”
Prompted by enjoying the moment when Kate Bush sat alone playing the piano at the end of her concerts in her 2014 residency at London’s Eventim Apollo Hammersmith iand Tori Amos’s solo performances too, Angela played some solo piano concerts but…
…”It turns out there’s very little joy in performing alone, where you learn that’s not what music is for,” she says. “I now have no desire to perform on my own: as a vocalist I love creating harmonies and as a musician I love being part of the overall sound.”
The Sirens motif for the album emerged in part from a song that does not appear on the recording: Sirens Of The Sea. “It’s a classic pop song, an Ibiza trance kind of tune by OceanLab that we kept thinking would be a lovely song for Odin Dragonfly to cover, with a deep, emotional feel to it,” says Heather. “So that became like the intro track to what Sirens would become.”
Sirens Of The Sea sparked the nautical theme. “It lent itself to water sound effects at the start of the record and to the songs that we’d already collected like Across The Sea and Gulls,” says Angela. “It wasn’t a case of reverse engineering. It just felt right to call it Sirens.”
The vinyl edition, scheduled for springtime, will continue the theme with its transparent design with splashes of blue, and it has had an impact on the track order of CD, download and LP alike.. “The first side has the darker songs; Side B has the songs where it feels comforting and that it’s all going to be all right,” says Angela.
Track seven, Four And Twenty Moons, marks the change, taking on greater resonance in Covid times. “You think about the two years we’ve been through, with all that tumult, and there’s that feeling of ‘Enough. Blow the candles out’,” says Heather.
And what should we make of the choice of album title? Sirens may carry a Greek mythical status as dangerous temptresses whose singing drew sailors towards the rocks, but Angela counters: “We like to think of them luring you to their songs with their singing.” Odin Dragonfly certainly do that.
Odin Dragonfly release Sirens on Black Sand Records tomorrow on CD and download; the vinyl edition will follow in March or April. They will NOT be supporting One Iota at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tomorrow as first planned.