Behind the Music: Interview with Charm of Finches

‘Music has an amazing ability to heal – we think there is so much to explore there.’

Australian sisters Mabel and Ivy form the duo Charm of Finches, who have just released their haunting new single Gravity. A track that’s a beautifully crafted blend of the classical and folk genres, all wrapped up in existentialism as it tells the story of ‘toxic positivity. Therefore, it’s no surprise that we got one of our interviewers, Tiegan Wright, to find out more.

What does the name ‘Charm of Finches mean?
Charm of Finches is the real collective noun for a groups of little finch birds! We love collective nouns and wanted to choose one of them. Though enticing, Murder of Crows or Crash of Rhinos didn’t really suit us so well as Charm of Finches

When did you first perform? 
We played our first gig when we were 8 and 11 when we sang in a three part harmony acapella group with one of our friends. It was at a bar and we were told we had to sing our songs and then leave since we were all very much under age! We started performing together as the sister duo Charm of Finches when we were 11 and 14, performing at folk festivals around Australia.

What inspired you both to start making music? 
We’ve grown up in a very musical household! Our mum used to teach choirs when we were kids – she led a choir in the school playground after school. Our dad has always had an obsession with Bob Dylan and played his songs a lot in the background of our childhood. We also listened to a lot of Celtic music, Americana and Appachian music. At 11 and 14 we found out that our favourite band at the time, First Aid Kit, the Swedish sisters, made their first album when they were teenagers. We were then determined to record our own songs. We recorded our first EP as a school project which snowballed into quite a big project where we went into a friend’s studio to record it and crowdfunded the money for it to be pressed and printed.

Your latest single ‘Gravity’, like much of your music, is full of ethereal strings. This most recent single though is really defined by that delicate pizzicato in the introduction. What led to these textural contrasts?
Yes! Arranging strings for our songs is one of our favourite things. Ivy plays violin and I (Mabel) play cello. One artist that really inspires us with her intricate string arrangements is Agnes Obel – a Danish pianist and singer-songwriter. This influence can be heard in this track a bit. There are so many different textures you can create with the violin and cello and we love to use that versatility to create different moods in production. Our producer Daniel Ledwell has also brought some beautiful moods to the songs in the way he mixes the strings and adds different effects to make it sound all the more dreamy!

Can you tell us a little bit more about the story behind this track and the inspiration for it? 
The song is a reflection on “toxic positivity” and how we can often use false optimism to mask feelings of grief and sadness. We reflected on how we have both experienced this – in a relationship, hoping blindly for things to get better without facing any of the issues and in the context of losing a friend to a serious illness. 

Often after shows, someone has told us that listening to our songs was a moving and cathartic experience.’

The abundance of orchestral strings in your music provides a really natural almost classical feel. What made you chose to orchestrate ‘Gravity’ in this way? 
We’ve both learned Baroque and Classical music on our stringed instruments and played in orchestras throughout Primary and High School, so this music is part of our musical background and influence.  Adding strings to our songs has always been an important production element. We also love listening to lush string soundtracks and contemporary instrumental music. We both particularly love Garth Stevenson’s compositions – he’s an  American double bass player. We’ve also played a lot of Celtic folk tunes and flavours of that pop up in our songs every now and then too!

And linked with this, what led you to blending this instrumental approach with the topic of modern anxieties that exist in the lyrics?
What a great question. We started writing Gravity on guitar, soft delicate picking which echoes the fragile vulnerability of the lyrics. The arrangement had to be delicate to softly cushion the raw honesty and frailty. Dan added some beautiful harp ornaments and swells, and we blended a whole lot of finger picking on different instruments together – ukulele and banjo along with the nylon string guitar. We put bits of foam between the strings and the body of the instrument to get that really cool muted picking sound – this was inspired by a Sufjan Stevens song that we really love called Mystery of Love.

There is an undeniable vulnerability within the single, if there was one topic that you could present further through your music what would it be? 
Our last album kind of unintentionally became a grief album because we used songwriting as a way of coping with the loss of a friend. But it’s been really wonderful connecting with people through these songs and talking about grief which is something that many people find difficult to talk about. Often after shows someone has told us that listening to our songs was a moving and cathartic experience and they’ve shared a story about losing someone that they love. Music has an amazing ability to heal and we think there is so much to explore there.
It’s hard to predict what topics are going to come into our songwriting until the songs arise. Our next single is actually about meditation! We would never have seen that coming, but after 7 months of a Melbourne lockdown last year,  it isn’t surprising that a song about meditation arose from the experience.

What messages do you aim to convey to others through your music?
We pretty much always write from our own personal experiences as a way of expressing honest emotions and in that moment of writing it, the audience is not in mind at all. We even write songs with the intention of not sharing them but then next thing we know we’re playing them to each other and then recording them for an album! But we hope that through our songs that express emotions that are often hard to cope with and feel, such as grief and loss – that listeners can find some healing through them, that they find words or sounds that speak to them.

‘Adding strings to our songs has always been an important production element.’

Being a sibling duo what are the blessings and curses of working together? 
Haha! Yes, well, as sisters our friendship seems more stable than others in that you can say terrible things to each other and then be fine in about half an hour! We can be brutally honest with each other and often an honest opinion is what you need when creating music together. We live together which means we can have spontaneous songwriting sessions. As we’ve grown older we’ve definitely learnt how to work together better – a bit more harmoniously than earlier years!

How do you separate inputs to help shape the overall sound of your tracks? 
Ivy tends to specialise in the harmonies and coming up with catchy melodies when songwriting and I tend to specialise in the lyrics. But we are always collaborating! We divide the roles technically as well! We have been recording all these songs at home and I (Mabel) do all the audio engineering stuff. Ivy edits all of our music videos, and we collaborate on the concepts and directing! We totally love making them as there’s a lot of creative freedom and no rules!  You can watch our videos over on YouTube here.

So how does being involved with both sides impact?
It’s a lot of responsibility and you become a bit of a control freak! It also takes a lot of time as we’re basically our own production company – but we love it! It’s very creatively liberating and empowering too. In terms of being our own audio engineers, as we are being right now with our album project, it can be hard to know when we’ve achieved a good performance and to stop going for more takes – it’s nice having a producer in the studio for that outside perspective. We have each other, though, and we’re learning a lot about engineering with an objective, critical ear. 

And finally, with such a beautiful single from you already what further releases are on the horizon?
Gravity is off an upcoming album that will be coming out near the end of this year! Before then, we’ll be releasing a few more songs and music videos though, so keep an eye out! We’re so proud of this bunch of songs and can’t wait to share them with the world.

Thanks Charm of Finches for chatting with Listen to Discover
Interview by Tiegan Wright

Photograph Credit: Laura May Grogan

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