Kacy & Clayton
More Than Retro
by Christopher L. Istace
March 1, 2016
Kacy and Clayton hold fast to traditional folk tones while establishing an original sound that is being noticed internationally
Kacy and Clayton are swimming against the tide of today’s folk music movement.
Bands such as Britain’s Mumford and Sons and North Carolina’s The Avett Brothers have reached international acclaim by putting a 21st century twist on the genres of folk, blues, bluegrass and country music. Their full instrumental sections and broad arrangements have struck a chord with pop music enthusiasts in the last decade.
However, vocalist and violinist Kacy Anderson and her multi-instrumentalist second cousin Clayton Linthicum are maintaining a firm grip on the sound and tone that brought folk music to the forefront through the 1950s and 1960s. Their mix of traditional folk covers and original material contains - for the most part - light, airy vocals with simple harmonies and stripped down, single-instrumentation.
And it’s working for them. In the past year, the Glentworth, Saskatchewan-based duo has toured Ireland, The United Kingdom, Finland and the United States, and released their third album “Strange Country” in November.
“Our sound, like most people’s, is a reflection of our influences,” 21-year-old Linthicum said from the road while on tour in the U.S. “I’ve always been attracted to the older styles of folk music because people played with a lot of power and authority. The older guitar styles had an emphasis on bass runs and rhythm that is not found in modern styles.”
In essence, the music of Kacy and Clayton is like laying your head upon a new, soft feather pillow with your body twisted into a warm, down comforter. Anderson’s soft-timbered vocals are unforced, unfettered and easygoing. Linthicum’s harmonies sit deep behind her while his pluck-and-strum guitar style fills in the crevices of the soundscape. He rolls and meanders along the fretboard, but never enough to clutter or overpower the song.
“Kacy’s grandpa plays (guitar) in this style, which is where I picked up the bass run thing,” Linthicum said.
A quote on the pair’s website explains the ideology behind their sound like this: “In recent decades, too many folk songs have been burdened by over-sung vocals and cluttered arrangements. Kacy & Clayton restore space to the art form by dealing in subtlety instead of tinsel. Their arrangements employ minimal ornamentation.”
Their return to form is no mere retro affectation; it is a respectful bearing of the torch passed on from their deep and studied musical heritage.
A generational progression
Carl Anderson is Anderson’s grandfather and Linthicum’s great-uncle. Carl has played music most of his life. As a youth, he would either be riding the range with his father or on a piano bench. At 14, he purchased a guitar and taught himself to play. Not long after, he accompanied a pair of sisters to a talent night in a neighboring town and his music career began.
Ultimately, Carl would tour throughout southern Saskatchewan playing music for dances and other events in numerous communities. In his 80s today, Carl - with his wife, Camille - still plays music for senior citizens living in care homes in the Glentworth and Moose Jaw, Sask. areas.
Carl is the mentor and music teacher who set Anderson and Linthicum on their musical path from an early age. The pair spent hours in the family music room at the Anderson home near Glentworth, learning what Anderson calls “the tricks of the trade.” It was a wide and deep musical education that touched on theory, composition, performance, showmanship and even philosophy.
“He’s the kindest and humblest person I’ve ever come across,” Anderson said about her grandfather.
Carl also steered the pair towards the music that influences them most; primarily, the sound created by traditional folk from the British Isle and the American Appalachia regions. The latter is a melting pot of melodies and tones from English, Scottish, Irish, American Indian and African-American cultures.
Through Carl, Kacy and Clayton were introduced to folk, bluegrass, country and blues music from the likes of Lead Belly, Shirley Collins, Alan Lomax, The Stanley Brothers, Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt and Davey Graham.
It is not surprising to see Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly) on that list. The early 20th century folk and blues singer/guitarist struck a heavy chord with artists that followed in the decades after his death in 1949. They include The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Kurt Cobain, Jack White and countless more. Lead Belly is, basically, the grandfather of contemporary pop and rock music.
Found guilty for the murder of a relative in 1918, he was released in 1925 after being pardoned by Texas Governor Pat Morris Neff. Lead Belly had served a minimum seven years of his 35-year sentence.
“I always come back to Lead Belly because it seems like he has this pent-up energy in his performance that’s ready to burst at any moment,” Linthicum said. “He wrote a song to the governor which resulted in his release from prison. It takes a certain kind of performance to convince a state governor to release a murderer into the public.”
Anderson, at 18 years old, includes others on her list of influences. In the realm of country music, there are Kitty Wells and Sammi Smith, alongside folk artists Sandy Denny, The Watersons, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, Jean Ritchie, and Canadian duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
Linthicum also points to blues gospel singer and guitarist Reverend Gary Davis and Scottish psychedelic folk group, The Incredible String Band, as sounds that have shaped Kacy and Clayton.
Linthicum still calls the cattle ranch where he grew up, south of Glentworth, home. Just before entering elementary school, he began playing piano and received his first guitar on his eighth birthday. He obsessed over that stringed instrument until it broke in half a few years later.
“When I was about 10 or 11, Kacy and her three sisters invited me to play electric guitar in their band. We called ourselves the Rock Creek Experience,” he remembered. “Our repertoire was mostly old country songs.”
An early show was held in 2005 in Ceylon, Saskatchewan, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Anderson’s home in Fir Mountain, Sask. Anderson was eight years old, but had already been singing for four years.
“The Rock Creek Experience name referenced the spring that runs through my family’s land,” she said, adding that Carl and Camille were also part of the band. “We were big in Ceylon. They had us back later that year to play the town’s homecoming.”
“Achingly beautiful...Kacy & Clayton have created a gorgeous wee gem of an album that will continue to attract accolades from fans and fellow musicians alike. It may straddle the Atlantic with one foot in the Canadian prairies of today and the other in London’s Troubadour Club of the 1960s but, in the words of E.L.O.’s Jeff Lynne, ‘Old music is the same as new music – it’s just a different way of delivering it.’ “
- David Morrison, Folk Radio U.K.
Moving on their own
Kacy and Clayton was developed as a duo and stayed so because there were few other young musicians to play music with around the Glentworth area. The pair’s recent line of success took root when they began performing for more substantial festival audiences in 2010.
A year later they recorded their first album, a self-titled collection of songs released through Dahl Street Records out of Brandon MB. They supported the album with a tour of Western Canada alongside blue-grass trio and fellow Dahl Street artists, The Hard Ramblers.
Anderson and Linthicum followed that recording with appearances at the Regina Folk Festival, Ness Creek Music Festival, Saskatoon Jazz Festival and Forget Deep Winter Blues Revival in 2012.
Music media began to pay attention after the release of their second full-length recording, “The Day Is Past and Gone,” in 2013. The album includes their renditions of traditional folk songs - including “The Cherry Tree Carol” and “Let it Shine On Me” - and holds original compositions running along the same vein, “ballads and blues.” Ryan Boldt, lead singer and songwriter for well-known alternative-country band The Deep Dark Woods from Saskatoon, produced the album, with Linthicum playing guitar in Deep Dark Woods as he and Anderson continued to develop their duo.
Online music magazine American Standard Time placed The Day Is Past and Gone among the top 10 LPs of that year. It was also featured in Roots magazine, and nominated for two Canadian Folk Music Awards, with Kacy and Clayton winning for Young Performer of the Year.
Kacy and Clayton went international when they were invited to play the Kilkenny Roots Festival in Ireland in spring 2015. Boldt, performing in support of his new solo album, was also asked to attend, so the three of them additionally put together an eight-date tour of England.
“Seeing the regions where our favorite music comes from was an inspiring thing for me. I particularly liked visiting rural England and seeing the landscape where the Copper Family and Shirley Collins lived and sang their songs,” Linthicum said.
This past summer, they joined American indie-folk duo The Milk Carton Kids for five shows in the United States. One stop was The Town Hall in New York, a highlight for Linthicum, who also plays melodeon on some numbers.
“It seems like most of our fans are musicians in other touring bands. This has been a great help with getting us some attention outside of Saskatchewan,” he said.
While in Seattle WA, Kacy and Clayton filed a live session that was aired online through a non-profit radio station affiliated with the University of Washington. Anderson said the performance has been instrumental in their continuing rise in popularity.
On November 13, Kacy and Clayton released their third full-length album, “Strange Country,” through Big White Cloud Records, a new label based in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. The duo is sticking to the moods and tones that have worked well for them since 2010. Most of the album contains original songs, supplemented with their own arrangements of older folk songs. The duo has stepped away from their stripped-down sound on some tracks - adding Chris Prpich (Lazy MKs, Lonesome Weekends) on double bass and Lucas Goetz (The Deep Dark Woods) on drums, but the essential idea is the same: subtlety over “tinsel.” Fellow recording artist Shuyler Jansen of Vancouver produced the album, while Barrett Ross engineered the recordings at Ghetto Box Studios in Saskatoon.
“We’re building on the same Anglo-American folk hybrid that we attempted on our last album, but this album features more of our own compositions,” Linthicum noted, adding that both of them are involved in the songwriting process.
“What usually happens when we write songs is one of us has a basic melodic or lyrical idea for a song. The idea is shared with the other person and the song is completed together. We have no determined roles in the process.”
Most of the songs were written in the few months leading up to the Strange Country recording sessions.
“The songs on the album follow stories of peculiar instances and everyday lives,” Anderson said while explaining the theme of the upcoming record. Growing up and living on the Prairies has influenced their songwriting, she added. “I think living in a rural area has influenced us because we are surrounded by strong characters,” she said. “Living in a rural area also leaves a lot of space for thinking.”
The new material has already been well-received by the audiences they’ve encountered while on tour this summer.
“We’ve played most of the new album songs on this (U.S.) tour and I think they’ve been received the best of all our songs,” Linthicum said.
Kacy and Clayton are touring widely in support of the new album, including a showcase at Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, and dates in Australia, the U.K., Belgium and Netherlands. Linthicum sees little change in the direction the duo is headed.
“In the next three or four years, I see ourselves doing the same things we’re doing now: touring, writing, and recording,” he said. “My main aspiration at the moment is to move out of my parents’ basement.”
For more on the duo, visit www.kacyandclayton.com.
Christopher L. Istace is a singer/songwriter, author and freelance writer based in Moosomin SK. He plays guitar and sings in the folk-rock, alternative-country duo, The Old 21, which released their debut EP, “A Pretty Good Shot,” in 2014. He also plays bass and sings harmonies for the country band, The Back 40 Drifters. Christopher has published one novel called Paco’s Provision.