In Melbourne they performed as The Portraits, but Toni Randle and Andrew Keegan have more lately named their music collaboration after the Canterbury building Eyreton Hall, where much of their exquisite debut album was recorded. It sounds grand, elegant and a little mysterious – the name that is. The album, ‘Featherstitch’ sounds like a uniquely beautiful piece of artful folk, a thing well made. Ania Glowacz talked with the couple/duo/band about their path to this release.
Both Toni Randle (originally ex-Christchurch), and Sydney-native Andrew Keegan are hardcore-trained musicians. Toni attended the Christchurch School of Jazz for three years, before furthering her music study at the somewhat exclusive Sydney Conservatorium, where she and Andrew met. With eight years of music schooling she is a highly trained jazz singer (complete with a Masters degree) who decided she didn’t want to go further with jazz.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to do jazz, I just didn’t want to do jazz… only. What I was writing wasn’t really jazz, it was more contemporary.”
“One thing that jazz does is it prepares you,” says Andrew. “It gives you a good solid foundation to be able to improvise. If you can tackle ‘that’ genre then you can tackle anything.”
Andrew has been a drummer and percussionist from way back, with an older brother who is a saxophonist and a younger one who plays bass. He joined Breaks Co-Op for their NZ tour at the start of this year. Both teach music in order to pay the bills in-between gigs and family life – which is the next chapter to Eyreton Hall becoming the entity it is today.
Leaving Sydney behind, Andy took a year-long sojourn in Tokyo, where he taught English by day and was a muso for hire by night. Toni joined him in Japan and together they later moved to Melbourne, where they enjoyed plenty of local success as an indie band called The Portraits, gaining a solid live reputation and recording a few EPs.
Just as The Portraits were starting to get some traction Toni became pregnant. Post-birth, for the first time for Toni, the music stopped – she didn’t write for two years. With another on the way the couple decided to move to Christchurch to enjoy some extra family support – arriving right between the two earthquakes. Still, they tried to make the best of things, and the music began again.
‘Featherstitch’ was subsequently recorded just up the road from mum and dad Randle’s olive grove, in a charmingly rustic old corrugated iron hall, Eyreton Hall as it happens, where it was captured by friend and engineer Joseph Veale.
Toni is the main songwriter. She composes mainly on piano, with Andy adding for arrangement ideas, embellishments and production. Unusually for folk musicians, neither really employ the acoustic guitar, although Andy has a basic grasp. More unusually, Toni always writes the chords and lyrics together.
She also says that these songs are, by now, all a little old. Album closer And So It Goes, and Salt and Sixpence, were written in Melbourne in 2011. Ladders and Crippling came out in Auckland, where their growing family moved to in mid-2012, having found “no room at the inn” in Christchurch. Andy wrote Lovelessly, while the remaining seven tracks were composed in Toni’s parent’s barn. They are each a delight. There’s plenty of folk, a bit of country, a lot of delicacy… and a whole load of beauty and pure expression.
Eyreton Hall is Toni and Andrew, though they invite various others inside to help embellish the music. Live, they are joined by Sam Taylor, Mark Hughes, and Toni’s brother Tim Randle.
Toni does her own bvs on the album with Ben King helping on some – adding to a roster of talented musicians from both NZ and Australia – family included.
Though highly trained as a singer, Toni doesn’t sound it, her style natural and unforced. Their songs are timeless. Art-folk is a good label. Others have also tagged them ‘alt-folk’ and Toni says she is totally cool with that. There’s a hint of Kate Bush here, a piece of Loreena McKennitt there – and doubtless others (‘Tori Amos moves to Ireland’ was one stretch) – but really it just has its own special magic.
Musical inspirations include Fleet Foxes, Rufus Wainwright, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Bonnie Raitt and Ray LaMontaigne among others. They have an original name because they have their own special sound, and a beautiful debut album.