Audiofile Interview: Vashti Bunyan

English folkie talks about working with Devendra Banhart and the Animal Collective and living life "in the middle of many nowheres."

Published July 8, 2005 5:45PM (EDT)

In 1970 Vashti Bunyan released her only record, "Just Another Diamond Day," a frail and enchanted collection of fairy-tale folk songs that failed both critically and commercially and soon went out of print. It is now living a very healthy second life, having been rediscovered by Devendra Banhhart, Animal Collective, Joanna Newsom and others, who have effectively adopted Bunyan as the patron saint of their "freak folk" scene. Bunyan dueted with Banhart on last year's "Rejoicing in the Hands," and more recently completely an EP-length collaboration, titled "Prospect Hummer," with the Animal Collective (Salon exclusive free download of the title track). Audiofile corresponded with Bunyan by e-mail.

What have you been up to in the decades since your record was released? You're now living in Edinburgh, Scotland, right?

Yes -- I now live back in the city after years in the countryside -- up farm tracks and in the middle of many nowheres. I've lived a life of bringing up children, living on our wits, buying and selling old furniture, having market stalls and shops, breeding Clydesdale horses, and looking after all kinds of people and animals. Then a few years ago I unexpectedly fell in love with my lawyer and brought my family to live with his -- here in Edinburgh. A different life.

Have you been making music at all? Writing songs?

No, not for years and years, not since I recorded "Diamond Day" and it was so indifferently received. I gave up -- until "Diamond Day" was re-issued and this time people seemed to understand it at last and something triggered off the songwriting again about four years ago.

Had you heard of Devendra Banhart and the Animal Collective before they started talking about you in interviews?

Devendra wrote to me years ago when he was homeless and struggling and playing his music in horrible places. He asked me if I thought he should carry on and of course I said yes when he sent me a tape. I'm sure nothing could ever have stopped him, though. He's fantastic. Animal Collective I met here when they were supporting Kieran Hebden (Four Tet); we all went out to dinner before the show and he told me they all had my album. I was surprised -- I didn't think anyone could ever have heard of it. We got talking and they asked me to sing on some songs of theirs. I liked what they were doing and said yes.

Did it feel natural working with the Animal Collective for this EP, or was it something of a stretch? They're working in a much more experimental vein than you had previously.

I loved every minute and it was no stress! I so admire their inventiveness. I enjoyed their musicianship and their sure-footedness when we were recording. My own songs are more straightforward and I sometimes think I would like to be more like them, but I would not want to try to emulate them and their way with music. We are different and the meeting was a lovely moment.

Do you have any plans to record a new solo record?

Yes. I have signed to FatCat and I am recording an album of new songs. Max Richter is co-producing with me and we are both working on the arrangements just now. He is wonderful to work with and I like being back in a studio -- always the thing I liked best. I am very lucky.

Photo © Don Stout 1999

By Salon Staff

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