Interview: Faith Eliott

Though originally from Minneapolis, singer-songwriter Faith Eliott is Scottish at heart. Faith moved to Scotland at age 16 and they’ve given their new home as much as they’ve taken from it, initially Faith floated around in Edinburgh’s DIY scene contributing their art and music before they set up OK Pal Records with their friend Hailey to create a platform and community for Scottish artists.

Fittingly OK Pal Records’ first release is Faith’s debut album ‘Impossible Bodies’, which lands on April 19. On each of the album’s songs, Faith inhabits a different creature with a story to tell. This theme arises from their interest in the bestiaries created by medieval scribes, Faith says ‘newly-discovered animals were not categorised scientifically in medieval times but instead they were given a story’. It was these descriptions and drawings that gave form to Impossible Bodies.

The theme may sound niche, but it’s actually an incredibly personal album: “If I have a story or a hook, I can project my own feelings through that and it has a sort of prismatic effect where I can express myself more clearly.” The music that provides a platform for the words carries a similar integrity, the pallete is largely made up of restrained drums and guitars which are embellished with strings that swell and soar. ‘Impossible Bodies’ has a duality to it, the beauty of the music and vocals means that you can simply submit to it yet it’s themes are so dense and rich you can just as easily spend hours exploring it. On a basic level it’s about stories, the thing we revolve our entire world around. As Faith puts it: “I think people will always tell stories, it’s just how we make sense of things.”

In this album you inhabit a different animal in each song. How did you first come across bestiaries? Were you instantly hooked by them? How do you keep abreast of updates in the world of bestiaries?

Well, I’ve always liked making art and writing about animals and mythological creatures. I think I came across bestiaries when I was at art school. I find the whole concept of encyclopaedias and compendiums really fascinating. The decisions humans have made when it comes to categorising the natural world, the presentation and language we use. I guess these days we mostly think about classifying animals scientifically, or based on Linnaean taxonomy (which is the ranking system made up of mammals, birds, amphibians, etc etc.). But before that was the norm, a lot of texts were organised around allegory or religious beliefs. In medieval bestiaries, each creature is accompanied by a story. And they were’t exclusive to animals either. Some bestiaries included things like stones and comet, so anything could be “animate” if it was imbued with a symbolic meaning. I just really love that idea! And an album lends itself to that format too because it’s a collection of stories. 

Does mapping your experiences through another creature entirely make it easier for you to relay your experiences or do you just naturally prefer that way of writing?

I think it makes it easier in the sense that it gives me a framework to work from – when I write directly from my own experience it’s often quite nebulous and messy, because that’s what actual life is. But if I have a story or a hook, I can project my own feelings through that and it has a sort of prismatic effect where I can express myself more clearly. I don’t think it has to be based on creatures necessarily, just a core idea. 

You reference the changes happening to the world throughout this record, even talking about how the planet has survived ice ages. Are you generally more positive about the future of the universe than others?

Hmm. Well, I think the universe will just get on with being the universe no matter what. I’m not too optimistic about the survival of humanity. It’s all a bit terrifying. I like to learn about earth’s history though, it helps put things in perspective. 

Some people might read the theme behind this record and think ‘woah this album sounds a bit too academic for me,’ how would you sell it to those people?

Haha, well I guess there are some weird references in there but I don’t think that the stories themselves are that obtuse. Hopefully the music is enjoyable too so you don’t have to know what I’m on about, but you can look it up if you’re interested!

You obviously hold mythology dearly. How essential do you think it is to our existence as humans, and do you worry about its future now science is growing in popularity and trying to provide answers to everything?

Oh, well I think there’s a time and a place. I love science! I don’t see it as threatening to artistic expression or storytelling. I think people will always tell stories. It’s just how we make sense of things. 

In a number of the album tracks, you celebrate a creature’s success in breaking free from prescribed environments. Can we truly ever break free from the environments that were/are prescribed to us?

Ach, probably not. Maybe for a bit. It’s just one thing after another eh! But maybe life would be really boring without the friction. 

What are your hopes for this record once it’s set free to the world?

It’s going to feel weird when it’s actually out! I’ve been sitting on this egg for so long. I’m excited to be playing lots of gigs this summer, Doune the Rabbit Hole festival especially. I’m also really looking forward to writing some new stuff too! I have been so focussed on getting this record out that I haven’t had much time to entertain new ideas. 

You moved to Edinburgh at 16. Do you feel like a fully-fledged Scot now?

I think about that a fair bit actually! I do feel like I’m Scottish. It’s the place I know best and I have lived here for more of my life than anywhere else. I get asked about my American accent all the time though. It can be a bit frustrating. Most people are just curious but occasionally they can be dicks. Sometimes I find myself subconsciously putting on a Scottish accent in pubs or whatever just so people don’t ask me about it! 

You set up Ok Pal Records. It feels like the main aim of the label is to help other artists. Why are you so keen to do that? 

Well, I think the main aim is to create a platform and a community. You can get so much more done as a team! And it’s way more fun. It’s really important to me to be a part of something. It’s also a way of incorporating other artistic disciplines. Hailey (who is the co-founder of the label) and I both make visual art too so we’ve been really enjoying that aspect of things, making props for shows, videos, costumes, etc.

Impossible Bodies is out on OK Pal Records on April 19. Pre-order it now.

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