Brother and sister duo, The McMenamins, have created a sweet melodic sound that is all their own, with perfect harmonies accompanied by an acoustic driven blend of mandolin and violin instrumentals. With the imminent release of their new album, ‘Sand and Stone’, the siblings serve up a unique taste of alternative country and folk music to delight the senses. When I spoke with Fleur McMenamin recently, she was very happy with the result. Recorded at Applewood Lane Studios in Brisbane, Fleur says that the album is very much acoustic driven. “Applewood Lane is a beautiful converted chapel,” she explains. “We particularly wanted to record there because of the acoustics. We really revel in that acoustic sound. And we had a really great time making it with producer, Benjamin McCarthy. The songs are about our lives and our experiences and where we come from and where we’re going. They are heartfelt expressions of how we feel about the world. That’s the kind of music that we make, I guess and this album really reflects that.”
The siblings have been performing together for almost ten years now. “We were accepted into the Emerging Artists Program at Woodford Folk Festival in 2003,” Fleur tells me. “Prior to that, I had been writing songs and playing around Sydney at that time and I asked Simon to join me as he is a really fantastic classical musician and improviser. He can play something beautiful on anything you give him! I convinced him to join me and we’ve been playing together ever since. The response we got at the Woodford Folk Festival that year was so fantastic and we have been writing songs, releasing albums and touring ever since then.”
Fleur had always wanted to perform. “The love of music was born very early in me,” she says. “Simon began playing the violin when he was seven and I was playing musical instruments from a young age too. I was playing the clarinet from the age of ten and did singing and piano and did all the theory and classical exams. But it only really took shape in this form when I was at university. I was studying acting and I had a lot of amazing musical friends around me. I picked up a guitar and I had the freedom to write my own music and express myself in a very different way and I just fell in love with it and I’ve been working on it ever since.”
As a young girl, Fleur liked to listen to the old folk records that her mother had from the seventies. “There were a couple that I really identified with and I guess that the whole singer/song writer thing really got to me from a young age. I liked jazz too and a bit of soul music. I guess it all influences you a little bit but as I started to get older, I really started to fall in love with the singer/song writer/roots/acoustic sound; especially people like Patty Griffin and Gillian Welch. I guess our influences come through in all different ways but one particular theme is the roots music and the story telling.”
Simon had played in a couple of other bands, including Brisbane-based band, The Fabulous Nobodies, while he was studying at The Conservatorium. Being three years younger, Fleur explains that it took a little while longer for her to get to the point where she could perform her own original songs with confidence. “So it took a bit of convincing but as soon as he started to see me writing some really nice music and powerful stuff, I think that convinced him to give it a go and jump on board and then the response that we got really encouraged us both.”
Woodford was the duo’s first big public performance and first major festival. They had just recorded an EP which remains unreleased but they did sell it at that Woodford Festival and were able to get it out on radio. That encouraged them to then go on and record their first full length album which was released through MGM. “We were really encouraged and then we started to get supports like the big stadium tour with Missy Higgins in 2005, which also had Ray LaMontagne and Ben Lee. We opened for Missy on that tour so it started getting quite exciting that we were getting those shows and that encouragement. From there, we just really kept working on it. The music is something that has never gone away so we just continue to write the songs, record them, release them and then tour them.”
The McMenamins will be playing at the Byron Bay Bluesfest later this month for the first time. “It’s very exciting!” Fleur declares. ‘’There is such an incredible line-up this year. It’s exciting that we even get to go, let alone play and be amongst that incredible international community of musicians. It’s an amazing thing.”
The duo has played a few festivals before, including a few in North America, namely The Americana Music Festival in Nashville and the Folk Alliance in Memphis and Canadian Music Week as well, of course, as numerous festivals around Australia. Keenly aware of the broad exposure offered by such events, Fleur says that they do try to organise their tours around any festivals that might be happening at the time, in order to maximise that exposure. And it seems that there is always something happening somewhere!
“We’ve done two U.S. tours now,” she tells me. “We have started working with a booking agent over there who supports international musicians and books us a whole bunch of shows and we also now have another contact in Portland, Oregon. We’ve been working on getting a bit of an audience in the States for a couple of years now and we probably will take this release over early next year. We are concentrating on Australia for the next ten months or so. Then we will go back and try to get some more radio exposure and more media coverage over there.”
Fleur says that the audiences they play to in America are really no different to the audiences here in Australia. “We find that the people who are drawn to our kind of music are really just wonderful people. They all seem to be very friendly and encouraging and supportive. We’ve met some wonderful people in the States who support us on our journey of trying to break into the market there and the same in Australia. I think that lovers of acoustic, country blues and roots are just basically that kind of people!”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved
For details of The McMenamins tour dates and how to book, please go to our Touring page.