Interview: Sharon Knight & Winter

Winners of the Society for Ritual Arts’ inaugural 2015 Lost Chord Award

Interview by Jenna Farr Ludwig, MA

Sharon and WinterI recently met with Sharon Knight and Winter; the musical duo voted this year’s winners of the inaugural Lost Chord Award, given annually to indie musicians of exceptional merit by the Society for Ritual Arts (SRA). Sharon and Winter have been working their musical alchemy—each contributing their particular skills to create ‘beauty and deliciousness’ in the world—since they first joined forces 20 years ago. We were fortunate to catch them on the fly between engagements.

Entering their studio, I was quickly put at ease by their convivial style and friendly banter. Winter’s looks—heavy metal rocker, turned Celtic bard—belie his subtle humor and soft-spoken charm. Sharon’s open heart and beguiling smile enhance her natural, take-charge personality. Both provided this interviewer with lots of good information about their new collaborative Portals CD, a project that contributed to their winning the SRA Lost Chord Award. To give you a taste of what’s in store, Sharon and Winter and their tribe of internationally touring musicians, actors, filmmakers, artists, et al have created a multi-media music video from one of the songs on the CD. The Porcelain Princess video is now available on their YouTube channel: 

CJMT: Thank you for agreeing to be profiled in Coreopsis. We have long admired your work. Where can we learn more about what you do?

If readers want to know more about the work that we are engaged in, they can visit Sharon’s website at: www.sharonknight.net.

Other relevant sites are:

www.embstudios.com

http://www.pandemonaeon.net/

www.hexenfest.net

CJMT: What do you want the world to know about your work?

We want the world to know that we can choose beauty. We can choose magic. The world is full of wonder and enchantment. We seek to create an experience of enchantment with the way that we deliver the music, and the lyrics are very carefully crafted to paint a picture of a magical world as well. So, we’re not telling people about magic so much as giving them an experience of magic.

CJMT:  Who or what do you see as your main influences that have guided you to your particular artistic form(s)?

Sharon: A few of my musical influences are Sandy Denny, Steeleye Span, Robin Williamson, Tori Amos, and Loreena McKennitt. Then there is Scandinavian folk music. But I have a lot of influences. I love Gothic Symphonic Metal and a lot of music that is considered ‘otherworldly’ or dramatic or rootsy or earthy. Those kinds of themes I’m really drawn to and I could cite as influences more strongly than any specific artist, because I love so many different artists. Also, on that note of otherworldly, is the idea that there is another world, a deeper layer of reality that is pulsing and alive. It is this other world that brings everything into creation. Probably the core, or main influence, of everything that I do and that guides our art form is wanting to tap that and bring it to life in some way.

Winter: I come from a Rock and Pop background and didn’t get into the more folksy, heart stuff until I got with Sharon. Before Sharon I thought folk was kind of…I don’t know…all like Bob Dylan or protest songs and that kind of thing. I didn’t even know about the Celtic music that is Sharon’s main influence. Eventually, I made that my own by blending what I had brought to the table with the new influence. Also, when Sharon and I got together, she was very much into belly dancing, so there was a lot of Middle Eastern music that we were listening to that also influenced me. You can hear some of that in our music as Sharon Knight but even more so as Pandemonaeon, our rock band.

CJMT:  Much of what you do addresses the world of magic and spirit and how we connect through ritual, movement/dance, art, and music. Where do you think that comes from? In other words, the “deep roots,” where does that come from?

Sharon: It definitely comes from our experiences, and discovering that there is a much deeper layer of reality than what we see with our everyday senses. I have perceived that since I was a kid, and it remains the most interesting piece of our entire existence. In fact the concept of Portals is very much about that. It’s about these windows opening up in our perception that lead to these much more vast spaces in our imagination that we can travel to and live in and be part of.

CJMT:  Will you tell readers a little about your exciting and evocative Portals CD, art book, and video; what you call a Carnival of Mystery multi-media project?

Sharon: Portals…we always try to do something different with each album that we create, so that we don’t become predictable. In our last album, Neofolk Romantique, there is a very pared-down acoustic sound, so it represents what Winter and I sound like as a duet when we go on tour and play Celtic festivals, house concerts, and those kinds of venues. It’s very intimate. It’s minimally instrumented, having only a couple…two or three…guest musicians. For Portals we wanted to do something big and grand and have a full band sound and incorporate a lot of our touring musician friends so it would sound very much like this big theatrical, festival production. Because being on tour on these magical music circuits is very much like being in this big carnival full of magician musicians, we have deemed it a “Carnival of Mystery.” We wanted to incorporate a lot of our musician friends and be able to pay them. We believe strongly that artists deserve to be paid and we want to live in a world that has a thriving artist community. Making sure artists get paid is part of making sure that we all have art in our lives. That was part of it. We also wanted to include visual arts and film arts. The CD is well underway with most of the guest artists hired and paid already. The video Porcelain Princess is complete. We didn’t get quite enough funding for the art book, so we’re still working on how to make that happen.

CJMT: What did you learn from creating the Portals Project with your Tribe of talented, musicians, artists, and actors? How was it working together, combining your different art forms? How was that?

It was awesome! Collaborating makes a project so much bigger, better, and more dimensional! You get surprised and inspired in new ways. The spirit of collaboration drives Portals. Bringing many talents together gives a project so much more dimension! You don’t know exactly what your collaborators are going to do, so any preconceived notions you have about the song have to be thrown away, which is really cool. You know, you have to give people room to have their own inspirations and then sometimes they do. What they bring back takes the song to such a whole new level that you couldn’t anticipate. That then re-inspires you, and it makes the song bigger and better and more dimensional in exponential ways.

CJMT: Do you find it easy as a general rule to work with actors and other artists? Have you, in the past, found it as easy as it was on this project?

Winter: In general, people tend to attract the people that have a similar kind of vibe or expression or style. That seems to be a ‘given’ so, in that sense, it’s not really that hard to work with other people. Although, individually, you will still have more chemistry with one person than with another, in general, collaboration – if that is something you’re into – is really great. For those who aren’t opposed to collaborating, there is a lot to be gained from it.

Sharon: This collaborative project has so far gone remarkably smoothly.

CJMT: So, is the whole CD completed? Are you going to create a video for every song?

No, we won’t be creating a video for every song. The CD is about 80 percent done at this time. We are expecting a January 2016 release date.

CJMT:  What would you like to say to other artists (of any genre)?

Make art! Just make art and then more art. And then make some more art after that. If it stinks, don’t worry about it. Keep making art. It will get better and better. Make art. Be prolific.

CJMT:  How would you describe your work as it relates to its importance in the world today? How does your work address some of the problems we’re facing in the world? In other words, how is your work influenced by the problems facing the world today?

Sharon: I think that the world desperately needs to feel like there is a place for beauty and hope and magic and goodness; that those things can and do still exist. In fact, we can increase them by investing ourselves in those things by both believing in them and then acting in accordance with principles that bring them to life. There can be more love. There can be more kindness. There can be beauty and enchantment, and indeed we do live in an enchanted world. It’s just a matter of remembering how to perceive those things.

CJMT: That is really beautiful. All that you’ve said reminds me of a quote by author Martin Prechtel. Recounting his time as a shaman in a Mayan Tzutujil village, whose inhabitants believe their land to be the “Umbilicus of the Universe,” Prechtel recounts that the Tzutujil peoples of Central America revere the whole of nature as sacred and feel it is their duty to put back, through sacred ritual, a little of what they have taken to sustain their lives. Prechtel writes in his book Long Life, Honey in the Heart that “humans, just by being themselves, did so much damage to everything around them, they must by Mayan standards, send back an equal amount and quality of beauty and deliciousness to the world of the spirit whose song they had interrupted.” Sharon, you basically just said the same thing.

Winter: I completely agree with that. Part of the problem with the world is its extreme materialism and nihilism. Portals, and our music in general, is very much about the kind of enchantment that is everyone’s responsibility to create. Every individual has that in them and it’s everybody’s job to make the world a better place.

9. CJMT: Couple of technical questions: Tell us a little bit about the process you undergo in creating a multi-media project like Portals?

Winter: In terms of collaborating with other musicians on the album, we send them—when we think a song has enough elements for other people to contribute to—a rough mix of that, wherever they are all over the country. We send the sound file to them, and in their own recording studio they add to it and then send that back to us.

Sharon: It is so cool that we can do that! A few artists who live locally came in here to this studio, but a lot of them we’ve done remotely.

Winter: In the music video the collaboration is with a cinematographer, who is our friend and our business partner in the studio, Paul Nordin. I’ve done a lot of film work with him, so we drew from some of the crew we’ve worked with on other things, involving them in the project. Sharon and Paul found the actors.

Sharon: A big part of making a huge project like this work is coordinating different people, having an awesome team. We definitely have had an awesome team.

Winter: And when we played the band on stage in the video, we wanted it to be more than us, but a lot of the people who are recording in that song aren’t in the area. It was hard for them to come so when we were doing the Indiegogo fundraising, we added an item where monies were allocated to help the cellist, Betsy Tinney, from Redmond, WA (Seattle) to fly down here so she could be in the video. We also involved our drummer from Pandemonaeon.

Sharon: A big part—not technical in an electronic sense, but rather as a logistical thing—is that you want to arrange your entire life so that you earn people’s trust. Always. So, when you go to do some big project that you need a lot of people to buy into, you’ve already established yourself as somebody who is not a flake and who is going to do really cool, creative things with a person’s investment. Whether it’s chipping in on the fundraising campaign or an investment of art or time or whatever it is, people want to feel like they are participating in a project that they can believe in. In order to win that trust, there has to be a commitment you make in your entire life to deliver and be worthy of people’s respect.

CJMT: How did you find your way to your style of music—Neofolk Romantique, Celtic Fusion—in the very beginning of your collaboration together as musicians?

Sharon: I would say that ‘Neofolk Romantique’ is definitely a fusion of the styles that Winter and I both brought to the table when we first started playing music together. I very much have this Celtic core. I discovered it when I was 18 and immediately wanted to learn to play a bunch of traditional songs. Even before that, the more mainstream rock music I loved the most had a Celtic influence in it: Heart, Jethro Tull, and Led Zeppelin, especially the songs that incorporate more mandolin and acoustic music. I later grew into liking Scandinavian and Middle Eastern styles of folk music as well, and that’s what I was involved in when I met Winter. He comes from a really strong rock and pop background, like he was saying, so over the years as we’ve blended our styles together. It’s evolved to be not really traditional Celtic anymore, but still kind of acoustic and ‘hooky’ enough…it’s got some pop hooks in there, I like to think it does anyway (laughter). So we can’t call ourselves traditional Celtic but we’re not a straight-ahead rock band either. We thought ‘Neofolk Romantique’ summed up our style. We draw on older musical styles. There is a love of antiquity, a steam punk vibe in there, and a lot of the songs are very romantic. It’s a new expression of folk music. ‘Neofolk Romantique’ seems to tie all that together well.

CJMT: Were either of you raised with a musical background?

Winter: No, I wasn’t.

Sharon: Not really. My parents sang in the choir but they never wanted me to waste my time on such idle pursuits as learning guitar. How tragic in their minds to think that I would be a professional musician (said with a sense of irony and amusement).

CJMT:  What would you like to tackle next in relationship to your music and art? What’s your next thing down the pike?

Sharon: I’m not sure I can imagine such a thing. (Laughter)

CJMT: What sounds juicy?

Sharon: Well, a more modest music video for one of the other songs on the Portals album. It would be for a new song that no one has heard yet, titled “Trail of Prayer,” that will be on the album. This video will be simpler than Porcelain Princess and won’t require a lot of crowd funding. We’re hoping to do that so that the album will have two videos to represent it.

CJMT: What do you think the state of Pagan, Heathen, Wiccan, and Visionary music is today?

Sharon: Well, I certainly think it’s developing. It’s gotten a lot more broad and nuanced. I think it’s really just starting to flourish. Just in the last five years have Pagan and pagan-friendly music festivals started to crop up. I think that is just the beginning. More and more of these festivals seem to happen every year, so I think we’re at the beginning of a wave that’s going to keep going for a while.

Winter: If somebody asked me how I would classify our music, I wouldn’t call it Pagan, because even though Sharon may sing about Pagan themes in the music, at times, I don’t think of the music that way. So, to me it’s not Pagan-specific.

Sharon: How about Visionary?

Winter: Oh, yeah…

Sharon: But the pagan community across the nation is at least 80 percent of our market, so it is associated with our music within the Celtic Fusion umbrella.

CJMT: When I was called and asked to do an interview with you for the Society for Ritual Arts, I had no idea what the term “Lost Chord” meant. I did a little research that you can read as a blog on the SRA website titled “Finding the Lost Chord.” How did your Lost Chord Award come about?

Sharon: SRA has been a supporter of ours for a long time, and my guess is that they were really moved by the Portals Project. We’ve been interviewed at Coreopsis a time or two in the past, so they are familiar with our work in general but from what I understand, the SRA Board members were moved by the Portals Project enough to nominate us and create a Lost Chords Award Dinner and Concert in our honor. We’re honored to be part of it.

CJMT: Any final words?

Make art! (Laughter)

Tour information:

Pandemonaeon Tour Info: http://www.pandemonaeon.net/shows/

Sharon and Winter 2015/16 Tour: http://www.sharonknight.net/tour/

Winter: http://www.sharonknight.net/about-winter/

To Support Portals: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/portals-album-music-video-and-art-book#/

Hexenfest Music Festival Official Page: http://www.hexenfest.net/

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