SXSW Artist Spotlight: Ley Line
360°Sound interviewed Ley Line, an Austin-based four-piece multilingual world folk band who performed during SXSW Online 2021. The band formed in 2013 when Kate Robberson and Emilie Basez, who met in Brazil the previous year, met twin sisters Madeleine and Lydia Froncek at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. Their debut album Field Notes came out in 2016, and the follow-up, We Saw Blue, dropped in December 2020. A visual album accompanying We Saw Blue will be released on May 14. This summer, the group will be playing intimate outdoor concerts throughout Colorado, California, and the Midwest
Ley Line are:
Emilie Basez – guitar, pandeiro, ukulele, shakers, and vocals
Madeleine Froncek – upright bass, electric guitar, vocals
Kate Robberson – ukulele, shakers, vocals
Lydia Froncek – percussion (talking drum, cajon, zabumba)
360°: I learned from a Google search that ley lines are “straight alignments drawn between various historic structures and prominent landmarks.” Please start by telling us why you chose Ley Line for the band name.
Kate Robberson: We use Ley Line to kind of talk about how we move through the world. There’s a lot of pseudoscience, mysticism, and spirituality around this idea of these energetic channels that go through the Earth and connect these places of historical and geographic significance. What we found really inspiring was this theme of this energy that moves through the world is sometimes called “ley lines.” It’s also called feng shui or dragon lines in Chinese culture. In Aborigines culture in Australia, they’re the dream tracks or songlines.
These similar themes that can be found among all these different cultures really resonated with us because we all explore the world in these different ways. We use music as our guide as a way of connecting us to people and the places that we travel to. We decided to call ourselves Ley Line instead of Ley Lines because when we come together, the four of us, it’s the intersection of all these different currents, and we become one sound.
Your music has a lot of South American influences. Please describe your sound and the instruments you use, like the pandeiro.
Emilie Basez: Before I met Kate, I started a trip through Latin America and began in Colombia. My family is Argentine. In more of a vagabond time of my life, I was backpacking and meeting lots of other South American travelers. I started collecting songs and singing them with people in different moments, which are still part of our live repertoire. Incorporating those folk songs has been really cool because we all adapt and interpret other songs and mix things together so that they become audio collages of our different styles and influences.
I was introduced to Brazil later through Kate. The pandeiro is a little simple drum, kind of handheld drum kit because it has a bass tone that can be brought out by the microphone, but it also has the platinelas, which have a tambourine effect, they create the hi-hat sound. That’s used throughout lots of different musical traditions in Brazil.
Everyone in the group sings and harmonizes. Did you find you had vocal chemistry early on?
Lydia Froncek: The first thing we did together was sing together. We just kind of magically were able to fall in four-part harmony. That’s kind of been the basis for the group in that we were all like, ‘This feels really good and really easy. It feels like we have something very special.’ I think it’s become this guiding force for the band. We can always come back to singing a cappella as a way to feel connected to each other. It’s a big part of what connects us as people.
How’d the March 17 SXSW performance go?
Kate Robberson: It was great. We are part of an organization here in town called Black Fret that provides support for artists – financially and through mentorship. We were part of their showcase. We played two songs. We played our song “Oxum” [pronounced: oh-SHOOM] from our album We Saw Blue, and we played another song called “Senseless Way,” which is not out yet but it’s coming.
It was cool to watch it virtually. Usually, during SXSW there’s so much stimulation. This was really cool to be able to sit back and watch and be a part of the audience while you’re performing at the same time. They have this live chat feature, which was really sweet to be able to interact with the audience and see comments and what people are thinking in real-time.
How does the latest album We Saw Blue differ from your past work?
Kate Robberson: One of the interesting things about our group is we’re all four songwriters, and we embrace that. A big part of the second album is the collaborative element. During our first album we were forming, our band kind of formed in the studio, just wanting to document our songs. After we got out of the experience, we were like, ‘Let’s take this on the road and see what happens.’ With the collaborative songwriting on We Saw Blue, we kind of weave together everybody’s voices and perspectives instead of the Field Notes style where you could kind of tell who wrote each song.
Emilie Basez: The newer music has a lot more English in it. We actually just put out a water-prayer song that’s fully in Spanish. We Saw Blue was a long process of coming to completion with it and piecemealing it together. The new music feels really natural and in the moment. We want to get the music out. That’s what fuels us and our fans. It’s a cool mixture of English and other languages. It feels a little more blended rather than having full compositions in another language. Lydia started bringing in an [Roland] SPD pedal, so there’s more potential for the beat dropping and feeling really groovy. We’re going to start exploring looping and adding texture and other sounds on stage that can fill out things more than the acoustic set that we’re used to. It’s fun to explore some new sounds.
If you’re interested in booking Ley Line, visit their website.