Entry Requirements: 16+ (under 18s must be accompanied by an adult)
It's hard enough to have one successful career. Having the strength to call time on it and start from scratch seems like self-sabotage. In Kate McGill and Dan Broadley's case however, it looks like it's going to pay off. Their early years – while exciting and substantial – now look like practice for the main event. The moment it was all building up to? Meeting each other and forming Meadowlark.
Prior to the band, Kate had clocked up tens of millions of views on YouTube for her catalogue of covers. She released an album, had tracks played on Radio 2, and spent a summer in Los Angeles writing with various renowned hitmakers. Dan, meanwhile, was playing in various rock bands and earning a reputation as a great director having made videos with the likes of Don Broco, Lower Than Atlantis and Mallory Knox. But Kate was feeling drastically unfulfilled, worried she was only going to be known for covering other people's songs when she had so many of her own waiting for an audience. Dan, meanwhile, musical tastes changing and growing all the time, was lumbered with bandmates that would neither shift their focus or gig further than 10 miles from home. Something had to give. With both Dan and Kate hailing from Plymouth, a town with a relatively small music scene, it's little surprise they already knew of each other.
Now living in Bristol, Kate speculatively contacted Dan wondering if he might be interested in collaborating. Sure enough he was, and soon after she was driving down to the south coast, where, after drinking a fair amount of wine to calm her nerves, they started jamming. Both enthuse how natural that first meeting was, and from then on, they've known working together was the right thing to be doing. Despite the advice of those around them claiming to know better, Kate and Dan threw themselves into it.
A matter of weeks after deciding they were a band – albeit a band without a name, finished songs or any recordings – they were asked to support Bastille. Suddenly the vague sketches of songs they'd created needed to be finished, and they had to find a name.
First things first Kate scoured every book she could find looking for inspiration, and stumbled across Meadowlark. It seemed a good fit. After all, meadowlarks are known for their song, and Fleet Foxes, a huge influence, have a song of the same name. Still toying with the idea, good old-fashioned serendipity stepped in. After Kate announced she was quitting her YouTube career with an impulsive Facebook post, one fan, among many of her hundreds of thousands of subscribers, replied with a link to a video to wish her well. Amazingly, despite the fact she'd told no one about the band name she was eyeing up, it was simply screengrabs of Kate cut with video a meadowlark in flight. Spooky, perhaps, but it was more than enough to seal the band's name.
As for preparing for the Bastille show, the duo finished ‘Sail Away’, which made it to their first EP, plus a handful of other songs, and polished their sound enough to get through the gig. "It was a bit premature, but a really good break," says Dan. "As a new band it's so encouraging to be thrown into something like that. What if we'd turned it down? Those opportunities don't come around very often." They’ve since supported Michael Kiwanuka, Gavin James and Rae Morris, among others.
Off stage, their track ‘Eyes Wide’ was added to BBC Radio 1's Introducing playlist, XFM's evening playlist and featured on Hype Machine's Top 20. They've also performed a session on Dermot O'Leary's BBC Radio 2 show, played Glastonbury's Introducing stage, at the Great Escape, MAMA festival in Paris, Dot to Dot, and appeared on episodes of Vampire Diaries and Made in Chelsea. Proof that, whether Meadowlark were ready for that first live show or not, it was the right thing to do.
"We had some struggles in the first couple of years, working out priorities, finding that balance between taking it seriously, but not so seriously we lost friends and relationships," says Kate. "I was coming out of this accomplished thing that I'd done. There were absolutely no regrets, but I wanted to get organised and carry on as I had been."
Musically, their sound has simplified since those first writing sessions. They're still exploring the space where folk and electronica meet, and while getting ever closer to the sound in their heads, one of the most important lessons Kate and Dan have learned is that less can be more. Another, perhaps above all else, is that ego should be left at the door – the song is always the most important thing. "We've got a really good thing going, and it's completely shared understanding of what we want to do," says Dan. "If a song just needs Kate's voice and a piano, I will happily step aside and let that be, just as Kate will make room for me if it that's what is needed. We think solely about the song and nothing else, we're not precious."
That philosophy came to the fore when the duo disappeared on various writing retreats around the UK. "We just look for cottages with pianos," says Kate. Free from distractions and loaded up with ideas gathered from observing the world around them, they used such spaces to craft the songs that will appear on their forthcoming album, expected to be released in the early part of 2017. While deeply personal, there's more to their writing than basic love songs. Matters of the heart are there in the background, but Dan and Kate are engaged, culturally aware, well-travelled people, always looking further afield for themes and concepts.
‘Quicksand’ was one such song, written in complete isolation from their daily lives. Inspired by Humans Of New York, Brandon Stanton's social media phenomenon, and a particular story he highlighted about the brick kiln slaves in Pakistan. Moved by their dreadful, hopeless situation, Kate wrote the song to help shine an extra light on the issue.
‘Postcards’, meanwhile, carries a more personal message, but is driven along by its rootsy energy written almost on the fly one evening after the pair had tried to have a night off by watching Johnny Cash biopic ‘Walk The Line’. "That song is pivotal to the album," says Kate. "There are so many elements to the band, and the album draws on all of the different things we've experience none more so than that one."
Recording these ideas took place during three 10-day long stints which saw them team up with producer JJ Mitchell in an old church. It wasn't always easy, there were many long nights in the pub wondering if it was all going in the right direction, but they emerged with something truly special. "I remember it really dawning on us on the last night of the session that we'd made a record that we're so proud of," says Kate. "It was a hugely positive, enjoyable experience."
It wasn't just a case of committing their demos to record either. With a whole bank of instruments set up the pair and Mitchell dreamed up their songs all over again, trying out new ideas and experimenting. The hardest thing was knowing when to stop, but they got there. "Ultimately we can do whatever we want, because it'll always be Meadowlark as long as it's our music with Kate's voice on top of it.
"That means we'll always sound like us, no matter what."