Last Friday saw the release of two singles by Kar Stanton, aka Red Stencil, whose two EPs Protagonist and will be released next year. Kar is a multi-instrumentalist songwriter who grew up in Scotland but now lives in sunnier climes in the south of England. Kar’s music came to our attention via her Facebook page and, as the singles ‘New Year’ and ‘In Sickness’ are her first releases under the moniker Red Stencil, we thought it was a great time to talk to an emerging artist about her music, starting out as an artist, and the forthcoming EPs.
Musos’ Guide: As you’re a new voice on the scene, this is a great chance for you to introduce yourself to our readers. Can you tell us a bit about your music?
Kar: I write both acoustic and alternative songs. My lyrics are mostly from my own perspective, but sometimes from that of others too. One of my favourite songs to play live is ‘The Loon’, which is written from the perspective of an elderly guy that I met in Aberdeen. I’ve got other songs that are written from the perspective of a doxxed blogger and another one from that of a girl with a facial disfigurement. My lyrics are usually quite honest and stark, sometimes disturbingly so!
MG: At the moment, Red Stencil is very much a solo venture. Is that particularly important to you at this stage of your career, and are there any artists that have influenced your thinking on what you want your music to be like and achieve?
K: I like to write every single part of my songs, and I fell the need to write every note. At the moment, it’s important to me that I do everything myself, not be in a band, and have a complete vision of everything that goes into the songs. I really want to be the mastermind of my own musical world, like Bright Eyes, Beck, St Vincent or Sufjan Stevens. I like artists that aren't afraid of their own emotions, which is very important. I think as a musician, artist, or a writer you have to reveal yourself and be honest. It’s part of your role, to express emotions that others might be feeling and that they might not feel able to express.
MG: You mentioned the fact that it’s really important to you to do everything yourself, in terms of writing and instrumenting your songs. I think that’s really important when you’re starting out as an independent artist — to really work out who you are as a musician and to learn the ropes, as it were. What was your experience of recording the EPs like, and what did you do to get ready for going into the studio?
K: I’m part of the community at The Burrow Bournemouth, which is a recording studio, record label, and a big group of musicians that do gigs together. With the writing I almost always do the complete arrangement of a song on my iPad DAW in advance of going into the studio. With the acoustic stuff I go into The Burrow studio and Matt [Musial] records me playing the acoustic instruments from scratch, which means I get a properly decent recording, and then we sit and mix and master it. With the alternative stuff, I do most of the synth and drums stuff on my iPad and then transfer it over to Matt, and then we re-record the vocals and any electric guitar or bass in the studio. I’m a bit of a control freak and a perfectionist and Matt, bless him, puts up with me being a bit of a diva sometimes! He’s an excellent producer and a great musician in his own right. As a sound engineer he makes sure that everything sounds clean and professional without losing its character.
MG: ‘In Sickness’ and ‘New Year’ are our first tasters of your upcoming EPs. Can you tell us a bit about the singles and what inspired them?
K: The singles both showcase the style of the EPs, and they tie in lyrically too. ‘In Sickness’ was written in the midst of my husband’s depression. It was difficult to write. It might have stayed unreleased, actually: I gave my husband a veto on it and it wouldn’t have left our flat without his saying-so. But he felt that the song might help other people who were in a similar position to us to get through it. I set myself a New Year’s Resolution this year to ‘write some happier songs’ and the first song that I finished was ‘New Year’. It’s a hopeful song, but realistic at the same time: it’s not victorious or ecstatic in any way. It’s an alt-pop song with electric guitar and synths — it was brilliant to liberate my electric guitar, as it’d been buried away for years!
MG: What about the EPs themselves? Can you tell us about them and what we might expect?
K: The plan for the EPs is to release them simultaneously in early 2016. The acoustic EP ‘What Remains’ is almost completely recorded. It’s all acoustic instruments – acoustic guitars, acoustic bass, cornet, piano, all played by me, and I would say the main theme really is of loss – the loss of status, job, friends. It wasn’t a conscious choice to arrange the songs together on an EP; the songs were all written individually but a unifying theme emerged. I would say the feel is early Sufjan Stevens or early Bright Eyes: the instrumentation is quite sparse, and the vocals are delicate. The ‘Protagonist’ EP, on the other hand, just tried to create something joyful and hopeful!
MG: What’s next for Red Stencil?
K: At the moment I’m doing stripped back versions of the songs live, just me and my acoustic guitar, and mostly songs from ‘What Remains’. My plan for gigs in a few months time is to have a set-up where I’ll have my iPad, my electric guitar, and a midi controller or synth so I can play and sing songs from ‘Protagonist’. I think at some point in the future I will get a band together to play live, but I’m still in my control freak space at the moment! In terms of success, I’m not even sure what I’m aiming at, but I feel once I’ve got the EPs completely finished and then have a small body of work that I’m really proud of, that will be a big milestone for me in my life. I got to a stage where I just realised that the only thing I’m half good at, and truly love, and ever really wanted to do with my life was music, so I decided I was just going to do it!
The singles 'In Sickness' and 'New Year' are out now. They're available on Bandcamp on a 'Name Your Price' promotion, or you can head on over to iTunes or amazon to download the singles. Money raised from sales of the singles will go towards studio costs for recording the final songs on the 'Protagonist' and 'What Remains' EPs.