Interview with Ebony Lamb – Eb & Sparrow

Written for Rip it Up – September 2014

As a fellow Wellingtonian I’ve been fortunate to catch nu-folk/Americana outfit Eb & Sparrow open for Rodriguez, Beth Orton and Tami Neilson.  Ebony Lamb’s smoky alto just seems to float over the Arizona dry desert tones of her ballads.  Her aching loneliness rolls like soft thunder through dark clouds of foreboding grooves.  So the cover image on the cover of their self-titled debut perfectly encapsulates the pioneer themes of nature, longing and loneliness – like a Geoff Murphy film or a CK Stead novel.  Perhaps it’s Kerrie Hughes’ 17th Century botanical panels, their choice to record in a broken port town or the haunting anthems loves lost and reclaimed that make this five piece’s take on Americana seem so unique and so personal.

When I had coffee with the delightful Ebony Lamb recently she gave me a sense of how important music was to her emotional health and how important the band was to her music.  I am very grateful for her honesty and candour as she talked at length about her band.  “We’re not only on the road together… we look after each other’s kids … we even help each other move house.”  Lamb is rightly very proud of Bryn Hevelt – Lap Steel, guitars; Jason Johnson – Bass; Nick Brown – Drums; Chris Winter – Trumpet, referring to them as a family.  “And in our band, family comes first.  They’ll all very talented and versatile.  I’m amazed at their skill to take a song and explore it in so many ways until the true sense can be found.  We must have done (the Cash-like track) ‘Big Train’ about 50 ways before we decided on the right one.  I love that exploration process.”

Lamb’s fairly new to the music industry having only been playing guitar for 5 years, taught by “a very patient man” – a former boyfriend (who, incidentally, later went on to break her heart and further inspire her creativity).  “I guess I’ve had many dark moments in my life.  I could have been a painter – that would have been a way to channel that emotion that sorrow.  But I found music. “I was meant to meet Bryn.  He encouraged me.  I hadn’t been writing long.  I had song songs I wanted him to help me to record and he said ‘Why not make an album?’  So we did.”

“We collected together, saved up, and we chose to record away from our lives in Wellington.  We needed to separate ourselves.”  The album was recorded (predominantly live, with little overdubs bar vocals) in the unsettled maelstrom of a recovering port town – at Lyttleton. Lamb heard about Ben Edwards’ Sitting Room Studio though fellow singer Delaney Davidson, amongst others, and knew of the impressive work he’d done with the Eastern.  “Ben was in the middle of rebuilding after the earthquake when we arrived – so he set up a room in the basement of the Wunderbar.  I was apprehensive about the space because it was this concrete room.  But he made it nice with padding, etc.  He made us welcome.”

“Bryn calls me a ‘freak of nature’ – I’ve had little experience or training, unlike the other members of the band who’ve been playing nearly all their lives.  But  I am writing a song a day, maybe more.  Half my life I’ve been just a mum, at home.  This is like a calling I didn’t know I could release.  I can be determined, hot headed.  The guys just follow along.  So we need Ben to take direction.  He was like the 6th member of the band for the duration.”

Many of the songs are deeply tied to personal event and have multiple layers.  Lamb grew up around music – on the radio, the car stereo.  Her solo father was “a mechanic-tinkerer – but thoughtful and philosophical man.  (He loved rebuilding things) We must have had about 30 Holden’s over the years.”  She tells me about family road trips and the reminiscent journeys she made driving back to Tauranga over the last 3 years to visit her dying father (who was stricken with motor neurone disease).  “It was those trips and a recent break up with my boyfriend that brought me great sadness.  But with my daughter traveling with me I was reminded of great joy and to be thankful.”  All that inspired the new video ‘Quietly We Tread’ (which is also on the album) which was made by with the help of good friends Nikki Parlance and Kate Macpherson.  The road trip that features is a lifelong metaphor for transience of emotions – love, loss, recovery.  And fittingly it also features an old Holden.

The video ‘Quietly we tread’ is available to stream on 1 Sept Eb & Sparrow will launch their Debut at The San Francisco Bath House on 5 September.

link to Kerrie Hughes –

3 by Kerrie Huhes


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