female vocal fronted light progressive rock
Kirsty McCarrick, Paul Ayre, Roy Taylor, Chris Picton
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album reviews and artist reflectionsInterview and Review © Russell W. Elliot 2002
Additional Review © Stephen Lambe 2002
all images © Charnock Photography 2002
used with permission of Deep End Records Ltd
Formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows
Last updated: 09 June 2002 (04 May 2004)
Only several days after beginning to listen to Quecia's album This Is Where We Are, we recognised their lead vocalist 21-year old Kirsty McCarrick amongst the audience at the Classic Rock Society Spring Festival in Rotherham. Later that the evening she was called forward by Martin Hudson to read out winning the raffle numbers and we hooked up with her immediately afterwards prior to Mostly Autumn's performance.
Quite open to discussion and enthusiastic about her music, the gig and Musical Discoveries, we asked her to tell us about the band and their background. She was as keen as we were to take our discussion to the next step. Completed only several days later, we are pleased to present her very first interview here.
Quecia's debut album This Is Where We Are (Deep End Records (UK) 501-196-5, 2002), released 15 March 2002, captured our attention immediately. With stated influences including Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd, the album will certainly appeal to All About Eve and Karnataka (review) enthusiasts. In addition to Kirsty, Quecia includes Paul Ayre (guitars), Chris Picton (keyboards and bass) and Roy Taylor (drums). Kirsty, Paul and Chris share songwriting credits. Read our two reviews, one before and one after the interview with Kirsty, below.
This Is Where We Are is comprised of 14 tracks spanning singer/songwriter, progressive and alternative rock genres. Recorded away from the commercial studio and today's all-digital production environment, the result is superb. Read more about the making of the album in our interview below. Artwork accompanying the compact disc includes full lyrics and plenty of thumbnail-size photographs.
Well-arranged instrumentals, including typical progressive guitar and keyboard riffs support Kirsty's lead vocal parts--mixed way up--throughout the album. Occasional harmony vocal layers add texture to selected tracks. Kirsty's voice is powerful, clear and crystalline across a wide range and is well suited to the band's entire repertoire.
The opening track, "Fight For This," will immediately draw the listener into Quecia's music. A gentle progressive rock number, it effectively blends Kirsty's vocal style with Paul's guitar playing and demonstrates the combined strength of these two talented musicians. The style is echoed in the short rock track "Stay" the sweeping standout "Winters Tale" and the much longer, slower and instrumentally dense track "Alive."
"See Me Fall" is a rocky track with dramatically soaring vocals and a couple of great guitar solos while the gentler and lovely vocally-layered "Somebody New" certainly evoke memories of All About Eve. "Circles" further develops the sound and its melody includes a well-defined hook.
Paul provides lead vocals on the acoustic guitar track "Bitter East Wind" and is joined later in the track by Kirsty. The combination works well and is reminscent of Bryan Josh and Heather Findlay's work with Mostly Autumn (reviews) and similar work by Tiger Dragon (review) featuring Anne-Marie Helder and Chris Woodman.
Singer songwriter material includes "Wrong Kind Of Love" an evocatively sung heartfelt tune accompanied only by acoustic guitar while the ballad "Where We Are" builds on the style initially with additional keyboard textures and vocal layers and drums in the closing passages. "Hunter Street (Part 1)" is a brief and gentle acoustic ballad as well. Kirsty's voice in the gentle rocker "Falling" is supported by a lovely acoustic guitar part and subtle rhythm section. Kirsty's vocals soar in the chorus of the more thickly arranged ballad "Walk Away" which includes a tremendous electrified-acoustic guitar solo.
The album concludes with the upbeat and progressive rocker "Sleep Walking In Paradise." Kirsty's vocals are mixed way up above the lush instrumentals in the first part. The track then develops into an all out frenzy with a vast electric guitar solo as the track comes to a conclusion. This Is Where We Are is a tremendous album. With superb vocals, well-written arrangements and outstanding production, it is worth a trans-Atlantic journey and is by all means a must listen!
Kirsty McCarrick Interview
We asked Kirsty for a potted version of her biography. She began, "I have always sung from as far back as I can remember and was always in shows and competitions as a young child. When I was eleven my family moved from Wigan to the south of Spain and I started to sing in front of audiences in the local bars I suppose it was the start really of what I wanted to do. We moved from Spain to Mallorca and my parents bought a bar and I started to sing professionally for our bar then when I turned fourteen for hotels and other venues which was excellent training looking back I always got an excellent response and loved being in front of an audience."
A couple of years later, Kirsty and her family returned from Spain. She told us about how her singing career evolved from there. "I entered various competitions and tentatively went into the clubs and local pubs, but for a sixteen year old girl on her own it wasnít really a safe environment and I got disheartened with the whole thing." She continued, "I stopped singing completely and went into sales and marketing. That lasted about a year before I started to get fed up and all I wanted to do was sing."
Kirsty recorded a demo of diva-type cover versions. She continued the story, "I began to look into the whole music scene, auditions and what not. Unfortunately I am not blonde and blue-eyed and can't dance for toffee and was disgusted by girls who I knew were not as good as me vocally getting through. I was bemoaning this fact to my Dad and he told me write your own songs if you donít want to be jumping up and down on stage in a sparkly outfit and miming which I had to agree did not suit me at all. I was always proud of how I sang live and that was what I wanted to do. So I just started writing lyrics and I bought myself a guitar.
Kirsty then told us how she came to Quecia. "One night last January I went to watch a band in a local venue and was immediately bowled over by their lead guitarist, Paul. I thought he was brilliant and immediately approached him to help me write some songs. I went to his house and he had the basic song idea and some wording and I sat and wrote the rest of the lyrics and we came up with "Wrong Kind of Love" within ten minutes." She continued, "Paul rang our eventual bass player Chris to bring down the 24-track digital recorder which they had uncannily bought about a month previously."
Now they were on a roll. Kirsty continued, "We set up two mikes in the living room; I sang and Paul played and what you hear on the album is what we did in one take. The three of us were bowled over and we started to write." She said, "Initially the material was being recorded to send to record companies but Paul and I were working on material he had written years earlier, writing new songs with me and Chris was writing new songs with me in mind and reworking old material. We had bags and bags of songs which once we got together seemed to really work apart from the percussion."
Kirsty explained what they did next, "We had recorded an albums worth of songs but the drums just were not working and really let it down so Paul and Chris approached Roy who they had worked with before in many bands to re-record the material."
The album started to come together. Kirsty told us, "We had lived and breathed the material for twelve months. Chris really had the mixing and producing side of things sussed and we knew how we wanted to sound so we converted a big old room at a local pub in our hometown which has always been used for band rehearsals and we re-recorded the whole album with Roy. Royís kit was miked up in a side room while Paul and Chris played along and I sang the guide vocals in the girlís toilet. It took the lads about a month to record the music then I recorded the vocals again in our back bedroom, which we converted into a studio."
She told us about the recording of the vocals. "A lot of the songs were done in one take because we wanted to get the feel of a live show. And if we felt it was good we didnít want to go over every single little nuance because it keeps the album real and quite different to a lot of albums that are produced these days."
Reflecting on the result, Kirsty told us, "We wrote and recorded all the songs so there was no right or wrong way we just went with what we thought was good and we didnít want to try and over-produce the album because we all like the old style of recording and the unique sound you can create without the aid of the best studio equipment and all the time in the world to refine and master the tracks."
"We all think the recordings are the best effort we could come up with in the timescale and the with the equipment we were using and of course we all have little bits we wish were different but it just makes us laugh as something you might not like someone else has picked as their favourite bit! All in all we are quite proud of what we have achieved on our own and when people say they like it that feeling makes it all worth it."
At the CRS gig, we heard a vast range of storys about the band's name. We asked Kirsty to comment on it. "We have had a lot of trouble over this but it depends on how you see it! If anything it is definitely a talking point! Quecia was just a made up word, a mixture of different things because we wanted to buy a dot com and we liked the Spanish connection." She told us, "We pronounce it CUE-CEE-AH and discovered later that it is a south American tribe name and an Italian type of tree! Not very rock and roll, is it?"
We asked Kirsty to tell us about the rest of the band. She told us, "When I first met the band, Paul just completely stood out, he is a very talented guy and very charismatic. Paul has been playing guitar since he was seven and he wanted to be the lead guitarist in Deep Purple! He has always been in bands and toured Europe with a various groups and toured America with his own band. Paul is very funny and always taking the piss out of Roy. However he is very creative and is always playing the guitar he plays beautifully be it classical, acoustic or electric and I have witnessed a room full of talking people stop and listen to him play his R6 just to himself. We do our writing together or he reworks old material he has books full of lyrics and poems. His influences are - Ritchie Blackmore, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen and Led Zep, Black Sabbath too many too mention. Paul loves all types of rock music but also listens to classical music and classical Spanish guitarists.
Kirsty told us about Chris, "Chris is one of the nicest blokes I have ever met, he is always in the background with his dry and down to earth humour. Chris just loves playing and he is our technical expert and did the entire recording with some help from Paul, and most of the mixing of the album. Once again he has always been in bands and has always known Paul and Roy even if they hadnít played with each other until Quecia was formed. Chris likes the technical side and is very clever with computers and studio equipment I would not have the faintest idea where to start. As well as the bass guitar Chris plays the keyboards and also plays guitar so he sometimes writes on keyboards as well as the guitar. He likes to come up with a song and most of the idea is all worked out before the rest of us hear it. Chris loves Uriah Heep, Genesis, Man and King Krimson, again lots of different types of music as well as rock. Idolises John Wetton."
She also told us about Roy, "Roy has not been with us very long but as soon as he joined our little gang the difference was incredible! He is a scream--very funny; Paul and Roy just bounce of each other all the time Roy is a total perfectionist and very talented. He is a session musician and plays all types of music from blues, soul, rock and jazz but he is a Deep Purple manic and his heart lies with Ian Paice. Roy has known Paul for 25 years and Chris for 15 years so although he has only just joined us you would never know. We are like a little family and always together. He started playing drums at 14 when Paul sold him his drum kit! He is a rock drummer at heart but can also play very delicate nuances and likes to get his shakers out."
With the band introduced, we asked Kirsty about who she listens to all the time. "My music tastes have changed dramatically over the last year with the band. I had always listened to female vocalists and my favourite albums where always female artists like Alanis Morrisette, Texas, the early Maria Carey and Celine Dion albums and still do occasionally, especially Alanis, however my favourites now are Pink Floyd, Rainbow, Deep Purple, Led Zep, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac--especially Rumours--and Def Lepard. I cannot believe I went through my life so far without hearing this type of music but I guess it is good to have a broad mind to all types of music. My favourite song ever which brings me to tears every time is "Joan of Arc" by Jennifer Warnes on the Famous Blue Raincoat album. I know itís depressing but it is stunning and gets me every time. I am always listening to music and rarely watch television."
We asked Kirsty how she developed her voice. "I have always had a distinctive voice and people rarely place it immediately with another artist. My Granddad is a tenor singer and I remember when I was small singing my scales and I was always putting on mini-shows with my brothers, sister and cousins. I have always loved musical theatre and always sang quite high but my lower range was not really there. I have never had formal singing lessons but for six years I sang almost every night."
She continued, "When I started with Quecia I had to re-learn my vocal skills because I hadnít used them for a while and I donít know if its my age or how we play as Quecia but the lower end to my range came out and a lot of girls donít sing the way I do. I have been complimented though with the album someone said its like listening to honey! I donít know about that but I try and keep it natural and we are experimenting all the time with how I sing."
We asked Kisty about her musical influences. She told us, "Because there is a variation in what bands and sounds we all like you could say there are too many to mention but I thinks its more to do with the fact that we donít have pre-conceived ideas of genre or bands that we try to emulate, we just play what we like and I think the experience of Paul, Chris has a big influence on our sound because we donít want people to say oh thatís just like Floyd or Purple or Mac." She continued, "We lik the fact that our album is varied in style. I like acoustic work and a rockier sound, Chris like strings and harmonics and Paul would just have an album of him playing rock guitar but because we all have an influence thatís why we are not being labelled as one thing or another its just real from the heart music." She concluded, "We are all music lovers and we all bring a certain different something from different artists and bands over the years."
So what about the writing process, then? Kirsty told us, "Paul and I write together as a team or Paul writes on his own and puts the whole track on mini-disc for us all to learn. I will write lyrics or poems then Paul and I will rework them to the music. Chris writes on his own then brings almost the final song to rehearsal then when we all get together we are all involved with the bare songs getting them to the final sound." She told us about the recording experience, "We have never gone into a studio. We own all the equipment and we converted these big old rehearsal rooms above a local pub for the band stuff, a lot of the vocals were done at home and our back bedroom is converted into a mixing studio. Chris also has the equipment and software to work at home too. No one helped with the actual recording at all Chris and Paul just sorted the sounds and equipment out then Chris did most of the technical mixing and mastering with Paul."
When asked if she has a career outside of music, Kirsty told us, "I worked full time last year when we were recording the album in sales and marketing so you can imagine how hard and time consuming that was. We are now concentrating on the music full time and we are in rehearsals for the live show, which I cant wait for.
When asked about their live performances, Kirsty added, "We did gigs last year in some small venues and a few outdoor gigs last summer but we now have a full show being put together which we hope will blow peoples socks off! I am happiest on stage performing--I donít really get nervous--I get a big surge of adrenalin and the buzz is the greatest feeling." She continued, "We have decided to perform for now with just the four of us plus a backing singer which does change some of the songs because of the keyboards; we don't want to have backing tracks and want to keep it as real as possible. The live show has an energy and live rock sound which we think people will enjoy. We probably will get a keyboard player/backing singer in at some stage but for now it's just us."
"We are going to be playing at the CRS gig in autumn which I can not wait for. It's such a good crowd, people who genuinely want to listen to new and up and coming bands as well as the old greats! We have some other warm up gigs planned throughout the summer in various live venues but I donít deal with that side of thing so Iím not sure where and when but we are putting all dates on our web site and we have a mailing list too."
We asked Kirsty what she thought of Sleeping Giant, Karnataka and Mostly Autumn at the CRS gig. She told us, "I was delighted to watch the bands at the gig the other night. I have heard a lot about Mostly Autumn recently and was very impressed with them live. Very powerful songs musically and lyrically with the lovely soft vocals of Heather Findley. I only caught the end of Sleeping Giant. They were cool and I liked their sound." She emphatically remarked, "Karnataka were stunning--right up my street--they looked and sounded great and just bounced off the stage." And concluded, "I totally enjoyed myself all night listening to original sounds and songs by some great musicians."
Quecia has a first class website (www.quecia.com) and we were curious to know if Kirsty thought that it was drawing attention. She told us, "We have very high hopes for our web site and the internet mp3, etc. I have always worked for internet companies and I know what a powerful tool it is." She continued, "We are spreading the word and e-mail and the site is already working, having sold numerous copies of the album and generating interest for us. We are using the web to get us fans all over the world and we are looking at links with loads of relevant sites. We need all the help we can get because we donít have major financial backing so we are looking at every ways of putting our work out there and the Internet will be one of the major ways. You can buy the album online and get info about us.
We asked Kirsty about the next album. She told us, "We have loads of material ready and waiting and we can not wait to start recording the nest album we will be recording in exactly the same way, but trying out new sounds and pushing our boundaries but we want to retain that certain recording sound that we got without going into a studio. A few of the new tracks are featured in our live show."
Additional Album Review
Clearly made on a tight budget, Quecia cleverly avoided being too ambitious on this impressive first release. Throughout, the arrangements are simple, augmenting the song-writing without swamping it. The varied guitar stylings of Paul Ayre ominate instrumentally, exploring the textures available to him from clever electric lead playing, to gentle acoustic work, as the music swings between chunky rock and folk-influenced acoustic pieces. Chris Picton's bass and keyboard playing remain nicely understated throughout, and many of the songs remind me of the underrated British female songwriter Charlie Dore. However, though the song-writing is strong, the lyrics rarely say anything that is new, normally exploring the trials of lost or uncertain love.
But it is the voice and image of stunning young vocalist Kirsty McCarrick which dominate the album. The band, understandably, cram as many pictures of Kirsty as they can into the album artwork, settling on a gentle, mysterious image which works very nicely. Nicely folky on the quieter songs, yet powerful when the band rock out, over these 14 songs she delivers a vocal performance of considerable promise.
The dramatic "Fight for this" opens the album in fine style, its dynamic mixture of electric and acoustic guitars setting the tone for the rest of the CD. "See me fall" goes up-tempo, with strong bass and bluesy guitar, while "Somebody New" introduces a gentler edge before launching into a jaunty chorus with Kirsty harmonising with herself to good effect. A more atmospheric mid section builds tension to the final release of another verse and chorus.
"Wrong Kind of Love" is an album highlight, an emotional folk song with Kirsty demonstrating a strong Joni Mitchell influence, and Paul's acoustic guitar very effective. "Where We Are" continues the acoustic theme, initially, this time with a slower pace, and lush keyboards filling out the sound, until, almost unexpectedly, Roy Taylor's drums cut in, and multi-tracked vocals by Kirsty lift the track to a stunning climax.
"Stay" is a more straightforward, catchy rock song, with a Santana-like solo from Paul, while "Walk Away" is slightly plodding, but pleasant nonetheless, showcasing Kirsty's voice over an understated backing.
Sounds of the ocean introduce "Alive," another highlight, a wonderful song that starts tentatively then builds through the chorus to an atmospheric, eerie guitar solo and another powerful performance from Kirsty, before fading back into the sea. "Circles" is a catchy, up-tempo attempt to get the band some radio play. While it does not quite have the polish to trouble the charts, I suspect, it is perfectly welcome on an album with plenty of variation in mood.
"Falling" has a jazzy, Latin tempo, while "Winter's Tale" again makes effective use of various guitar textures. "Bitter East Wind" is yet another marvellous song, allowing Paul Ayre an excellent lead vocal, though Kirsty's harmony vocals are spine-tingling. Lyrically it is also strong, an aching dissertation on bereavement and loss.
The brief, acoustic "Hunter Street (Part one)" also deals with loss - this time for the shipyards of Northern England, while set-closer "Sleep Walking in Paradise" rocks out in fine style, with Paul turning in another fine solo.
Though a little rough and ready in places, this is an excellent album that rewards multiple listens. There are hints throughout that the band are capable of greater musical ambition, but nonetheless, if this really is a statement of "The Way We Are," then the band can be suitably proud of themselves.--Stephen Lambe
Quecia's album This Is Where We Are is currently available directly from the artists at their official website. Visitors will find an interview with the other band members, an image gallery and soundbites there. Those interested in hearing more should also visit the band's website where several full length tracks are hosted. Quecia are presently rehearsing for gigs in the run up to the Classic Rock Society's autumn festival and their live show is likely to be very special. Stay tuned to Musical Discoveries for our review!
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