A monthly blog showcasing upcoming Artists #RECORDEDLIVE at Mr. BANG! Studios.
Since emerging onto the Scottish music scene, Ailsa McEwan has captivated audiences with her distinct brand of ethereal indie. Performing under the name Ailsa and the Seahorses, she is known for her independent approach and songs characterised by dreamy guitar chords and hypnotic melodies.
Growing up in Edinburgh, Ailsa’s teenage years were spent immersing herself in the melancholia and jangly guitar-playing of her heroes, The Smiths. On writing her first songs she became one of the new generation of DIY artists making lo-fi recordings in their bedrooms. As someone who lacked the confidence for public performances, making music from the solace of a cupboard was ideal for Ailsa, and it was many more years before she would ever sing live.
Her unique sound, both tranquil and haunting, is somewhere between the atmospherics of Mazzy Star and singer-songwriter tradition of Suzanne Vega and Rickie Lee Jones. Her lyrics – a combination of stream of consciousness and narrative – are delivered by her warm, smoky vocal, described by one fan as sounding like “liquid gold”. Growing up however, it was Ailsa’s belief that she did not possess vocal talents that stopped her from pursuing a musical path initially.
Abandoning her teenage dreams of rock stardom, she undertook a degree in journalism with the intent on being the next best thing – a music journalist. In time though, she found a new determination, and aged 20 gave her first live performances. It was not long before she was a seasoned performer busking on the streets of Edinburgh and playing established venues such as the Jazz Bar and Sneaky Petes.
On graduating from university, Ailsa quit her day job to live as a full-time musician, taking her music to the streets of Lisbon and wandering the stunning landscapes of Croatia. On arriving home she returned to her cupboard studio to record her debut EP, The Centre of Everything, due for release July 26th. The 4-track EP is her most refined recording to date, whilst remaining faithful to her low-fi roots.
Ailsa and the Seahorses - "Every Inch Of The Dawn"
What are you listening to right now?
"I can't get enough of Shakey Graves right now. He's the only artist I've heard in the last 3 years or so that has really captured my heart. He has his own unique fingerpicking guitar style and is a great storyteller. Really though, it's his voice I'm in love with - beautiful, raspy, soulful, vulnerable and gritty. There have been times when I have listened to this man's voice and thought I was going to die (in a good way). His acoustic live sessions are probably the best I've seen, he just has this good energy about him when he plays. Gutted I missed him when he played Edinburgh recently."
Who would your dream collaboration be with? (Past or present)
"I'm not sure exactly what direction a musical collaboration would take, but I would love to hang out and play some tunes with Jeff Buckley. I think we would've got along well."
Ailsa And The Seahorses - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
(Originally by The Smiths)
Where was your first ever gig and where is your dream venue to play?
"I started out playing the open mic at Henry's Cellar Bar. Much wine was consumed to overcome the stage fright. From what I can remember, the first "proper" gig I played was when local bluesman Toby Mottershead invited me to play at his showcase at the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh. At the time I thought this was the greatest thing ever - in my mind playing the Jazz Bar meant that I was now a real musician.
There aren't specific venues that I dream of playing. I like the idea of having gigs in weird locations. Like maybe renting a boat and having a wee party and playing to folk while we cruise down the canal. Or maybe a super intimate gig in the middle of a forest."
When did you start writing original music?
"I remember the first proper song I wrote was when I was sixteen. It's still an absolute banger, it's called Dance Music For Seahorses and is an ethereal folk ballad; an ode to friendship and wandering through teenage life. I think I had been trying to write songs since I was about fourteen but no solid bangers came from that. I persevered until one day I just arrived at my sound and the magic happened."
Ailsa and the Seahorses - "Becky"
Why did you decide to pursue music?
"That's a good question, I think about this often, I'm not exactly sure why music over other creative outlets. I think it just felt right - when I was a teenager it seemed like being a songwriter or the front-woman of a band was what I was supposed to do. That's how I imagined myself. Back then though it was just a dream. Receiving a positive feedback for my music definitely encouraged me. And meeting other musicians who made a living from their art showed me that it can be done, you just have to go for it and do it, which is what I've done. I like to think that if I ever fancied a career change that could be done also. Like, if I just decided, now it's time to write my novel, then I could do that. I don't need to limit myself to one thing, I can be whatever I want."
Ailsa and the Seahorses "The Centre of Everything" EP Launch
Sunday the 28th July @ Leith Depot, Edinburgh
Ailsa and the Seahorses
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This session was recorded LIVE at Mr. BANG! Studios
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