“The building closed down six weeks before our second festival and left us without a venue… but the show went on. We’re still paying for the decision of keeping it going and most days we don’t regret it. In fact, this year we turned a corner and, unless something very surprising has happened, we think we might have broken even. We’re still working on being business people!” Kaya Herstad Carney, singer/songwriter, lecturer and festival director, is telling us about the moment in 2012 when the then-brand new Threshold Festival faced a crisis. It’s ancient history now, and, they’ve never looked back since, of course. But, one of the reasons for the success-in-the-face-of-adversity turnaround, is the attitude, tenacity and creativity of Herstad Carney herself.
“You get out of something as much as you give it,” says Kaya. “I have been described as Duracell bunny-esque with my energy levels, but, if you don’t put your all in, you won’t get the returns.” Kaya Herstad Carney is an inspiration – and the epitome of a modern creative: she sings, plays, performs, promotes, organises and teaches. She also found some time for us this week, too…
It’s around 15 years since you arrived in Liverpool from Norway isn’t it?
That’s right, yes… I’m a ‘Scousewegian’ now! So much has changed since then. Obviously the changes to the city centre are the things you notice – some of them have been fantastically positive, like a safe and cleaner city. But some have been more homogenised and less ‘Liverpool’, if you like. The gentrification of the city centre is happening and I’m a little upset about all the recent venue closings.
Bricks and mortar will always come and go, though. Would you agree it’s the people that matter?
The creative hubs that formed over the last ten years or so gave the city a real boost and we are coming to the end of that era, with people having to move out of the places that they’ve built up. First it was around Wolstenholme Square, with MelloMello, The Kazimier and Nation all gone, and now more and more apartment blocks are popping up in the Baltic Triangle. But, yes, new things will always happen and the North Dock might be the next area for the taking…
Not all doom and gloom, then?
If it’s not a happy ending, it just means the story hasn’t ended yet!
We like the sound of that! Speaking of happiness, Threshold went down a storm this year…
What an experience! I’ve noticed people talking about Threshold like it’s the annual office party for the music scene of Liverpool… only with people you like to meet and spend time with! I’m paraphrasing, but that’s exactly the kind of vibe we aim to put across. The press coverage and reviews also noted for the first time that we excel in equality and inclusion.
You might be unique in this city for that.
“How is Chris’ festival going?” is something I often hear in the industry we operate in (Editor’s Note: Kaya’s husband, Chris, is a co-founder of Threshold).
You’re a great example for the modern working musician: teaching, playing, writing, performing…
Thank you… I wish I was braver to do more of the latter! A massive student loan means all of the former certainly have been easier to earn a living with, though. I am a musician in everything I do – though I really do love lecturing and artist development.
Let’s talk about the music you’re involved with. The Science Of The Lamps?
The project started as an outlet for the more dramatic and theatrical songs that didn’t fit the alternative pop/rock act I was touring with at the time. I do still occasionally gig with those songs, but The Science Of The Lamps material is poetic, has more harmonies and you can dance to it… we call it vaudeville dream-pop, although people struggle to place us and we get described as anything from alt-folk to swing or dub to trip-hop!
Writers do like a pigeon-hole… ‘good music’ is the description we’d use!
It’s hard when ideally the sound picture requires around ten people to create it! It’s difficult to tour with as you can imagine… but we do our best. We enjoyed an amazing tour last year with Moulettes and we played some gigs with Gilmore & Roberts. One of our favourite gigs was at The Kazimier, supporting Dub Pistols, but we played more festivals than any other last year. The good thing is that the varied song material lends itself to various set ups, so it’s flexible. We are hoping to raise some funds through grants or crowdfunding to take the full line-up on the road in the future.
We always thought the band were a collection of people you’ve met over the years!
It is, really! We’re a collective of odd and wonderful people, born from a quip in Prague one time about a collaboration… people such as Grethe Borsum, Paul Reay, Luke Moore, Luke Hodgkinson, Jake Orritt, Francisco Carrasco, Helen Maher, Greta Svabo-Bech and our producer and drummer, Mark Brocklesby. I’m so fortunate to have a massive network of fabulous musicians and promoters who are colleagues and many who have also become friends.
And your fabulous close-harmony Usherettes, of course!
They fulfil something really important to me in The Science Of The Lamps. I was a member of the Sense Of Sound choir until 2013 and, as a sufferer of compulsory harmony disorder, it was amazing to be part of a group singing with some of the world’s greatest artists in amazing venues. I miss being part of it, but had to prioritise other creative outlets, and The Usherettes provide me with a piece of that still. I still ‘do’ choirs, though, and I’m also musical director for ACM Electron.
You’re as busy as ever, then! Do you find time to miss Norway?
I think about my roots and my family. We also have a thing called ‘seasons’ in Norway: the weather will actually change throughout the year, summers are warmer and winters are significantly colder! I miss the northern lights, the midnight sun and the dramatic nature of the north of Norway, in particular. I visit all the time to see my family, but hardly ever get the chance to go to where I grew up, as my family moved down south just before I moved to Liverpool.
What places and names do you remember when you think back to arriving in Liverpool?
My co-students at LIPA. I’m still in touch with the people I played with and met back then, like Jo Bywater, Mike Gay, Emily Jackson, Etienne Girard and Rob Vincent. I started promoting ‘Northern Lights’ nights at what was then The Masque, now Arts Club, and met lots of people there. I also had residencies at Metro and Hannah’s… the majority of my income in those first years came from running songwriting nights and my network grew significantly from there. I was also in bands with people like Dave O’Grady, Sian Monaghan, Ryan Forrest, Martin Monrad, Lauren Catherall and Russ Cottier. If I don’t stop naming people, we will be here forever!
You have always possessed a collaborative spirit. I guess that’s what led to Threshold?
Threshold started because I was friends with the guy who was the creative director for the Contemporary Urban Centre, which was newly opened in the then-unknown Baltic Triangle back in 2009/10. He’d helped with my solo album launch and asked what I would like to do in the CUC space… if anything. I’d had experience with the likes of Liverpool Music Week and Sound City, so, a festival seemed the perfect answer. At the time, we had been running ‘Under the Influence’ nights at Studio 2 – where four acts were booked to play four of their own songs and two from their influences, such as Bowie, Dylan, Mitchell etc.
We nearly had an ‘Under The Influence’ festival, then?
Yes, with different themes, in different rooms, on different days, but a combo of the charity involved with the building – working with people with addiction – and the immense interest to participate form local musicians and promoters, led to Threshold… the name came out of the significance of the Baltic being the threshold to the city. We were also thinking about the threshold of the lowest frequency you can hear, bringing people over the threshold, being at the threshold of a career and the very definition of the word: ‘The magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result or condition to occur or be manifested.’
Direction, reaction, creation… you could be describing either the festival or the original Baltic Triangle!
Very much so and the festival has grown alongside the Baltic. In the early days, there was only The New Picket and we worked closely with Phil Hayes to practically drag people there! Now, everyone knows where it is and it feels closer to town. More and more residential projects are taking over some of the warehouse village, so only time will tell about its future… it’s got an L1 postcode after all!
Onwards and upwards?
I’m still learning about balance and not burning out! But, having said that, Threshold 7 takes place from March 31st 2017…
Pic by Chris Herstad Carney