Taking an Expressive Spin on Folk Music

Profile of Musicians Caroline Cotter and Michael Howard

Press photo of Caroline Cotter. Photo Caroline Cotter Music
Press photo of Michael Howard. Photo Caroline Cotter Music

A single musician singing poetic ballads, while strumming a repetitive tune on an acoustic guitar—this kind of setting would normally be associated with folk music.

Musicians Caroline Cotter and Michael Howard changes this up a bit by giving their own take on the genre.

Caroline Cotter, born and raised in Maine, USA, blends her American roots while still managing to stay true to the genre of folk music through singing ballads, accompanied by the strumming of an acoustic guitar and including a smooth shuffling drum beat in the background.

Alaskan musician Michael Howard takes a spin onto this genre of music by incorporating a faster guitar picking technique and singing poetic tales. An example of this would be his song “Dealing with the Details” which describes an individual questioning themselves and where they went wrong in their life.

While Cotter’s and Howard’s paths may have been different, they are headed in the same direction today in their different interpretations of folk music.

“I enjoy traveling just as much as I enjoy performing,” stated Cotter. She explained how touring is just as important to her as songwriting, recording and performing music. The most important aspect of touring for her is seeing the places that she has been to in the past and discovering other parts of the world that she has never seen.

“Its great that it’s happened to be part of how we run a business, to be able to travel non-stop,” said Howard. He finds it impressive how touring allows him and Caroline to learn new skills and ideas and meet new people at every place they stop at.

By touring and playing several sets a night, both musicians have discovered where to categorize their own sound. “I think I have finally settled into ‘Alt-Folk,’” Howard stated. “In some ways it’s acoustic music, where I draw influences from other folk singers and rock musicians.” He also mentioned how it had been a long process before he realized what his own sound.

Before touring and encountering a different audience a night, both artists launched themselves into the music scene without having any idea whether this was the professional field they wanted to pursue.

“For me, it’s a slow progression of writing songs, performing and recording, but it wasn’t a big all at once thing,” explained Cotter. In 2014, she quit her job and decided to follow a professional career in music. Although, she’s been writing songs, performing and recording as a hobby since 2007. Where Cotter was working with music as a hobby earlier on, Howard wasn’t even in the process of considering it.

“I played music growing up, but never thought of pursuing it professionally, until 2012 when I quit my job,” said Howard. Since then, he’s been pursuing music, writing songs and meeting and working with other people in the industry.

Without any prior experience in the business of music, there were challenges that were lying in wait for these two intrepid musicians.

“I have been working for other people at a college for ten years and the idea of working for myself is challenging,” said Cotter. She never studied how to compose music, but it had always been a passion of hers, and pursuing it professionally is the challenge that drew her into the industry.

Howard, on the other hand, had his own difficulties. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when it came to launching himself into the music industry was the aspect of touring. Whether or not the audience inside the concert halls would accept his music was one of his biggest worries.

However, both artists had musical idols that inspired them to pursue their dreams, in spite of their individual challenges.

Cotter has a handful of musical influences that she’d picked up along her travels—The Indigo Girls, Ten Thousand Maniacs, Sarah Mclaughlin and Simon and Garfunkel just to name a few. As she travels, she seeks for musical inspiration in the folk realm since it brings a whole new set of sounds and feeling towards the music she creates.

“We play folk music now, but I never came from a folk music background,” said Howard. He grew up playing rock and roll in Alaska and throughout the years, and he slowly incorporated himself into the folk scene. His biggest influence, he says, is Bob Dylan, but almost every month Howard finds new musical influences and works along different rhythmic patterns.

“It was six years before I realized that the genre that I fit into was folk,” said Cotter. She hadn’t planned on focusing on this realm of music, but the songs that she eventually realised that the songs she was writing belonged were best suited for that genre. Meanwhile, Howard enjoys writing songs that work for many different genres

Since the release of her latest album “Dreaming as I Do” in January 2015, Cotter’s music defines the style as a means to tell a story with the use of her captivating soprano voice. Her songs take you through a musical journey, from a Parisian salon to the coast of Maine and from the hills of Colorado, only to end up by the campfire of a bluegrass festival.

She is currently in the process of writing and recording new material that will be launched in 2018 which will sit in the Folk/Americana realm. This new album will incorporate more drums into her material.

“My last album was done in Portland, Maine, with talented local musicians,” said Cotter. Her upcoming album will feature a range of musicians from New York City, Montreal, Kansas City and Denmark.

Caroline Cotter and Michael Howard // Tuesday May 9, 8-10PM // Barfly (4062 St Laurent Blvd) // $5-$10 donation