Artist Spotlight: The Dyr Sister

Having taken some time out, contemporary folk artist The Dyr Sister returns with a new collaborative album and fresh projects on the horizon. The mind behind this sororal Norse-deer is […]

Having taken some time out, contemporary folk artist The Dyr Sister returns with a new collaborative album and fresh projects on the horizon. The mind behind this sororal Norse-deer is actually called Sally Currie, and in interview she shared with us the reasons behind her break, details on her upcoming releases, and the inspirations, successes and challenges she’s faced as an upcoming artist.

Sally is a classically trained violist and pianist who, despite being born partially deaf, has an extensive history writing and performing with countless bands in the UK. Not to mention Mexico, where The Dyr Sister was born in 2013. Many in and around Hull are now familiar with her alternative, contemporary folk style, incorporating post hip-hop and electronic influences into her provocative compositions. With driving percussive rhythms and layered vocal harmonies she conjures images of delicate fields of windswept grass, overcast skies, and pagan fires at twilight. It’s as if Hans Christian Anderson were alive today, but instead writing his fairy tales with a viola and an MPC 1000.

In June 2015 she released her debut album: Fairytales for the Modern Gentleman, subtitled Volume One, implying this story deserved a sequel. The following May saw the release of The Demonstration EP, much to the satisfaction of her growing cult following, and throughout this period she was performing across the UK at venues and festivals, sharing bills with acts like Lætitia Sadier, This is the Kit and The Dead Rat Orchestra. However, with no sign of a second volume, she quietly fell off the radar in late 2017.

Sally explains that her hiatus was due to a combination of reasons. When not on stage sharing her art, she earns her living as an accountant, and toward the end of 2017 the pressure began to pile on significantly. In high demand from local organisations, she found herself with a rapidly growing portfolio of responsibilities. Welcome opportunities, but also draining when she found herself working over seventy hours a week while still performing as a solo artist. No small feat considering the performance is all on you, and that looping live vocal harmonies is challenging enough when you’re not tired. Add in the disruptive end to a relationship, and you’ve got yourself a tough time. The Dyr Sister was burning the candle at both ends and running out of wax.

Nevertheless, during this period she couldn’t help but write new music. A second album, fully mixed and mastered, is reportedly ready to go. However, it being largely based upon her personal experiences and feelings associated with this trying time, Sally is, quite understandably, reluctant to release this one just yet. She describes it as part of ‘’her own personal therapy’’, and that she is ‘’not willing to make a living out of reliving her trauma’’. In any case, The Dyr Sister has more than enough lined up for us already, as we shall soon see.

Sally recognised she was struggling, so decided to take some time out to reconstitute her foundation and do a spot of decorating in her new home. It was necessary to create space, temporarily suspending the obligations pulling her in different directions in order to naturally gravitate toward what she wanted to do next. In her own words:

‘’I needed to be doing nothing, so I did nothing. And that gave me the opportunity to go, right, what do I want to do next. Because the only thing you can do after breathing in is breathing out.’’

And so, she reached out to two talented musicians, bringing the three of them together and taking the step from solo artist to ensemble. Sally says this collaboration allows her to more faithfully express the surreal, subversive compositions she hears in her head, and that her two new partners are very much on the same wavelength.

Sarah Shiels is a bassist who has toured the UK, Europe and the USA lending her talent to bands such as Ming City Rockers, The Black Delta Movement and The Deemed Unrighteous. She has also written and performed her own psychedelic folk, and published her debut collection of poetry in 2018.

Last but not least, Stephanie Halsey is a freelance harpist based in Hull who, having graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music, regularly performs at weddings and with various artists. Some career highlights include performing Debussy’s Danses Sacrée et Profane, being conducted by Sir Mark Elder and touring with Gary Numan as part of the Skaparis Orchestra. Stephanie has also recorded with artists such as The Broken Orchestra and Stuart McCallum, and is currently working toward a masters degree in music at the University of Hull, specialising in electric harp.

This formidable trio have been writing, practicing and rehearsing since June, and now have forty-five minutes of new material to prove it. Material they’ll be debuting next week at The Brain Jar in Hull on 28/11/2019 alongside The Black Kes and Holly Blackshaw. It’s an intimate concert setting with limited capacity, and there are already very few tickets left!

You can get remaining tickets here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2481272568823934/

Not only does The Dyr Sister have a wealth of new music in the pipeline, Sally also tells us that she has recently secured her first ‘emerging artist commission’. She’s clearly thrilled as she tells us how her friend recommended it to her, and that she spent several days during her annual leave writing her application. She goes on to describe how she’ll be based in London for the project, having already acquired producers, where she’ll write a five-minute piece to be paired with film. Translating sound into vision is a core aspect, something Sally is particularly passionate about because it will allow those with more severe hearing loss than herself to access and enjoy her art.

This is certainly a period of transition and positive change for the artist. Working hard to systematically optimise the business – setting up a new website for instance – we ask about the biggest challenge she currently faces. After a brief pause, Sally settles on the competition – ‘’you’ve got to remember that a lot of people are trying to do the same thing’’, she says. You need to have a strong work ethic, and find supportive people who share your vision in order to successfully navigate what is a highly commercialised industry. She goes onto say that if people don’t turn up to see your music, there’s a danger of developing a victim mentality, because being a talented musician isn’t enough. Her advice is to develop at least one other skill that’ll help bring your music to a wider audience, whether that be networking, website design, or, in Sally’s case, financial expertise. As a result, she says that ‘’a lot of the things that make people anxious don’t make me anxious’’. It’s a perpetual balancing act, and you must be able to inhabit the moment in order to write and perform, but also level-headed and future-oriented in order to make that sustainable.

When asked what success means to her, Sally said it is ‘’remembering that every time I pick up an instrument, that fifty years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do this’’. Despite her hearing impairment, she is grateful for the resources she had to earn the support of her tutors, and establish a firm bedrock upon which to build her dream. She encourages others with disabilities to seize all available opportunities; break barriers down into small manageable chunks and smash through them one at a time. Beyond overcoming challenges, Sallys says:

‘’Your ability to be able to play, communicate and express yourself is a gift, and it should be a shared. Basically, success is sitting well with that, and knowing that actually, everything else is incidental.’’

The Dyr Sister is also proud to be part of a community aiming to revitalise the local economy of Hull. She is passionate about ensuring that Spotify see none of their money and, with her expertise, is clearly more than capable of doing so.

With the end of 2019 in sight, The Dyr Sister has big plans for 2020. She looks forward to writing a song for her commission, touring with Sarah and Stephanie and sharing The Dyr Sister’s new music with the world. Sally loves to travel and meet new people and, having benefited from taking a pause, is excited about expanding her audience beyond Hull. ‘’My creativity is my power’’, Sally says, so if you need to take some time to rekindle your spark, The Dyr Sister encourages you to do so.

About Alasdair Glen

Writer.