In the first of a short series of interviews with artists appearing at this year’s British Country Music Festival in Blackpool, we* spoke to Laura Johnston, one half of Cornwall-based duo Our Atlantic Roots. She tells us about how they formed, their new single ‘Golden Hour’, what to expect from their next EP, and who they’d love to write a song with if given the chance.
Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers by telling us a bit about yourselves and where you’re from?
Of course! We’re Mac and Laura from the indie-folk and country duo, Our Atlantic Roots. Mac is originally from North Carolina – near to the Outer Banks – and I’m from Rotherham in South Yorkshire. We’ve been married for 8 years and singing together for 10. Though we formed the duo and officially started releasing music in 2017.
How did the two of you meet, and what was the inspiration behind the name Our Atlantic Roots?
I went out to the USA in 2008 as soon as I’d finished high school to take part in a gap year at a church. I had the time of my life and ended up staying for 5 years! We travelled around the States and got involved in lots of community projects, from supporting homeless shelters to running youth groups, and working in prisons alongside the chaplain. Mac and I met during my fourth year there and straight away had that music connection! We began song writing together for hours on end and the rest is history.
Our debut EP release ‘First Light’ was actually under the name Mac and Laura Johnston but as we began to gain traction, we pondered on the idea of a “band name”. That was not an easy task! Our Atlantic Roots is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s caught on over the years! We wanted a name that was earthy and relating to nature as a lot of our sound and lyrics are rooted within that (pardon the pun!). We live in Cornwall and see the Atlantic Ocean every day and it’s the thing that connects our homelands. It just felt right.
Your second EP ‘Little Bird’, released in 2019, was a huge success. Why do you think it connected with so many listeners?
Yes, we are still blown away by the figure: 1M+ streams! The production and feel of ‘Little Bird’ was bigger and in some ways more mainstream sounding than ‘First Light’, but still had quite a unique and indie undertone. The song that was particularly well received on the EP was ‘Carry On’. It was included on some big playlists and that helped it have that extra boost to reach more people, but ultimately, it was the simple yet direct and hopeful message that seemed to most engage and impact listeners. Mac wrote this one in a dark season, battling anxiety and panic disorder. As many know, poor mental health is unfortunately something that a lot of people deal with, and Mac has always been open about his journey in this area and how the song came from that place, authentically and in a time that he needed those words personally. We hope that it continues to impact and encourage listeners.
You’ve just released a new single called ‘Golden Hour’. Could you tell us a bit about the story behind the song?
Of course! We’re very excited to have finally been able to share this song with the world. The lyrics of ‘Golden Hour’ highlight and celebrate the constants in a rapidly changing world. It was written in the season of the covid pandemic when so much felt unstable and unreliable. The inspiration for the song came as we were out walking along the Cornish coastline as the sun set over the Atlantic. The constant push and pull of the tide and the sound of the skylarks and starlings – blissfully unaware of the chaos in the world – was a comfort and a reminder that some things do stay the same. The whole track has that dusky, late summer, relaxed feeling whilst carrying a motivating pulse that takes the listener on a journey.
This will be the first release from your third EP ‘Hold Every Moment’, due out in October. Could you give us an idea of what to expect from it?
There will be four tracks on this EP. They’re all quite cinematic, yet rooted in the classic Our Atlantic Roots folky/americana sound. We worked with talented producer Stian VedØy of Bristol-based “mountain-pop” band Firewoodisland, so there’s definitely little hints of his experimental sound throughout. Lyrically, the songs are poetic and rooted in a hopeful message but very much contemplative. Watch this space!
With festival season now in full swing, how has it felt performing live again? Where can we catch you playing this summer?
It’s been very tiring but SO MUCH FUN! We love performing live. Travelling and keeping up with the administration of being your own booking agent and promoter is very tiring but it’s all worth it when we walk out on stage and have great conversations after the gig.
We’ve already performed at a number of events and festivals such as Creation Fest and Beardy Folk Fest, and we’ve just supported a 40-piece orchestra on one of our local beaches here in Cornwall. You can still catch us at Between the Trees in South Wales on August 27th, or if you fancy an adventure, we’re performing at Land’s End on August 30th and Cornwall Folk Festival on August 29th.
You’re due to play at the British Country Music Festival in Blackpool in September. How excited are you to be on the bill, and why do you think country music has become so popular in the UK in recent years?
We’re very excited to be on this year’s British Country Music Festival line-up. There are always those die-hard country and folk fans, but I think there’s been a rise in engagement from audiences who have been introduced to the genre through bands that are more mainstream or mix in country with another genre such as pop. For example, Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers are two huge bands who caught the attention of the mainstream music market around 15 years ago and brought a more widespread appreciation for the use of instruments such as banjo and slide guitar; classically heard in country music, but in a less hardcore country sense. Also, music is more accessible to a wider market through the internet through streaming and YouTube, etc, so it’s easier for people in the UK to access it from the US and beyond.
Finally, if you could pick one female Country/Americana artist to write a song with, who would it be and why?
It would be Joy Williams, previously of The Civil Wars. Mac and I have always loved singing songs by The Civil Wars duo and have always been inspired by Joy’s very impressive vocals and song writing skills. She’s gone on to release solo work since ending The Civil Wars and I just absolutely love her style and she knows how to write songs that work really well for a duo too which counts for a lot.
Thank you so much for your time!
*Originally written for and published on Belles & Gals on August 7th 2022.