Although based in Traverse City, Michigan, singer and songwriter Angela Josephine has deep connections and familial ties to Ireland, where she filmed her beautiful songs, “40 Days” and “Go Easy.” These singles are featured on her recent album, Daylight, where both songs were directed by Belfast-based, Helen Rollins, and were filmed in Northern Ireland. The choreography was provided by award-winning Irish choreographer, Maureen Butler, and both songs feature the creative relationship between Josephine and her producer, Chris Bathgate.
Both singles feature Josephine’s versatility of her artistry, and the video for “Go Easy,” features Riddel’s Warehouse, which is a historic building in Belfast associated with the cast iron trade. Irish actor, Phil Dixon, also provides vocals with Josephine in the video. For “40 Days,” the cliffs of Northern Ulster are featured, with the Irish Sea beneath Josephine.
We had a lengthy discussion with Angela Josephine about her Irish influences and ancestry, her latest album, Daylight, and working with her producer, Chris Bathgate, and filming the videos for “Go Easy” and “40 Days.”
I love that you infuse Irish and Celtic influences in your music. Can you tell me what draws you specifically to this particular culture? Do you think you’d be as drawn to it if you didn’t have familial ties to Irish ancestors?
Angela Josephine: First of all, thanks for the opportunity to talk about my art and music. It means a lot!
The knowledge of any Irish heritage is very recent and growing up the youngest of 6 in an Italian Catholic family (mother’s side) might seem an unlikely point of connection. However, we lived in a small town and my stomping grounds were the hills that surrounded a beautiful bay on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s a remote area known for the cliffs of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. To survive there, you must be resourceful and resilient. In this way, my upbringing gave me a natural affinity to rugged landscapes and a connection to the people who inhabit them.
Not to mention that my favorite artists and authors hail from Ireland and Northern Ireland. Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, Dougie Maclean and Mary Black for starters. I play hammered dulcimer which is an instrument brought to the US by Irish immigrants. And I’ve felt the pull in other ways. While traveling to England for the first time, we flew in over the Emerald Isle and as I watched it pass below I felt an inexplicable yearning. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to travel there many times, collaborating with artists and making great friends. The people seem to possess a down-to-earth sensibility and willingness to take themselves lightly. For example, I was hanging out at The Old Inn in Crawfordsburn and a local woman came up and asked me to play. She was bawdy and beautiful. It was intimidating. After playing a few songs, the door opened for a more personal dialogue. She shared a story of seeing a neighborhood boy killed in front of her during The Troubles. It wasn’t something she easily revealed or talked about and I’m not even sure I’m comfortable sharing it here. She was very moved and told me that my music is healing and felt like a part of the island. And then she was laughing again. So, while I do have ancestral ties (slim as they are), I’d never assume to call myself Irish because her distinct experience proves I am not. Any connection is intuition vs. knowledge. I have a lot to learn.
With your latest album, Daylight, you’ve shot two videos with Belfast-based director, Helen Rollins, and Irish choreographer, Maureen Butler. How did you get introduced to both of them, and what’s the process of filming your music videos with them?
Angela: Back in November of 2017, my husband and I made plans to attend a C.S. Lewis event in Crawfordsburn. It was curated by the Irish author and philosopher Peter Rollins, who has since become a good friend. My new album (Daylight) was releasing in May, so it seemed like a great opportunity to try to take advantage of this trip and do something special. So, I reached out to Pete and asked if there was anyone he could recommend for directing a music video. This was coming at the eleventh hour, so I wasn’t counting on it. Of course, I was blown away when he wrote back to let me know that he was working with director Helen Rollins (no relation) on his own film, “Making Love,” and that she was interested… “and oh, she lives just up the street from where you are staying.” Next came a whirlwind of planning and logistics. My husband had to outfit a keyboard case to transport the hammered dulcimer, and Helen pulled everything else together on her end. This was for “40 Days” which was filmed on the cliffs of Fairhead where we were told Kit Harington faced a dragon as Jon Snow. Unfortunately, we saw neither.In terms of the process for this video, honestly, there was a lot of time spent standing around freezing on that cliff while the drone was reset. The camera crew stayed in the valley out of frame and Vanessa (hair/makeup) would run the length to bring me a blanket between takes. I wore an ear bud with an iPod hidden in my dress so that I could cue to the music. The experience was invigorating to say the least.
For “Go Easy,” I was returning to Northern Ireland in April to play at Wake Fest 2018. Helen and I got along so well that we decided to do another music video. She cast Irish actor and singer Phil Dixon to play the part of the male character and embody the voice of Chris Bathgate. Phil actually had a small role in Game of Thrones as Ned Stark’s best friend and body guard. One of those things you are glad you don’t know until after the fact, meaning I didn’t go all fangirl on him. As far as Maureen Butler, Helen had worked with her on previous projects. Never having worked with a choreographer myself and having two left feet, I was a little nervous. However, Maureen is really good at what she does and has a quick wit – she put me right at ease. We ran the song from many angles and were able to use only natural light thanks to a ceiling of windows. Jim Crone was director of photography (also of “40 Days”). Peter Rollins even had a hand in creating the smoke you see in the video.
I really admire your artistic relationship with producer, Chris Bathgate, who’s also Michigan-based. How do you guys play off each other creatively, and keep the creative juices flowing?
Angela: Thanks! Yeah – Chris is great to collaborate with and a musical genius as far as I am concerned. We are similar in our songwriting in that… well, Chris said it best, “We both capitalize on the gathering and power of moments, snapshots, the brief but charged detail that stays with you, to achieve a bigger picture.” I would send Chris demos I’d thrown together with some layers of MIDI and say, “I imagine the song going this direction.” For my part, I was passionate about creating a sonic landscape and willing to allow us to push the boundary of what I could recreate live. Chris would then challenge me to explore further. For example, on the hammered dulcimer song “40 Days”, he asked, “What do you think of me bringing in a hip hop drummer?” I could have closed that down, right? Does that really fit? Instead I said, “I’d like to hear that.” And I think that is what made the collaboration so successful, adopting an attitude of trust and exploration. If something felt true, we’d keep it. If something didn’t resonate, we’d ditch it. Though I must say that very little was tossed out.
What was it like filming the videos for “Go Easy” and “40 Days?” Were the themes behind these videos your idea or was it a collective effort?
Angela: Definitely a team effort! Helen and I talked via Skype regarding what I hoped to convey and she worked on a storyboard and organized all the moving parts. She embraced the narrative arc of the album as a folk-rock opera and ran with the abstract ideas I was giving her, making them into something accessible and relatable.
For “Go Easy” we knew we had a relationship song that was ambiguous regarding the outcome. It was more about exploring how complex and interconnected our emotions can be. The video starts with a murmuration that eludes to this. With Maureen’s choreography, you can feel the push and pull of heartbreak in the interaction between Phil and me. Also, we had this incredible location of the Riddel Warehouse in Belfast which was used as a buffer zone during The Troubles. The building would figure as a character itself, but it wasn’t quite evident how until we were filming. Shout out to Adam Turkington for scoring access to that location!
For “40 Days”, I wanted us to take advantage of the breathtaking landscape without the video feeling like an advert to visit Northern Ireland. The song is about exile and Helen did well to capture that stark feeling of displacement by incorporating drone shots of me on the cliffs of Fairhead. She also conveys a deep, interior journey in the double exposure and projection shots. And everyone contributes! My husband had the idea to incorporate the dulcimer during the projected scenes and Helen’s mother put together the hamper of food used to bribe the farmer who let us film on his land.
Who was your first concert, and who has been your overall favorite so far?
Angela: This is going to date me and don’t judge, but I think my first was Huey Lewis and the News. That was a long time ago. I gravitate toward intimate, acoustic shows and I have a few favorites. Chris Bathgate at Good Work Collective in Traverse City. It’s where I met him and our artistic relationship began. He was singing and I thought, “I really want to sing with that guy.” Glen Hansard with author Joseph O’Connor in Limerick for I.NY (Google it) and Phillip Phillips with cellist Dave Eggar put on an amazing acoustic show in Pontiac last year. Let it be known, I have scored tickets for Damien Rice in December and have a feeling he will be joining the list!
What was your first album on vinyl, cassette, and/or CD?
Angela: Vinyl – Tom Jones. I was three. My mom said I’d kiss the TV whenever he was on.
Cassette – Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. (Random… I know. I think it was a tape from radio or the album). CD – Probably something by “The Call”
What five albums or artists would you not want to live without?
Rich Mullins – World As Best As I Remember It – Volume 1
(It’s why I started playing hammered dulcimer and the catalyst for my music career.)
Chris Bathgate – Dizzy Seas
(Besides – who would produce my albums?)
Matthew Perryman Jones – Land of the Living
(This album has a narrative arc like my recent album, Daylight, and never ceases to inspire and move me. Plus, he had lunch with me once.)
Damien Rice – “Amie,” the song.
(I don’t know why, but this slays me every time.)
Abigail Washburn – City of Refuge
(Just listen to it.)
Do you have a guilty music or entertainment pleasure?
Angela: “Gilmore Girls.” I must be on my 4th time through, but I watched it during a rough stretch when I hurt my back and it has a calming effect. It’s nostalgic and there is so much going on in terms of dialogue and acting that I notice something new every time. And, it still makes me laugh.