“There is no frontwoman in Beatrix Players,” explains the band’s vocalist, Amy Birks. “A crucial part of our sound is the layering of vocals, combined with mass instrumentation provided by the three of us and our instruments.”
The three leading ladies – Australian pianist Jess Kennedy, Spanish-born cellist Amanda Alvarez and Birks, who hails from Staffordshire – formed powerful neo-classical folk prog band Beatrix Players in 2013.
“Our sound was a bit more rock before then. The boys in the band were trying to push us too far down the rock path and it didn’t feel natural to us. We even had a heavy metal drummer at one stage,” laughs Kennedy.
They initially formed a band with other members on guitars and drums, before realising that their true musical vocation would be a trio.
“Vocals, piano and cello are very natural together anyway, and once we eliminated all of the other elements, we really started to gel,” adds Birks.
Citing Sigur Rós, Mazzy Star and Michael Nyman as influences, the trio share an eclectic musical taste. Through classical tones and baroque melodies, the songs’ empowering femininity and emotional themes are reminiscent of the Mediaeval Baebes. Birks’ singing emulates a Kate Bush vocal range, the cello acts as a bassline throughout as in cellist trio Rasputina, and the piano paves a haunting tune akin to iamthemorning.
“Beatrix is a name which is often associated with really cool women, from the Roman empress to Tarantino villains. It also means ‘voyager’, which fits because we want to take people on a journey with our music. The player side simply represents our theatrical and collaborative aspect,” Birks says.
“I think that people don’t really know what to expect when they see us arrive with a piano and a cello. They don’t expect to hear such a big booming sound coming from three little girls,” adds Alvarez.
Their debut album Magnified contains the tracks Lady Of The Lake, a traditional folk ballad, and Mole Hill, a dark and beautiful refrain, both accompanied by music videos featuring eerie animation by Chloe Rodham.
“This is not a concept album, but it is a journey. There were no preconceived ideas of messages that needed to come through in the lyrics. We have all been through quite a lot over the last couple of years in our own lives, so this album is musical therapy,” explains Kennedy.
A particularly significant song on the album is the ballad Never Again, featuring lyrical references to strong female personas Joan of Arc and the Bronte sisters:
‘I cut my hair/Become courageous/For I will live to outdate this/Take a risk and find strength’ conjures the sisters’ strength.
“We are not necessarily a band that promotes woman power, but at the time when I wrote this song, I remember reading Jane Ayre and thinking, “Crikey! These women went through a lot,” reveals Birks.
The clever creative process of layering the various musical parts onto each other creates an intricate patchwork of soft melodies from the piano, progressively blossoming with the added cello chords and woven together by the lyrical chant.
“We complement each other musically,” says Alvarez. “We are never fighting over each other. There is a place for each of the elements that we bring into our music. We want the intimacy of our arrangements to come through.”
Line up: Amy Birks (vocals, lyrics), Jess Kennedy (piano, vocals), Amanda Alvarez (cello)
Sounds like: A Jane Austen novel featuring the Mediaeval Baebes, Kate Bush and Dario Marianelli
Current release: Magnified is out now and is self-released