by Grady Mitchell | The noise and clamour of a bustling kitchen seems like an unlikely place to form a musical relationship. But the refined, graceful music of Vancouver folk duo Twin Bandit was born amid the clashes and clangs of pots and pans. Hannah Walker was busy preparing lunch for a couple dozen kids at the St. James Music Academy, a not-for-profit set up by her mom to offer music education for inner city youth. A new volunteer, Jamie Elliott, was assigned to help her.
As she worked, Hannah began to sing an old Appalachian folk song called The Good Old Way. Suddenly, from across the kitchen, a second voice joined in perfect harmony. It was Jamie. They’ve been harmonizing ever since.
“That was the spark for us,” Hannah says. “We started trying to find any song we both knew.” Before long they were writing their own as Twin Bandit.
Hannah comes from a deeply musical family. She remembers sitting at her father’s feet as he tuned his guitar, matching the tones with her voice. She and her three sisters used to harmonize, each assigned a different part. As for Jamie’s family, while they may not be as musically inclined, they’re big fans. “My dad likes to think he’s musical,” she says with a laugh.
Besides just writing beautiful songs, the ladies of Twin Bandit tap into folk music’s long history of social conscience, its ability to not only entertain an audience, but move one to change. “Folk music is the people’s music,” Hannah says. “It tells a story about a community, about a person and their experience, about issues that are closer to the common good. I’ve always found that to be really inspiring.”
Hannah grew up on the downtown east side, so issues like poverty, addiction and mental illness are forefront in her mind. These ideas coalesce in a song like Rosalyn, a mournful and all-too-common tribute to a friend lost to addiction. The delicacy of their sound may seem at odds with subject matter as dark and gritty as the DTES, but it’s a subdued, gentle and ultimately beautiful method of addressing a complex subject. It offers no sweeping judgements or solutions, just tells one story about one person.
Rosalyn comes off their first full-length, For You, recorded over three weeks in the summer of 2014 on a Maple Ridge farm with producer Jon Anderson. After a year of waiting for the album to release – which it finally did in June – they’re ecstatic and hopeful for the future.
“It feels like an accumulation of all these things up to this point,” Jamie says. Hannah nods. “I think we’ve been waiting our whole lives to meet each other and put this album out.” To learn more about Twin Bandit, visit their website.