Cadence: Echoes of California and Ireland in Cinder Well’s Latest Album

Article Contributed by HearthMusic | Published on Friday, February 16, 2024

Oceans flow through the center of Cinder Well’s music. "Cadence," the new album from Amelia Baker’s experimental folk project, drifts between two far-flung seas: the hazy California coast where she grew up, and the wind-torn swells of Western Ireland that she’s come to love. Due out April 21, 2023, on Free Dirt Records, the album’s name refers to the cycles of our turbulent lives, to the uncertain tides that push us forward and back. Recorded at Hen House Studios, just blocks from the famed Venice Beach Boardwalk in Los Angeles, the songs of "Cadence" search for a sense of grounding and a feeling of home. Though California’s beaches are the backdrop of this album, Irish influences emerge as well. The folklore of the old ways still looms in her mind, now tinged with the kind of growth that comes from returning to your roots. With "Cadence," Baker expands Cinder Well’s sound to include percussion as well as trance electric guitar and expansive string parts courtesy of Cormac MacDiarmada of Lankum. While there are still hints of the doom folk that Cinder Well is known for, "Cadence" balances heavy lyrics with a more expansive sound that nods to LA’s mythical Laurel Canyon years. “So much of my music has been made far from home,” Baker says. “There was something about recording in California that felt cathartic.” Caught between two worlds, "Cadence" is about recapturing the rhythms of life after a time of deep isolation, about finding balance amongst uncertainty.

Cinder Well’s acclaimed previous album, "No Summer," was a love letter to her new adopted home in Western Ireland’s County Clare. But as the pandemic descended and cut her off from America with a long period of intense quarantine, she knew it was time to return home. Traveling back to her hometown on the central coast of California, she took the time and space to hone a creativity that had been blunted by isolation. Natural imagery, always a key source of inspiration for Cinder Well’s songwriting, appears again in songs resplendent with images of moonlit caves, edgy cliffs, dark purple sunsets, birds, and shadows. Plants growing out of cracks in rocks in the song "Well on Fire" symbolize resilience, and the cold Atlantic wind in "Gone the Holding" embodies the hardness of consequence. “These songs have a feeling of being lost in the woods, but writing from that place,” Baker explains. “They were written in a process of getting unstuck.”

While reconnecting with home and the sea, and resurrecting her childhood interest in surfing, Baker also focused on songwriting more deeply, determined to break through the creative block she felt. She experimented with electric guitar and worked on new tunings inspired by UK folk guitarist Nic Jones, adapting the music to her own voice using down-tuned instruments. She pored over the 90s New Age classic "The Artist’s Way," and wrote "Overgrown," her first song in the last ten years in a major key. A chance connection with Venice Beach recording engineer Harlan Steinberger’s Hen House Studios provided the perfect opportunity to record in Los Angeles, a place she’d always dreamed of making an album. In another moment of serendipity, an old high school friend, Phillip Rogers (Haley Heynderickx), joined her on drums and collaborated on arrangements. Contributing musicians include bassist Neal Heppleston (Jim Ghedi), violist Jake Falby, and Cormac MacDiarmada (Lankum), whose evocative and lush string parts allow Cinder Well’s transcendental voice to soar more than ever before. Heavy yet hopeful, "Cadence" moves beyond the minimalism of Cinder Well’s previous album. It is expansive, bringing brighter color and higher peaks to her songs, perhaps a reflection of the world outside the studio. “It’s so wild,” she says, “you’re in the quiet sanctuary of the studio behind thick wooden doors, then you walk outside and it’s the chaos of Venice Beach.” Driving down the coast along the beautifully scenic Highway 1, Cinder Well sang along to Joni Mitchell’s "Court and Spark" to warm up for the recording sessions, then settled into a calming space that allowed her to explore new directions for her music.

The feeling of being suspended between two worlds is subtly, yet profoundly, woven throughout "Cadence." “I was continuously trying to reconcile having homes in two places,” Baker says. “I was trying to hold both of those parts of me.” "Cadence" is an album torn between home and a new land you’ve come to love. It’s about finding acceptance in the ever-changing tides, and reclaiming your creativity during a time of great personal strife. Splitting her time now between two West Coasts (Ireland and California), she reflects that “the ocean is my home base no matter where I am.” Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that she opens "Cadence" with a song about selkies—seals that turn human on land. More than simply a folk legend, the shapeshifting selkies are a befitting metaphor for Cinder Well herself: a songwriter tied to the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides, whether they be half a world apart or a few steps from her home.