“What type of music do you play?”
One of the most common questions I am asked is, “What type of music do you play?” My first response used to be, “I play indie-folk music,” but the blank stares made it clear I was getting nowhere with that one. Now I say something like, “I’m a modern troudabour and singer-songwriter who tells musical stories and plays acoustic indie folk rock music in a similar genre to Passenger, Ben Howard, Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, etc.” Yes, I still get blank stares…but I have more fun.
So, What is indie folk music?
Quite simply, it’s modern folk music, generally with country and rock influences. It usually refers to music which is acoustic in nature as well as being lyrical, melodic and story-oriented. It can’t be called folk music, because that usually refers to traditional folk music, which is beautiful but certainly ain’t indie folk music! Here’s a lovely traditional folk song called The Bold Grenadier.
To give you context, when I think of indie folk music I think of Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Tallest Man On Earth, Ani DiFranco, Passenger, Ben Howard, Mason Jennings, Sufjan Stevens, Alela Diane, Iron & Wine, Joanna Newsom, Alexander, and Feist…to name just a few. I could go on…and on…and on, but maybe I’ll just make a playlist instead;).
Here’s a great song by Alexander, which I would call indie folk music:
History of indie folk music
The genre first arose in the 90’s, when some singer-songwriters began playing music influenced by contemporary folk as well as country and rock music.
Indie folk music in the 2000’s
In the 2000’s some artists began incorporating more experimental cross-genre sounds, some even bringing electronic instrumentation into their music. Artists like the Freelance Whales, Yellow Ostrich and Sufjan Stevens are masters of this new style, and they are some of my favourites of the modern wave of indie folk musicians.
Here is a song by Yellow Ostrich, in which he uses a loop pedal to layer his voice over itself, combined with live instruments like drums and guitar to create a hugely atmospheric and beautiful song. The song still retains the strong storytelling and melodic aspects which are so intrinsic to folk music in all its variations.
I hope I have in some way clarified what indie folk music is, although I’m slightly concerned that I may be completely wrong and have confused you even more. At the end of the day, there are so many genres and sub-genres these days that I too find it hard to keep up. One thing I know for certain is that indie folk music and the vegan black metal chef are most definitely NOT in the same genre.
Thanks for reading and I hope that in future when you ask someone what they play and they say indie folk music, you’ll know exactly what they mean :D.
Indie folk music troubadour singer-songwriter
Nate Maingard, signing out!
PS: do you agree with me about my definition of this genre? What are some of the strangest sub-genres you’ve heard of? I’d love to hear from you, so please do join the conversation by commenting below.