Kacy & Clayton: From the Farm to the Fillmore

Two names have been reverberating around the Canadian country and folk music scene for the past few years. If you haven't heard the echoes yet, expect to hear them soon.

Kacy & Clayton – made up of second cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum – have seen exploding success since the release of their album Strange Country in late 2015.

Listening to it, it's easy to see why they've been playing bigger and bigger shows across North America and Europe: their music echoes the origins of the genre while still sounding fresh and original. Pairing that with that kind of virtuosity that would usually take – at least for the majority of us – a lifetime of practice to achieve is proving to be a winning formula. Who knew?

Burgeoning Success

The cousins both come from farms in southern Saskatchewan. Their backyard is basically the eastern block of Grasslands National Park – a sea of endless plains rolling forever without a farmhouse, telephone pole, or any human structure in sight. Though they're through-and-through small town, they’re by no means small time anymore.

Their success has been snowballing since their debut album The Day Is Past & Gone dropped in 2013, and 2015's Strange Country has only pushed them further into the spotlight. This past year has been a whirlwind of live shows supporting the record, and people are starting to take notice.

After showcases at SXSW this past spring, they headed across the Atlantic on a European tour supporting Canadian country hot-shot Daniel Romano, which Linthicum said was "the most fun I think we've ever had on tour."

Kacy & Clayton - "In This Strange Country" (Live on KEXP)

"We stayed in the hotel with them and traveled in their van. It was kind of just like being in his band, and we did play with him the last show of the tour. We just played his set with him, which was pretty fun. I played twelve string; it felt like the Traveling Wilburys, just big open chords. But I couldn't hear the guitar – it was probably way out of tune. And his songs are pretty advanced, so I think I played a lot of wrong chords," Linthicum told me.

It’s easy to tell from listening to Kacy & Clayton’s songs that Clayton has an unconventional playing style. Beginning on the piano at an early age, Linthicum picked up the banjo not long after, and those early banjo lessons are evident in his signature thumb-picked guitar lines.

"All of the guitar players that I really like kind of play that way. Bert Jansch plays like that. Lots of country-blues and ragtime guitar players played like that because they took that stuff from the early piano players. The ragtime guitar playing comes from piano playing, and it's something that's really common in regional folk styles, as is the solo acoustic guitar," said Linthicum.

I sort of move my index finger up and down like Maybelle Carter from the Carter family. She kind of popularized this style of acoustic guitar playing where you play the melody on the low strings and then strum in between."

Moreover, he cited John Renbourn, Doc Watson, and the Carter Family as having influenced his playing style.

"I sort of move my index finger up and down like Maybelle Carter from the Carter family. She kind of popularized this style of acoustic guitar playing where you play the melody on the low strings and then strum in between. She'd play the melody with her thumb and strum with her finger, which is another thing that I do."

The style is certainly working for them, and their sound is attracting more and more attention. In fact, soonafter returning from their tour with Daniel Romano, they headed to the States for another big show.

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Wilco and the Fillmore

This past September, Kacy & Clayton opened for Wilco at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Playing such a historic venue is a huge step for any musician's career, especially when the other name on the bill is a widely influential act like Wilco.

It was as intimidating as it was exciting for these two Canadian farm kids, so conceding to their own small-town shyness is understandable.

"We kinda decided that we wouldn't bother any members of the band," said Linthicum. "It was a really tiny backstage. I think there was one toilet, and it wasn't really ours to use. I mean, we could use it, but it just didn't feel right."

In spite of the awkward politeness, Linthicum added, "They were very friendly to us. Jeff Tweedy forced us to be friends with him. It was really cool." And following the small-confine introductions, Linthicum said they had a chance to chat about being from the country, old folk music, and fellow Saskatchewan treasure Andy Shauf.

"[Jeff Tweedy] asked us if we knew Andy Shauf – he's a big Andy Shauf fan. We talked about Richard Thompson, too, who is the guitar player from the band Fairport Convention and also had a really long solo career. I think Thompson is the greatest songwriter and guitar player alive. And Jeff Tweedy just produced his most recent album, so we were nerding out about British Folk music."

Kacy & Clayton

A New Album

From there, the rest of 2016 was filled out with an American tour with Blitzen Trapper, followed by a week's stay in a cabin in Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan to complete the material for their next album. That last bit wasn't quite the retreat away from the outside world they were hoping for, however.

"[The cabin] actually had someone living in the basement who we didn't know about. That wasn't advertised … It seems like something you would advertise," Linthicum laughed. Still, they managed to finish all of their material and are set to record with the rest of their band in January 2017.

It's nice to be able to turn your guitar up at a show instead of having to just submit to the chatty audience. And it's just fun playing with a band."

The new material will be another step in the direction of Strange Country with a full band backing them. It will also see Linthicum favour an electric guitar more than his usual go-to '51 Gibson J-50.

"It's nice to be able to turn your guitar up at a show instead of having to just submit to the chatty audience. And it's just fun playing with a band. It's a fun alternative to what we've been doing for a while. Kacy is a good acoustic guitar player as well, so it's just different – more reflective of our country influences, as opposed to the traditional folk music," said Linthicum.

While they've picked a location and a producer to work with, they're keeping the details of the record’s production suspiciously under wraps. "I don't think we can say," Linthicum told me reluctantly when I asked for details. But if the past year was any indication, expect that it's only going to keeping taking them away from the farm and further into the international spotlight.

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