An Interview with Alasdair Taylor of Elephant Sessions

Interview with Alasdair Taylor of Elephant Sessions (2)

Award winning indie folk-rock quartet, Elephant Sessions begin an extensive UK and international tour in May, taking their unique fusion of traditional and modern sounds on the road. Ahead of the concerts, On:’s Dave Schuster chats with Alasdair Taylor, mandolin maestro and co-frontman of the band, about the tour, instruments and the complexities of organising a festival…

Is playing live where Elephant Sessions are happiest?
I’d say so, yeah. We started out as a live band and that’s still what we love doing the most.
I’m very excited for it. We’ve been a few months off at the start of this year, and I can’t wait to get back out on the road if I’m honest. Playing live, there’s nothing quite like that buzz!

How do you go about deciding on a set list?
Ha! It takes quite a long time. Generally speaking, I’ll do a rough set list, and then there’ll be a discussion over, mainly, the order. We kind of know roughly what people like hearing and then it’s about the order of the set and the flow. It’s important to have light and shade, fast and slow and all that kind of thing. So we aim to have an impactful start, an impactful end, of course, and then something in the middle that will lift the crowd. That’s the point in the show where people have been there for a while, but you wanna kind of tail up towards the end again. So, you’ve got points you want to hit, and then you build the rest around that.

What’s your favourite track to play live?
Hmm. Maybe Moonwake, off the latest album. There’s something a little bit different about it; different time signatures. But it’s also that it really gets going after quite a calm start. It kind of drops that out of nowhere, which I think is always fun.

For this tour, is it just the four band members, or will you be accompanied by any touring musicians?
We do occasionally have a touring guitarist, Ben Fitzgerald [Who performs solo as Memphis Gerald.] but this time, it’s just the four of us, which will be fun.

Interview with Alasdair Taylor of Elephant Sessions (1)

image by Ryan Buchanan

“Exciting year”

After an extensive tour of the UK, you head out to the US, Denmark and Ireland. Denmark’s an interesting choice, as they’ve got a quite different musical heritage.
Audience reaction is different everywhere. Crowds in general are different everywhere. I’m not saying they are less appreciative, but there’s some places might be more jump up and down, some places may be kind of stand and listen a bit more. We’ve been to Denmark a bunch of times and we’ve always had a great time. We’re playing the Tønder festival, which is a kind of roots Americana and folk, and it’s always been class, we’ve had a great time every single time we’ve been. We’ve not properly toured the states before, although we’ve done a lot of festivals there. This is the first time that we’re going over to do both festivals and some venues in the Midwest. So yeah, it’s an exciting year. Interesting times!

Talking of festivals, towards the end of the UK tour you’re playing Black Isle Calling, a festival which I understand you’ve co-organised?
Yes, in September. It’s an idea we’ve had for many, many years. I’ve known Euan [Smillie, the band’s other front man and fiddle player.] since we were both young, and very early in our friendship, I remember us having a conversation about how he’d really want to put on a festival of our own at some point. And here we are; we’re finally doing it this year! We’ve teamed up with Ironworks Venue and Black Isle Brewery to put it on. Ironworks was a big venue in Inverness that sadly got shut down, and Black Isle Brewery do great beers, if you like a good beer? We’re hosting the festival on the brewery’s grounds and are very excited about it. It’s over two nights. We’ve got Huey Morgan, of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals on the Friday night and we’re playing the Saturday, along with a load of other amazing Scottish acts too.

Have you been involved in organising the festival logistics then?
A couple of us from the band, Ironworks Venue and Black Isle Brewery have been the organising team. Yeah, it’s a lot of work! I jokingly say that I knew it would be a lot of work, but I didn’t realise how much work. But it’s fascinating. I love seeing the other side of things, how it all works. Me and the boys in the band had no idea where to start, so it was very helpful having experienced people to learn from, rather than having to make the mistakes ourselves; watching people who’ve done it before and learning from that, which has been great.

Will you be playing entirely from your back catalogue, or have you been working up some new material?
This time we’ll be playing from the back catalogue. Our last release, For the Night, only came out at the end of 2022, so we’re still trying to get to the stage we didn’t quite get to on the album tour last year. There is new material in the works, but it’s probably too soon on this tour.

Interview with Alasdair Taylor of Elephant Sessions (3)

image, and top image, by Euan Robertson

“I never looked back”

Are you planning another album in 2024/25 then?
We are planning another one! Writing is underway. If I had to guess, it will be 2025, but I don’t actually know at the moment. We’re quite busy this year, so I guess the thought of recording is probably gonna be difficult. Generally speaking, we record in the early parts of the year, usually February time, where it’s not as busy. I don’t know. It depends how quickly we can get it right.

Do you have a set process for songwriting?
It’s changed a lot over the years. The first two, or maybe even maybe three, albums were a lot of individual writing, at home or wherever you might be. Euan and I would write tunes. Then, when we all got in a room together, we’d have a tune to begin with and work around, which is the folky way of doing things, I guess. The last record, we made it much more of a collaborative process and we’d all get in a room together and all wrote everything, from the start to finish, together. There was a lot less individual writing, and I quite like that; the collaborative nature of the whole album. The next record, I imagine, will be a mix of that. I don’t think there’s anything better than just getting into a room and working on stuff: Going in without anything specific in mind, and just seeing where it takes you. I thought that was really fun.

Did you grow up with Gaelic musical influences?
Yes. My parents took me to gigs and played a lot of Scottish and Irish music, not just folk, all genres, but they both liked folk music and both played in folk bands when they were younger. There was a lot of music when I was growing up and I got taken to a lot of shows. I was very lucky in that sense; how much good music I was exposed to.

Has mandolin always been your instrument?
No, as a kid I played fiddle, which has the same tuning, so same left hand movement. Then I moved onto guitar, which is a very similar right hand action. However, I got injured and hurt my shoulder badly, so then I tried the mandolin, which is sort of between the two instruments but smaller, to not move my shoulder too much. I loved it. I never looked back, I preferred it to both fiddle and guitar. I’ve played it ever since, fourteen years or so.

You’ll be playing Leeds Brudenell in May. Are you worried it’s going to be too hot so far south?
Haha! We’re hoping it’s going to be a bit warmer than it has been here! That would be nice. I love that venue! That was one that had been on my bucket list; I’d seen so many bands when I was growing up that had Brudenell on their posters, that I’d always wanted to do it. In fact, we suggested it as a band a couple of years back. What a great little venue and what a great atmosphere it generates in there. It was a no-brainer to have it on our tour again.

Elephant Sessions tour starts 2nd May
For more info on the tour:
For the Black Isle Calling festival information and tickets:


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