Flora Knight and Sean Donald - debut traditional country

Flora Knight and Sean Donald have just released a killer album.

After playing fiddle for The Eastern, Flora made the call to head to America and follow her passion for Americana traditional music. She’s toured with traditional bands the Lonesome Pine Specials and Fiddle Pie over the past two summers and finally has an album of her own to show.

I asked her whether this had been a planned progression, leading up to this album with Sean, and how it felt to have an album with her name on it.

“It’s quite weird, and great. I was thinking about that because
I recorded with The Eastern, but I’ve never made my own one. This one is definitely 50% me and 50% Sean, but it’s our own thing, our own project.

“I wasn’t intentionally working toward this, but with Sean, we get along so well, musically, and as pals as well. We’d just hang out and play music all the time, and we’d both be broke so we’d go busking, and then someone would ask us to do a gig. Then all of a sudden, as happens with bands, we’d say, well we need an album to sell.”

Flora met Sean while on this trip through the United States, on a journey to discover new music and the old time American traditions.

“I discovered my love for it, and it’s a never ending process. Sean’s been helpful with that because he’s on the same path. When we met we were both in that same zone, so we could discover a lot together. When you’re at the beginning of something and someone else is too, you can grow together.

“Sean was very much immersed in that world before I came along but it takes having someone to play with to make a real difference. When you’re just on your own you just kind of bumble about.”

Flora Knight and Sean Donald is an album of country, old folk songs, and fiddle tunes. There’s a perfect spread of songs that Sean and Flora sing, and fiddle tunes for Flora.

“It kind of happened this way naturally. I always try to think what I would like to see in a live show, and basically that ends up being what I like playing. We could be playing fiddle tunes and there’d be people like Sean and I who were loving it, but then there’d be others who liked a jaunty little tune. It doesn’t really do it for everyone. So we have to be a little more well rounded.

“Sean’s great because he really loves fiddle tunes. He’s a fiddle player himself. But what I mean is he loves them in a way he loves to play accompaniment to them on guitar. He loves and understands them, and he’s a great singer, he loves songs, which works because I wouldn’t want to just play fiddle tune after fiddle tune. We like singing songs and telling stories, so Sean’s really well rounded in that way.”

Alt-country and folk is thriving in New Zealand at the moment, and this new album from Flora Knight and Sean Donald is offering a taste and view of the tradition of that world, the songs that started the genre and the artists that were the pathmakers.

“Yes! That’s the goal. I’m glad you picked up on that, we’re kind of traditionals. It’s very important to bring your own element to it. Hundreds of fiddle players and they all play a single fiddle tune in a different way. However, it’s important to recognise tradition and recognise where it has come from, giving context to something.

“Another mission of ours - I hear so many trad albums that don’t do it for me - we’re trying to make something that’s accessible to people. Not that I think everyone in the world has to listen to American folk music. But just trying to share some of the enjoyment we’ve got out of it. A lot of the things these songs are giving us are inherent things in everyone.”

Flora Knight and Sean Donald are coming to Auckland to perform at Freida Margolis on Saturday 9 September, celebrating their album, and again on Sunday 10 September at Cafe one2one. (FINN MCLENNAN-ELLIOTT)