When you pick up a good old fashioned physical copy of Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage's new album, Awake, you can't help but notice the striking cover art.
Given the folk duo's interest in folklore and mysticism - Hannah has had another career as a cultural anthropologist, becoming a leading expert on contemporary witchcraft - it is no surprise to find it comes loaded with symbolism.
And it all feeds back in to the duo's approach to making music.
'There’s a fair bit of significance to it,' explains Ben, The album is very much an all-consuming medium for Hannah and I. We don’t make albums of the last 10 songs we wrote - we try to think of the thing as a whole and that extends to the art and the way it comes out and it’s produced.'
Created by American psychedelic artist Alan Forbes, the pair had admired his work, such as the logo for blues-rockers The Black Crowes.
'We contacted him, he really dug the music and he was up for doing it. We sent him a big brainstorm of what was going around our heads as we finished the record off and he came up with exactly what we wanted. We never told him to draw that cover. It’s always nerve-racking having bespoke art done by someone renowned and not knowing what it’s going to be like, but he combined it all in this beautiful way.
'It incorporates a lot of ideas from the tarot, which the album does. We used the tarot a fair bit while we were making the album.
'For us, albums certainly our are big chance to properly dig down and go as deep as we can into the songs, and try and explore everything that we have available to us, whether it’s own song or trad or whatever.
'We try to do what we can to get as much as we can out of the music around us.
'We used The Tarot to help us see more deeply into the songs and make the most of what was there. The cover incorporates a version of the Hanged Man and the High Priestess, and crucially the pillars that symbolise the veil between our world and another one - the moons are there too, they’re big for Hannah and I, we’ve always tried to pay a bit of attention to lunar significance. We’ve often released records on the new moon, occasionally on the full moon - we try and keep some kind of sympathy there.'
As with their debut, 2016's Before The Sun, they recorded it in Canada with producer David Travers-Smith. Before The Sun was widely acclaimed and found its way onto numerous end-of-year-lists.
'David's based in Toronto, and he’s pretty much among the best in our field, so that's where we go! He makes really beautiful sounding records and we wanted some of that.
'We made the first record with him and we felt there was more left in the relationship for the second one. We knew where we were on a personal level and a musical level with him - it was a good call to go back and work with him again rather than start afresh.'
While the new album leans more on self-penned material, demonstrating their growth as songwriting team, there is a powerful version of Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key, one of the 'lost' Woody Guthrie lyrics set to music by Wilco and Billy Bragg on the 1998 album, Mermaid Avenue.
'It’s been one of the songs that been with us a while, since before Before The Sun,' says Ben. 'It didn’t quite fit the first record for whatever reason, so it didn’t go on. So we rearranged it a little bit and it fitted on this one well. It’s been a big favourite in our live shows for a long while, so you can’t play it for too long before people ask when you’ll record it! It’s a wonderful song and it’s always lovely to sing Woody’s songs.
There’s a fine line to tread between giving something to the song, but wanting to respect what’s been before and what the audience knows is already good. A carbon copy is no good to anyone, but hopefully we’ve hit the balance.'
The Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham
Friday, June 1