Interview by Scott Preston
Folk Uke is an eclectic acoustic folk duo comprised of Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson featuring perfectly melded harmonies and sharp, often biting wit. We were inspired by many of the agreeable greats of the Folk, Country, and Americana genres. Our favorite chords are C, F, and G. So, if you’d like to play along, well, it’s that easy. Of our infamous families, the two of us had been the musical holdouts until we gave into the force and began writing and playing music together. Armed with a ukulele and a guitar, we penned songs such as ‘Shit Makes the Flowers Grow’, ‘Knock Me Up’, and ‘Motherfucker Got Fucked Up’ and we thought, “What a crime it would be to keep these national treasures to ourselves. How can we keep silent when we are the voice of a nation?” You may not hear us on the radio, since our songs have been described as “inappropriate”, “off-color”, “not ready for mainstream” and “NSFW”(Not Safe For Work). Our debut EP, ‘Folk Uke’, is self-titled, as are we. It was produced by Abe Guthrie and ourselves. “Family values” would be the common chord in this unprecedented collection of songs, since we let our Dads take the solos and chime in when they were compelled to do so. It was the least we could do for our executive producers. It made them feel good and that made us feel good; so we took the chance that it would make thousands of people feel good and we printed thousands of copies. – Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson
Cincy Groove: So how long have the two of you been together performing?
Amy Nelson: I think about 8 years, we started in 2000.
Cathy Guthrie: It was kind of a joke why we started playing.
Cincy Groove: Who are some of your influences?
Amy Nelson: We are both really big fans of The Jayhawks. We are really big fans of the way they harmonize and their writing.
Cathy Guthrie: We both grew up listening to our dads play. Obviously my dad (Arlo Guthrie) is a big influence. Some others are Pete Seeger, Leadbelly. I grew up listening to all the folkies. Amy was listening to all the country groups.
Amy Nelson: Yeah, I was listening to Roger Miller, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash.
Cincy Groove: Are you two working on a new cd?
Amy Nelson: We aren’t actively recording a new cd but we are actively writing for a new record. We both have so many other things going on that when we get a chance we try to get together and work on some new stuff. We have random shows here and there. We aren’t the most organized (laughing)
Cincy Groove: I know the both of you have huge extended families who seem to all be musicians. Are there any family tours planned for either of you?
Amy Nelson: We (Folk Uke) recently played a benefit in Austin, TX called Give Love Give Life, which was started by John Trudell. Its more of an awareness concert to prioritize health care for women and children. My whole family showed up or a bunch of family bands got together. My nephew Nelson Ray played, my niece Martha played with her band, my sister played with her band so it was a lot of fun.
Cathy Guthrie: I think sometime in 2009 – 2010 there is going to be another Guthrie family tour. There are 17 of us in the family now and there might be more by that time (laughing).
Cincy Groove: When did each of you first play on stage with your fathers?
Amy Nelson: I was a really little kid.
Cathy Guthrie: Yeah I was very young as well. In our family everyone would come out to sing “This Land Is Your Land” and “Goodnight Irene”.
Amy Nelson: The Nelson family would get up and sing in the gospel portion of the show.
Cincy Groove: Did the both of you grow up on the road?
Cathy Guthrie: I think we both grew up on the road but also had a semi permanent home.
Amy Nelson: Yeah we both had similar childhoods in that respect.
Cathy Guthrie: I think it was 1984 that my brother Abe and I went through about 7 tutors. We did a lot of traveling on the tour bus and sleeping in guitar cases when we were kids.
Amy Nelson: When I was a kid we were pretty much on the road full time until we had to goto school. When my mom was on the road with my dad we would stay with my grandparents a lot.
Cincy Groove: When did each of you first pick up the guitar?
Amy Nelson: My dad (Willie Nelson) tried to teach me when I was a little kid, but I quit because it hurt my fingers. Then I picked it back up when I was in my mid 20’s. My friend Adam bought me my first new ukulele, and I played with him in a band called The Cheap Plates out in San Diego. That helped me get over my stage fright. Then Cathy saw my ukulele and said she wanted one, so we went out together and got Cathy’s first. We then decided that we wanted to be in a band together and write our own songs. It was kind of comical because both Cathy and I were the musical holdouts in our families. Everybody else was doing it, so we figured it was our turn.
Cincy Groove: Did your fathers appear on your debut record?
Cathy Guthrie: Yeah, they actually co executive produced the cd. Willie played and sang and my dad played on a song. We were going to have this argument on the cd about whose dad was the better player but we just let them duke it out on guitar solos on “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow”.
To listen to 3 of Folk Uke’s songs visit their myspace page – myspace.com/folkuke
Upcoming Folk Uke tour dates:
Hempstalk 2008 – September 6-7, 2008 – Portland, Oregon – http://www.hempstalk.org