Alien Folklife: Duo Bio
ALIEN BEGINNINGS (Please scroll down for individual bios, discography and selected venues) Joan Kosby and Paul Mercer met while studying folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Paul’s hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. The two founded the St. John’s Folk Music Club, began performing some songs together, and appeared at the first Newfoundland Folk Festival. After finishing their master’s degrees, Joan lured Paul away from the Land of Snow and Fog to upstate New York, and a duo was born. Just as they were establishing themselves as performers, Joan suffered a back injury and developed other health problems that almost completely sidelined their music career for several years. They kept a hand in by appearing in local multi-performer concerts and benefits. As Joan’s health improved, they returned to performing and began writing songs together. Gradually they moved from a repertoire of traditional and contemporary music from North America and Britain, with a few originals included, to one of all original material. They are known for their evocative lyrics, vocal blend, and ability to careen from powerfully moving songs to broad comedy, always bringing their audiences along for the ride.
ALIENS ON RECORDINGS Alien Folklife's first release was a 1991 cassette, Fast Company (now out of print), followed in 1997 by their debut CD, Double Vision. "Thomas Cat," from Double Vision, was featured on "The Dr. Demento Show," and included on Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes 6. It has also become one the most requested songs on Robert Conrad's syndicated program, "Weekend Radio." Paul's song, "Johnny Burke," from Fast Company, was covered by national touring artists Priscilla Herdman, Anne Hills and Cindy Mangsen on their Voices release. Alien Folklife's second CD, Down to Earth (2003), was produced by award-winning Canadian producer Paul Mills at his Millstream studio in Toronto. "Paul Mills produced the late Stan Rogers' recordings. Stan was--and is--legendary in Canada, and he's still one of our favorite songwriters," explains Paul. "So when Paul Mills asked us if we'd be interested in working with him, after he heard us at a music conference, we were blown away! Here was someone whose work we've admired for years asking if we'd like to work with him!" "We're very proud of this CD," adds Joan. "Paul Mills held us to a very high standard--which is exactly what we wanted--and I think that's evident on every cut." Guest artists on Down to Earth include Tracy Grammer on violin and the mysterious "Curly Boy Stubbs" (alias Paul Mills) on guitar, mandolin, ukulele and percussion. Mills' skillful but spare production highlights the spirit of each of the disc's eleven songs, from the heartbreaking ballad, "Never Trust a Carny," to the outrageous, "Termite Farts."
. . . ON THE ROAD Touring primarily in the Northeast, Joan and Paul have performed at concerts, festivals, folk clubs, colleges and coffeehouses, including many shows at the legendary Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York. They've also toured England twice, where they were warmly received. Their festival appearances include the Old Songs Festival in Altamont, New York, and England's Bridgnorth Festival. Joan and Paul performed in a juried showcase at the 2004 Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference, and were finalists in the 2005 South Florida Folk and Acoustic Music Festival's singer-songwriter competition.
. . . AND THE RADIO Alien Folklife's live radio appearances include repeat performances on such long-running programs as "A Hudson River Sampler" (WAMC, Northeast Public Radio) and "Bound for Glory" (WVBR, Ithaca, New York). Other radio performances include "Performance Place" and "Dancing on the Air" (both on WAMC), as well as on "Mostly Folk" (WRPI, Troy, New York), and the BBC in Shropshire, England.
Paul Mercer was born and raised in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. He grew up hearing the traditional music of this Canadian province, as well as that of Ireland and Scotland. Paul's early attempts at musicianship were not exactly a roaring success. His piano teacher "fired" him after discovering that he was playing by ear instead of reading music. She stumbled upon this fact when he played his week's assignment perfectly, but in the wrong key! Paul also had an unsuccessful bout with the accordion. Things took a turn for the better a few years later when, discovering contemporary folksong, he took up the guitar. Paul started writing songs and playing in coffeehouses while still a teenager. A college course in folklore reawakened his earlier interest in tradional music, and he went on to pursue a master's degree in folkore.
Joan Kosby grew up on Long Island, New York, in a household of dueling musical tastes. Her mother, whose father had been a professional violinist, loved Mozart and Beethoven. Her father, whose mother had sung in British vaudeville, preferred cowboy songs and Mitch Miller, and her older brother was a rock 'n' roll and Kingston Trio fan. Joan adored musical theater and Danny Kaye. She played percussion in her school band, studied piano, and took acting and voice lessons. In high school she began writing songs. Most of these sounded suspiciously like country and western music, which she almost never listened to. (This mystery has never been solved.) Majoring in theater in college, Joan learned to play guitar in her junior year. A whole new world of music opened up to her, ranging from Gordon Lightfoot and Joan Baez to the traditional music of the United States and Britain. Within nine months of first picking up the instrument, she started "playing out." Later she learned English concertina, as well. Joan's passion for traditional music led her to Newfoundland to study folklore, which brings us back to where we started (see Duo Bio, above).
Down to Earth--Dinosaur 003, 2003
Double Vision--Dinosaur 002, 1997 (CD and cassette)
Fast Company--Dinosaur 001, 1991 (cassette, out-of-print)
"Thomas Cat" included on Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes 6--ca 1998
"Johnny Burke" recorded by Herdman, Hills and Mangsen on Voices--Flying Fish, 1990 "Sweet Reunion" included on the Caffe Lena 25th Anniversary album--Fast Folk, 1985
Here are just a few of the places Alien Folklife has performed:
Bound for Glory--Ithaca, NY
Bridgnorth Folk Festival--Bridgnorth, England
Caffe Lena--Saratoga Springs, NY
Coffeehouse Off the Square--Hingham, MA
Dance Flurry--Saratoga Springs, NY
Dave Carter Tribute Concert--Saratoga Springs, NY
Eighth Step Coffeehouse--Albany, NY
Everyman Folk Club--Saxmundham, England
First Nights: Albany, NY; Beverly, MA; Sturbridge, MA; Westport, CT
The Fo'c'sle--Southampton, England
Folk on Broadway--New York, NY
Good Folk--Rowayton, CT
The Linden Tree--Wakefield, MA
Long Island Traditional Music Association--Smithtown, NY
Old Songs Festival--Altamont, NY
St. Williams on Long Point--Raquette Lake, NY
Soule Homestead Concert Series--Middleborough, MA
South Florida Folk and Acoustic Music Festival (2005 singer-songwriter finalists)--Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Starlight Lounge--Waitsfield, VT
Third Sunday at Three--Gloversville, NY
Ticonderoga Festival Guild--Ticonderoga, NY
Tudor Folk Club--Chesham, England