It’s a common misconception nowadays to mistake acoustic music for folk music. Well I’m here to once and for all say that just because acoustic instruments are used in a song, it doesn’t make that song folk music.
I was having a Twitter conversation earlier this week with Mr. Magpie who asked the question of whether he should record an electronica song or a folk song and I replied saying, “why not make electronica folk music?”. It doesn’t matter what instruments are used, as long as the song tells a story, its a folk song plain and simple.
I got a chance to listen to Mr. Magpie’s stuff and he is certainly experimenting with some storytelling so there are songs of his that contain electronic aspects that I would consider folk music. After my listening to Mr. Magpie’s music, I got to thinking about this topic and thought I share my ideas here at my website.
The Melt-Your-Face-Off Folk Song
A good example of a non-acoustic folk song comes from rock legend, Jimi Hendrix. It also happens to be my favorite Hendrix song but it is a folk song through and through. I talking about his version of “Hey Joe” of course. Just listen to the lyrics. Jimi is talking to his buddy Joe before and after Joe kills his wife. This is a classic example of a folk murder ballad, plus it gets folk bonus points for there being a conversation between two people in a song.
But it doesn’t sound like the popular idea of a folk song, does it? Mainly because Jimi Hendrix is melting your face off with his guitar playing and the drums get pretty busy too.
This is without a doubt a folk song even though there are heavy rock elements and proves my point that folk music doesn’t have to be acoustic.
The False Folk Song
Now let’s look at this topic from the opposite direction. I’ll give you a great example of a song many refer to as a folk song from a folk band but its not at all. Some of you will hate me for this example and some of you will agree but its a point that needs to be made.
That song is “I Will Wait” from Mumford & Sons. Now even though this song contains banjo and acoustic guitar it is not a folk song and the answer to why lies in the lyrics. The first verse kind of sets up a story by setting the scene of coming home after a long day’s work feeling like you can’t get ahead but then the story is abandoned for a pre-chorus and chorus which makes no sense after that first verse.
It soon becomes apparent (to me anyways) that this is an inspirational song with religious aspects but it does not tell a story. The verses merely say the same exact thing with different words and then repeats the same pre-chorus and chorus. No story is told, no character development, no conflicts or resolutions to anything.
Read the lyrics for yourself and let me know what you think but this is not a folk song by my standards.
It’s About The Story, Not The Instruments
Now someday when I finish the projects I have on my list, I would like to start experimenting with adding electronic synths and beats to folk ballad lyrics because its all about the story, not about the instruments used to help tell that story.