Her debut album has been filed under 'folk' at HMV and was co-produced by her husband, Alex Turner, a member of British electronic act Plaid. But Mara Carlyle's The Lovely defies categorisation.
Fusing jazz with folk, electronica and opera, The Lovely has been impressing critics in Britain. Local audiences will get a chance to decide for themselves tomorrow night when Carlyle plays at the Fringe Club.
How does she feel about being lumped in with the folkies? 'I'm not happy about that!' she says with a laugh over the phone from London. 'Nothing against folk music, I love folk music. But my album isn't a folk album. It's a bit lazy to stick me in that section. It's just not what I am.'
Word of mouth about Carlyle is what's brought her to Hong Kong and Vietnam this week, courtesy of the British Council and RTHK's Music Beyond Borders series, which will record her tonight. 'Someone at the British Council heard my CD through a friend and asked if I'd be interested in coming,' says the 30-year-old. 'Of course I said I would.'
Much of Carlyle's work entails arranging classical works into stark, modern pieces. How was it collaborating with her husband, who's better known for experimental dance music? 'It was a learning experience for both of us because we come from such different musical worlds,' she says. '[Plaid] have been incredibly inspiring. Their music is so beautiful, and it's so intricate. It's extraordinary dance music.'
The Lovely is harly dance. It's haunted, chilled-out and beautiful. The album was put together over several years, whenever Carlyle had spare time from her day job helping homeless people. It was recorded in her living room. 'I'm just so lucky that I know a lot of incredibly talented musicians,' she says. 'So I roped them all in. We recorded on a microphone and a laptop.'
The result is sparsely instrumental - and many of those used are unusual such as a saw. Carlyle's voice swings from opera to soul, funk and, yes, even folk - the result of eclectic influences, including church music, jazz, bluegrass, opera and electronica.
Carlyle grew up on a farm in Shropshire, the child of musical parents. By the age of seven she was in a punk band with her two brothers. 'My older brother wrote all the songs, and they were really dark,' she says. 'They were all about taking drugs, shoplifting and getting caught by the police. Obviously, we didn't know anything about that. But we were really good! We sounded like the White Stripes. I've got a recording and it's actually really amazing - I'm shouting my head off.'
Trained in opera, she's also played in folk acts. 'I've worked pretty hard on [my voice],' Carlyle says. 'I was classically trained and then over the past five years I got back into that a bit. I was doing a bit of opera training, just for the exercise to strengthen my voice. But I love so many different types of music, so I'm singing different styles all the time.'
The Lovely is dotted with subtle operatic references. I Blame You Not, for instance, is an arrangement of Ich Grolle Nicht by Schumann, while Bravely Born is an arrangement of Sarastro's aria from Mozart's Magic Flute.
'Sometimes I think I'm a better arranger than a songwriter,' Carlyle says. 'I love arranging music or reinterpreting, just doing different versions.'
RTHK Radio 4's Music Beyond Borders, tonight, 8pm, Studio 1, Broadcasting House, 30 Broadcast Drive, Kowloon. Entry first-come, first-served. Inquiries: www.rthk.org.hk;  tomorrow, 10.30pm, Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Rd, Central, $80 (includes one drink). Inquiries: 2521 7251