Stick In The Wheel don't mess around with convoluted, self-mythologising backstory; their Bandcamp description is succinct but summative, "Traditional London roots music. Folk". They released their debut From Here in 2015 to incredible reverberations across the UK's folk-centric circles (fRoots AOTY and immense acclaim across the BBC and broadsheets, especially The Guardian). Railing against the Now Go Mainstream second album dogma which might overshadow successful bands from (relatively) peripheral movements, their latest release Follow Them True dabbles in unprecedented electronic flavours but without conforming to trappings which might be confused as a snatching at commercial success. Everything on the album, Stick affirm, is performed and recorded because it felt natural and correct. It is, and this a word which will be used recurrently, about authenticity, deprived of an inkling of ulterior motive.

I met Nicola, the lead singer, and Ian, lead guitarist and producer, in a pub near Finsbury Park underground station in London, where they'd moved to very recently. Through chatter about the gentrification of Walthamstow – the setting of their old studio and my current home - we shifted on to a bleakly pertinent side effect of gentrification, the vanishing of North East London's local music scene, and the commodification of local venues which used to passionately support folk; although both agreed that the recently launched Walthamstow Folk Festival was effectively countering this. The venue which Ian and Nicola once knew as a community cinema, I now know as a cocktail bar. I then asked something which had interested me since I'd read that Bandcamp description.

Do you think there’s a distinct character to the folk scene in London and the South-East? I'm probably showing my ignorance, but when people talk about folk England, the images I normally conjure up are of misty Yorkshire moors and dense forests in the South-West.

Nicola: English folk scene is really, really weird. The trope is sort of rural, but then it’s incredibly regional. People’s perception of it is due to historical collecting and the tradition of folk songs across the country; but they were collected by middle class, well-educated people who had a narrative around what they wanted to collect, so you don’t really have a shared collection of songs from that working class, urban people. People in industrial cities, mining communities like in the North East, that’s a whole different thing, but London really doesn’t have its own identity as a folk scene. There aren’t really London folk songs, and if they are it’s about the city as a separate entity, or about how terrible London is, not about those London communities. I suppose being regional outside London, there’s a lot of people singing in their accents more.

Ian: That’s part of the rural accent thing, like it’s more authentic.

Nic: I get called out about my accent a lot. Singing in regional accents fits in with the folk idiom a bit more.

I can see that. I’m not sure if I’ve lost my accent yet, but I’m originally from Glasgow, and a major part of Glasgow’s music scene, regardless of what your tastes are, is its annual Celtic Connections festival; and with Scottish folk, and Irish folk, they pay close attention to singing with their dialect inflections in their voice, is it the case then that singing in Cockney or any other South-East dialect is stigmatised?

Ian: I wouldn't say stigma, it's more just weird; in English folk music, it’s more that it’s unusual to hear working class accents. Even though you do get regional accents, and talking about the North-East, there of course you do get very strong working class accents and roots, people find it unusual and uncanny.

Nic: There’s a few university courses you can do in folk music, and that seems to be a career pathway that some people take in a straight academic route that informs their delivery [of voice], it’s all very classical and accentless, it’s all taught. I can’t really sing it if it’s not in my accent.

Can you give an example of what you'd consider to be an authentically working class voice in folk music today?

Ian: It can be tough to distinguish in folk music. You have people like Chris Wood, who sings in his accent and using the way he talks. I don’t want to deflect the question, it's just in the mainstream it’s the usual names, and the ones we’d consider authentic are very localised and particular to the scene without having gone big.

What do you think is the biggest difference between what you consider authentic folk, and what we might have as a pseudo-folk pop song on the radio, like Ed Sheeran for example, the way that he manipulates Irish folk with ‘Galway Girl’.

Ian: When people use folk for pop songs it’s to accommodate different styles. With ‘Galway Girl’ it’s a folk thing… It’s quite difficult for us to answer that question, because we’ve never thought about attempting the mainstream in that way, it’s just not for us, there are a lot of artists and friends we admire and respect who try really hard to tap into it and to make money, but it wasn’t for us. But with From Here we did want to make a big thing of it, because it meant a lot for us. In Glasgow, what I noticed, more than when we played Donegal, so many people would just go out on Saturday night or whenever, and have a dance to a traditional band, and go mental; and when they go mental, they really go for it. When we played the Art School, that was wicked. 20 minutes we had, and we banged it out, and then left. Okay, maybe those people aren’t folk music kids or whatever, but when they hear it they know it and get it, and for them it’s part of their everyday life, even subconsciously. That idea of cultural heritage doesn’t really exist for us; okay, maybe not over all of England, but certainly down here, in London, it feels that maybe that the working class aspect is ignored, and there’s a focus on the more academic angle to folk. It felt important for us to use From Here to celebrate and promote that angle if no one else was.

Nic: Professionally, we know people from our traditional folk scene who have an eye on that pop-folk world, and they’re desperate to get into it. It’s such a different thing to us. We’ve been close to it, but with the commercial aspect to what we do, it’s still just something that happens along the way, it’s not the main reason why we do it, but there are people who see success in the folk world as a stepping stone into the pop world. It’s self-evident, but the pop world is so business-oriented and has to fulfil a lot of statistical criteria like numbers of streams and stuff like that, and given folk’s values that’s quite a misguided approach. Ed Sheeran, he’s an anomaly. A lot of singer-songwriters look at him, and think “I can do that,” but I don’t think there’s anywhere near as much of an appetite for folk singers in pop as these people do. Did Ed Sheeran start as a folk singer and then go into pop? I don't know much about his background.

From what I understand he was more into the pop-oriented singer-songwriter stuff from an early age rather than explicit folk, I’m not sure there was too much of a character development, I think he’s always had his eyes on the charts rather than turning towards them latterly with a folk background. I think the agreed wisdom is he’s mechanically shaped this image of himself as a likeable, everyday bloke who will play an acoustic set in his local before buying a round in.

Nic: We’ve spoke about it before, but with the folk revival in the 60s, pop music fulfilled a different function, it was still commercially driven but the values of it were different.

Ian: It was more about the sound of pop/folk music in the 60s, how differently and commercially tailored that was. The sound people were used to hearing in the 60s was an acoustic guitar, maybe an orchestra in the background, a firm ballad, it was quite natural even with high-end production. I’m talking about the intersection of folk and pop and how natural it was then, people like Joni Mitchell were huge as folk singers but also as pop singers. At that time authentic folk could enter the charts freely, but now it’s completely different. There’s loads of electronic beats, it’s harder now for folk to slip into pop. Sure Ed Sheeran’s an anomaly, but his sound is still pop music isn’t it? There’s folk textures, but it’s pop. I only knew he was interested in folk because the media said he was; I knew he’d picked up on some things but then I’d think “oh he’s copied Mumford & Sons”, because with pop music you write what people want.

Nic: The ‘Galway Girl’ thing really pissed off some people, thinking of it as cultural appropriation or something, but we’re like “he can do what he likes.” It’s so far removed from anything we’re doing, why would we care so much to be offended?

There’s a popular thread of opinion condemning Ed Sheeran as the end of music or something, because his algorithmic approach to writing and recording and subsequent popularity is so false.

Ian: Why would you care about someone being successful? I don’t like his music, but I don’t get hating him, he just seems like a normal bloke enjoying his success. Music won’t end because of it.

With the album, the singles you've released circle around cyclicality and revolutions, can you expand on why you've gone in that direction?

Nic: We had the picture for the cover early on, and I wanted to write songs based on the picture. We didn’t really plan anything about themes, but last year was really turbulent and I don’t like writing about that stuff explicitly, I prefer it being deeper and more removed. A few people we knew died actually, so there was a lot of thinking about their absence and the things they never had the opportunity to do, and being grateful for the memory of them. If you make records like we do; we make an album, then the next year is spent doing a project that’s nothing to do with our studio album, and we’re also touring. Being in a band is quite cyclical. A lot of people, mostly in music, we know do that, and it applies routine and cycles from that album and touring process to how you live the rest of your life, which is interesting to me.

I really like the vocal mixing on the album, with overdubs and even some autotune, I was curious why you decided to go down that road?

Ian: To be honest, as far as recording, most of it is entirely live. I make electronic music on the side, bits and pieces, and when we played the song live she [bandmember Fran] played it on the accordion and I didn’t know if it was quite in tune. I was programming strings over it so I didn’t know if it was in tune, so I added autotune and then when I turned it up it sounded really good, and then I played it to Nic and she liked it, and we wanted to do it for the band. We always do weird stuff, but this time it was particularly unique as it’s something a bit stigmatised in folk. There’s a few others; ‘As I Roved Out’, the last single, Nic recorded the vocal on her phone and sent it to me and we made the tune around it.

I like that; it sounded good so you go for it.

Ian: Yeah that’s how we like to record.

Nic: It’s annoyed me the past few days in the press I’ve read, where there’s a perception that we do this antagonistically to wind people up. And nah, we’re just doing it because it sounded good. Like with autotune, in folk that is a big No, and we think it improves it so why would we care?

Because folk is England’s oldest form of music, and some would argue it hasn’t really developed in its hundreds of years history, how do you think a modern or future form of folk could come about, without losing that authenticity or heritage?

Ian: I dunno. There’s that thing that Peter Bellamy said – and I’m going to wildly paraphrase him here – it’s interesting to experiment to make ancient music relevant for the modern day, but can it ever be anything but an experiment? Bellamy said he was interested in making folk better, not necessarily modern, because you don’t have to modernise it, you just have to make it relevant. You can do modern stuff to it and make it interesting, without it being contrived. England’s got its problems with its traditional music; how it’s not as part of everyday life as it once was, and there’s a disconnect between how it informs people. But really, you’ve just got to make it good.

N: There’s a perceived dogma that you’ve got to do it a certain way, and once you let go of that you can make it interesting. Noone’s going to get hurt if you do something different, or even if you just let it breathe a little. When it’s divorced from mainstream music it can be great.

Ian: In a way I’m glad [folk] stayed away from mainstream music, the way fame and money can infect music to an extent. Actually that’s unfair, I’m going to step back from that; you know how in hip hop there’s always underground artists to counter the big name producers like Jay Z, or something similar with jungle and dubstep, someone being authentic and focussing on the quality of the music, making fucking good stuff, and that means it’s fine that the pop stuff exists and does its own thing because those other guys are still doing their thing. And in Ireland and in Scotland you get that with folk as well, that brand of music still exists and you still get a good number of people who like it and want to hear it. It feels a little different in England, because there’s less folk here in the mainstream and it’s not as normalised as the Celtic countries.

With Richard Dawson’s critical acclaim in mainstream outlets last year, including The Quietus’s AOTY, it could be seen as a victory for English folk, but the album invokes a more mythical, medieval conception of England than a direct invocation of modern working classness specific to Newcastle [his hometown]; do you think there’s something to be said about capturing England’s spirit as a whole rather than as a distinct sprawl of classes and regions?

Nic: We recorded an album that was a collection of field recordings from across England [English Folk Field Recordings], that attempted to portray how disparate it is and how very regional, particularly the folk singers; that was our way of investigating that. Richard Dawson occupies a pretty unique space in music because he doesn’t play folk clubs, doesn’t really engage with the folk scene but they wouldn’t like him because he doesn’t fit their criteria of what folk music should sound like, even though if you watch him live he’s a powerhouse. England is so weird; even its finest folk musicians kind of want to be Irish; they want that heritage, that history, that mastery of instrument that England doesn’t really have.

Ian: In the folk world, in the UK, it is weird talking about nationalism; folk isn’t really nationalistic. The UK is known across the world for its ingeniousness when it comes to music. Even outside folk, you’ve got grime, jungle, dubstep, and the stuff that [LuckyMe artists] Rustie and Hudson Mohawke are doing up in Scotland, that was the kind of scene I was in in 2005, all those forms of music are renowned, but folk doesn’t really have that global appeal; like with Richard Dawson, he’s a wizard – in a good way – but there’s not that engagement with the establishment folk scene, and the folk scene couldn’t engage with him. There needs to be a breaking point; that aspect of folk music that non-folk people are into, that weirdness, it’s untapped into from the establishment perspective, there’s no cultural interaction.

Do you mean like a positive, inclusive nationalism? It’s such a tainted word now, but like a unifying idea of England?

Nic: Not really unity, more of the pagan shit. All the really old, weird stuff. The song on our album, ‘Abbots Bromley Horn Dance’, that’s a dance that’s been around for hundreds of years, you can go back to the eleventh century; that part of English history you’re not taught at school, history like Wat Tyler and the Peasants’ Revolt.

Ian: Cable Street, working class history you’re not being taught.

Nic: I think it’s difficult to have many credible folk acts – Richard Dawson, he’s a great weirdo – there aren’t many people like him who could be embraced, Wolf People maybe. Our aim is to get people into folk clubs, and get our music out of folk clubs, because they both have relevancy. It’s a community thing as well.

A question I always return to, and I know it’s insipid but I’m always curious to know each person’s opinion, with our current culture wars and political divisions, can music, particularly traditional music, work as a unifier?

Ian: I’ll tell you one thing, it’s difficult to discuss this without getting lost in the argument, but within folk music a running theme is learning from the past and that informing what you do in the future. Scotland and Ireland particularly have messages being sent within songs hundreds of years old, the tragic history of those songs, and it informs your approach to the future. You look at a lot of songs that we do, the English; there’s a song called ‘Roving Blade’, which is a couple of hundred years old, and you read that story and listen to the words and it’s a classically London song, it’s in our regional dialect, and he says “born in London”, lived a dangerous lifestyle, the coppers got him, and they hung him, and then he’s dead, and the final line “And when I’m dead they’ll speak the truth/ He was a wild and wicked youth.” That is still happening now in social inequality and police prejudice. London’s weird, because nothing’s really changed in its social systems. I do believe those in power do use divide and rule, and take advantage of communities splintering, but that’s been happening for a thousand years in London. People aren’t encouraged to remember that, through the songs about their history, because then they’d have a reason to be unified against power, we’d go after them all. It’s not a world-changing thing, but there’s definitely value in looking at the stories of old songs and the things we’ve learned about being oppressed by the government, the army; ‘Four Loom Weaver’ is an old song we used to do, that’s about the cotton famine and how that lead to so many deaths because there was no work, no money, and people had nothing. If people knew stuff like that, they’d feel more connected to it. I don’t like saying music can help because that’s cheesy, but there’s no harm in knowing your history, and what tends to be preserved in folk songs is real history, not the history written by the victors and kings and queens and lords.

Nic: I just think that if you know your roots it informs who you are, you don't make those mistakes. Communal singing is like nothing else. There’s not so much of that now. When I was at school, teachers played these songs on the piano, and taught them, that doesn’t exist now.

A not insignificant part of when I went to school was learning to ceilidh dance and observing the Burns traditions, as well as learning about the Highland Clearances and clan histories through songs and poetry; is it the idea of history becomes social memory through songs and books and word of mouth, which informs how a future society or nation acts?

Ian: I think it does, we did like Morris dancing at school; and it was just weird, you didn’t know why you were doing it or the background to it at all, it was just an odd thing you didn’t care about as a kid.

Nic: Once you realise that so much of the pagan songs were written in code, that they were saying “fuck the bosses” and the lords or knights. It was all very subversive.

Ian: That’s one of the weirdest things about English folk songs. They’re all in code, they all mean something else and there’s weird hidden phrases. The way folk songs are written, they’re really damning. They’re about going off to fight for the government, and coming back to be treated like shit, and they sing about how better it would be to die in the field, and that’s pretty intense.

Nic: It’s funny though. In Ireland and Scotland the common enemy is the English. But in England, the common enemy is the lord and master, and we just couldn’t be explicit about that; the people oppressing are right behind us.

Follow Them True is out now, and they play London's Borderline venue on the 8th February, you can buy tickets here.