Daria Kulesh Quartet
Photograph by Jason Emberton

For their many fans there is sadness at the news that the latest iteration of Kara has disbanded. With the plan not quite coming together, both Phil Underwood and Pete Morton have had to take their leave to continue with other projects with founding members Daria Kulesh and Kate Rouse enthusiastic to focus on new music. Daria goes back to the beginning of the story.

“I started my musical journey as part of Kara and then, on a whim, decided to release my solo album, Eternal Child, and thought it would just be a little vanity project. Then Long Lost Home was an epic project for me and I really poured all my heart and soul into it and hopefully it’s paid off. The last year has been really incredible on the back of that release and all my adventures and journeys that went with it. Effectively Daria Kulesh has become a thing – I don’t even really know who she is any more – and that has taken over from Kara.

“It was following Kara’s gig at The Troubadour that Pete said it really should be about my leading the band. I was quite excited about working with Pete and sharing the spotlight but what he felt was that I needed to be a mean diva with a mean band backing me.” Pete always had a neat turn of phrase.

The first recruit to the new line-up was pianist Marina Osman. “We’ve known each other for a long time. We were doing some covers…” At this point Daria interrupts to explain that the episode in question was too embarrassing to talk about and then proceeded to explain that they were doing Lady Gaga covers. Marina finally gets a word in again. “It was a great experience but Daria had some much creativeness in her that she could not do just simple covers…and she decided to be a diva.”

Marina starts to explain that they have been working together as a duo on “the Russian project” and Daria leaps in again. “There is just so much serendipity in all of this. Marina and I were, not exactly out of touch, but we hadn’t done anything together for quite a while.” And now it gets complicated – let’s see if I’ve got it. Daria’s song ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ went viral after her appearance on the BBC World Service and her name was out there in Russia and Ingushetia. The presenter also suggested her for an event at Pushkin House, the Russian Cultural Centre, performing music that is virtually unknown in the UK.

“Marina and I learned thirty minutes of material for this event and the director of Pushkin House immediately rebooked us for a full set so we started work on a set of Russian film songs and some Russian folk classics. We kept getting repeat bookings and started mixing it up with some original material and then Marina had a little jam with Kara at The Troubadour. That was when Pete told me she was gold dust and to get her in my band.”

The fourth member of the new band is guitarist Tristan Seume who also works with Jackie Oates and admits to combining classical guitar lessons with busking Levellers’ songs in an underpass. I get the impression that Tristan knows pretty much everybody but how did he end up here?

“I got an email from Kate just over a year ago, asking me if I’d like to try out for a band. I was flattered to get an invitation but at the time I was so committed elsewhere that I left it in my unread folder because I wanted to write a nice, polite, thoughtful response but it just slipped further down my to-do list. Fast forward a year and a change of circumstances and I was going through unread emails and decided to respond to it. Because I was in a silly mood I thought I’d write something just to say ‘for what it’s worth I’ve got some time on my hands’. Within an hour I got a response from Kate.”

Prior to the formal interview, I’d watched the band at work, developing a new arrangement of Daria’s single ‘Vasilisa’ and working on a new song, ‘Pride Of Petravore’, a Percy French piece that had been suggested by Pete. Daria knew the song; Kate knew it in a different key, because Kara had performed it as an instrumental, but neither Tristan nor Marina knew it at all. Within about thirty minutes they had it ready to take into the studio to record a demo. That is the measure of the new band. The interesting thing is that Kate seems to be the one with the ability to sift through all the ideas and pull together the best ones.

“It’s my background”, she says modestly. “I’ve always been arranging my own parts and perhaps hearing things in a slightly different way. I’m the one more familiar with the Kara material but we’ve all learned lessons and become more aware about refining the music in a certain way. Someone needs to say ‘I think it should be this’ and not be shy about it. Plus the dulcimer is a big part of the band and I’m a bit protective about it.

The name of the new line-up was, for a while, a matter for debate. It might have been The Daria Kulesh Band or Daria Kulesh And Friends. I made several suggestions that were, quite rightly, rejected but they have now settled on The Daria Kulesh Quartet. Daria and Marina have recorded some new tracks which may figure on a Vasilisa EP and the new band has spent time in the studio preparing for their first gigs in the new year. It’s all very exciting and I’m looking forward to the finished product.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Pride Of Petravore’: