Ian Fitzgerald at the Folk School Coffee Parlor

It was only appropriate to find Ian Fitzgerald tucked into the back room of a Ludlow, KY coffee shop on a stormy Thursday evening. Walking in after the set had already begun felt surreal, like stepping into another realm where time was moving at a different speed than it had been outside on the rainy streets. You could say that time was moving slower, though it felt more like it had been suspended altogether. The music was emanating from the back wall where Fitzgerald stood with his guitar in hands, closed in behind glass doors, and looking as though he was unsure of what to do next. Which is what made it so appropriate to find him back in that little room; looking austere and on display, and talking about wax museums.

He was telling an anecdote to segue into “Walks Like Tussaud”; a song about longing that takes place inside of a wax museum from his fourth full-length No Time to Be Tender (2013). Though it may be easy to dismiss wax museums as gaudy, touristy, perhaps even macabre; Fitzgerald manages to breathe romance into the empty, lifeless characters with a poetically detailed love story: “I want the rings on your hands to leave corresponding marks in the valleys of my fingers from holding on too long and hard…”   The setting of a wax museum provides a wide assortment of historical figures allowing for the yearning of President James Buchanan (1791-1868) for film-starlet Mary Pickford (1892-1979). Never needing any dramatic vocal flourishes, in his usual calm, minstrel manner his fingers carefully and nimbly picked out a gentle tune, and his voice steadily and resolutely engulfed the museum in flames and left the lovers in a puddle of wax on the floor:  “The back room was a massacre though it went untouched by flames, they couldn’t I.D. anybody by their empty frames. There wasn’t any crime scene just an overloaded fuse…”

When the time came he nodded over to the graceful redhead, dressed in black lace, whom had been delicately perched next to the merch. She stood, instantly softening the dynamic of a room made tense by the silence and alleviating some of the pressure of being the being the only one facing the back of the room. He was accompanied by Riley Pinkerton, a willowy assistant there to pluck out the discerning steel notes and lend soft, innocent vocals to the weary tales of tragedy. The two engaged in some gentle yet witty ribbing arousing suspicions that they might have natural harmony and after a few moments conformation came with “The One on the Black Horse”. Her presence brought not only the more delicate touches to the song, but her classic looks lent an illustrative quality to the flamenco-tinged ballad: “The conquistador tossed his hat on the floor by the mantle where Angela stood, behind it he entered and offered to cleanse her as only the pure at heart could…”

No Time to Be Tender proved a motley collection of songs with a certain intangible mis-en-scene cohesiveness provided a model of Fitzgerald’s methodical, melodical, and sometimes maniacal songwriting. The album is characteristic of his personal brand of lyrically-driven rhythms; where melody is in the enunciation and tension is wrought from the length of time between the breaths he draws. The limitations in his songwriting are founded in the weight of the word, the language, and the phrasing rather than keeping a catchy beat or creating an irresistible hook. Understanding the weight of words from a young age, he spent his early years reading dictionaries and grammar books and developing a taste for an exactness of vocabulary and an inclination for syntax. This honed his ability to craft vivid stories with his lyrically graceful tongue-twisters and his casual, breathless manner of cramming too many syllables into one line. He meticulously selects each word to befit the specifically desired implications; building the song to suit the lyrics and remaining uncompromising in his word choice. His work is without an ounce of pretentiousness, and despite his penchant for multi-syllabic words, he knows just when to let the emphasis come from vernacular. He perfected his phrasing in the light harmonies and solemn melodrama of “Let’s Go Down to Memphis”, against the lighthearted tune and casual ease of the slide in “Melinda Down the Line”, and to the languishing balladry of “When Nellie Fell”. In “A Place for You to Sleep” the light, feathery drumming creates a sense of etherealness, lulling you in a dream-like state where you are conscious of the beat of your own pulse (plodding) along with the track; yet despite the fact that it is awash with heartache and betrayal, the prevailing sentiment is resignation.

It is almost irrelevant to focus on where he comes from (Massachusetts), as it is obvious in his songwriting that his mind has been places his body has not.  He attended Providence College for American Studies Fitzgerald is constantly weaving historical references into his lyrics. The inconspicuous multiple-innuendos and layers of cerebral meaning in his songs leave it to the listener to decide how deep to delve. And the imagery-laden songs, seemingly ripped from the middle of a story, are so detailed they will leave nothing to the imagination and everything at the same time; such as the story’s beginning and its end. In many tracks Fitzgerald provides you with a complete snapshot of just a moment in time, though you’ll never hear of those characters again. This storyscape-style is most common on No Time to Be Tender. Seemingly the most free-wheeling of his works, it is a satiating mosaic of tracks all of which could stand alone due to the painstaking perfectionism that was poured into them, yet each story fits neatly into the milieu of the album.

Though No Time to Be Tender may seem like a cornerstone of his work, it is sure to be only another chapter in the library that lurks inside his mind. Fitzgerald’s first three albums: Torn Up Routes, Former Glory, and Empty Like the Lion Den are courageously melancholy and more than many songwriters could hope for in a lifetime. His upcoming recording You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone, is likely to be an exploration of the creative nuances in his ability. With ideas already surfacing in his head, recording began unexpectedly when he was sparked to ask RI rootsy-rockers Smith&Weeden to back him on some of the new album. He finished recording in December, and expects the album out sometime in the fall. Fitzgerald is certain that You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone will attract some different listeners than No Time to Be Tender, saying that he went in a different direction this time. While it may leave some feeling deflated that he didn’t make a similar album, his fans will surely be delighted that he isn’t limiting his ability in order to maintain success.

 

What comes after Hotel Parties for the Futurebirds?

The concept of Futurebirds was born and developed in Athens, GA. Still considering it the band’s “hometown”, they often lend credit to the music town for cultivating them in the earlier years. However, perhaps this band should be calling the road their home. Commitment to being on the road to play live music seems to be a domineering theme in the life of a Futurebird. With two years between the release of the last full-length (Baba Yaga) and the release of their new album in September (Hotel Parties), the band was on the road constantly; steadily building their fan base.

All this time spent in a van might have had a play in the theme of Hotel Parties, an album very much about the pitfalls and perks of a life on the road. Though it mocks much of the surrealism that often accompanies commercial success, it’s hard not to recognize some drawbacks of a life as a professional musician.

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MorganEve Swain on The Huntress and Holder of Hands and Brown Bird

 

The Water Street Demos are now available for purchase via Bandcamp.

MorganEve Swain (also of Brown Bird) has a new three-track EP, The Water Street Demos, out as The Huntress and Holder of Hands. Though all the voices and instruments heard on the recordings are Swain’s, she’s formed a powerful six-piece for live sets. She dropped the demos November 7th, the same day The Huntress and Holder of Hands premiered at The Columbus Theatre in Providence, RI. Swain has undergone some unbelievably difficult changes in her life the past couple years, but yet she soldiers on. Inspired by her strength, Sisters of the Moon Music reached out to her about the new project and about Brown Bird.

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How MorganEve Swain became The Huntress and Holder of Hands.

On November 7th, 2015 MorganEve Swain released a three track EP, The Water Street Demos, as The Huntress and Holder of Hands on Bandcamp. Recording all of the parts herself, she delivered a testimony to her strength as a solo artist and a consummation of her instrumental talents. Though the gentle, fullness of her voice is the most powerful tool at her disposal, she also made exemplary use of the bass, cello, violin, and viola. This included a moving instrumental,“Etude”; a practice in wistful timing that leaves you feeling as though you are close to something, though you are not sure what, and before you can find it, it’s gone.

She had already put out the stirring “Call to Arms” demo in July of 2014. Swain, ever the enchantress, applied layers of her rich, mesmerizing voice to a rousing bass line and lightly chirping birds. Her steady drumming gives you something to hold onto as you spiral into bouts of fierce bowing that impact upon you the urgency of the battle cry. And while all can find themselves drawing from her lyrics, those who know the story of MorganEve Swain attach to the ode an overwhelmingly intimate portraiture of the songstress herself.

Swain had spent the last seven years as one half of the Rhode Island-based duo Brown Bird. Though Brown Bird had went through personnel changes in its early years, once founder David Lamb brought MorganEve into the fold in 2008, it quickly whittled down to the essential two. In 2010 they both quit their “day jobs”. (Dave was still working as a marine mechanic at a shipyard and MorganEve still worked in a coffee shop.) Next they bought a van and started working on a new album.

After a warmly received release of the EP The Sound of Ghosts (May 2011), Brown Bird hit pay dirt with the full-length Salt for Salt (October 2011). And after playing a smaller stage at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival, the well-liked, local-duo was moved to the main stage for 2012. Brown Bird was quickly amassing fans. In May 2013 they were on the road with Fits of Reason: the metal-influenced, electric rock album with jazz and Middle Eastern tendencies that they had used to redefine their sound a month earlier. That’s when Dave got sick in Houston.

Brown Bird went from being a band on the rise to a couple much too young to be facing such a horrible revelation, Dave had leukemia. And like many other artists, he did not have health insurance. Before the illness the two kept their private relationship just that, private. But the dire circumstances changed things, and so they began to share with the public what was happening. More than that, they tried to alert people to the importance of having health insurance and encouraged people to donate blood and bone marrow. When fans caught on that Brown Bird needed some help, they quickly gathered funds to help fly Dave home, and then a great deal more to help them purchase insurance.

The two spent most of the next year navigating three rounds of chemotherapy; then in August of 2013 they got married at their home on Water Street. Shortly after that, Dave received a bone marrow transplant. And while he was confined to that home on Water Street recovering, they started to work on their new, yet-to-be-named album: a “victory” album as MorganEve referred to it. One they would tour with when he was well. Then, in March 2014, Dave got sick again. A final round of chemo only worsened the scenario and he passed on April 5, 2014, he was just 36 years old; survived by his wife MorganEve, only 28.

Just weeks later, with unfathomable fortitude, MorganEve summoned the strength to begin recording her parts for what would now be the final Brown Bird album. Three months later she had finished, and matched them to the parts that Dave had already spent so much time recording so precisely. She released Axis Mundi in April 2015. Axis mundi was something MorganEve had found Dave had written down in his lyric notebook; so she looked it up.

In many beliefs it is the point where heaven and earth meet, and connect. On the Brown Bird website she explained that, “Anything or anyone suspended on the axis becomes a repository for potential knowledge.”  In his life, Dave made it a point to actively seek new knowledge. Born the son of a minister, he continued in his adult life to educate himself on spirituality, religion, and philosophy; and it showed in his lyrics. Brown Bird lyrics prove to be thought-provoking oral literature, heavily steeped in metaphor and imagery; leaving you ruminating on the sufferings and struggles of humanity. Brown Bird’s music could be characterized by Dave’s sermon-quality lyrics and his striking, authoritative vocal delivery; often offset by MorganEve’s even, measured tones. While he is casting fire and brimstone from the sky; she gently billows in and, with subtle urgency, ushers you safely from the storm.

Their album, Axis Mundi, encapsulates the sound that Dave and MorganEve were always striving for. It blends their deeply personal lyrics and unique timing with elements of surf rock and psych rock; some heavy, driving riffs; and some global influences. “Tortured Boy” is a stripped-down exception because MorganEve wrote it for Dave years ago, at the onset of their romance and partnership. In it she humbly confesses,” I don’t want to bathe, I’m afraid I’ll lose your smell; I don’t want to sleep, in case you have to go.”  She also decided to include a hidden track, “Avalon”, which was a Christmas gift Dave once made for her. It reads like a private poem to her, with him proclaiming, “You’re a huntress and a healer and a holder of hands; and your heart is the Avalon that I seek for my end.”

On Saturday, November 7th The Huntress and Holder of Hands debuted live at the Columbus Theatre in Providence, RI. MorganEve took some time to answer some questions about The Huntress project, and about Brown Bird. Her answers were thoughtful, complete, and inspiring, and the interview is included in its entirety here.

Help keep the legacy of David Lamb alive by purchasing Brown Bird’s music on Bandcamp.