Q & A with Carly Maicher

Released in August 2011, I discovered Canadian singer-songwriter Carly Maicher’s debut album, Hiding, through a tweet from Devon at Hearth Music sometime in December. And, when I first heard Hiding, I was taken aback by the crystal-clear soulfulness of Carly’s voice and it quickly became one of my favorite late-in-the-year discoveries for 2011. So, if y’all haven’t had a chance to listen to Hiding, please do after reading this great interview with Carly.

CFM: When did you become interested in music? What is your earliest musical memory?

CM: I suppose I have always been interested in music, even as a small child. My earliest memories are of participating in school theatre productions and going in between loving it, to being way too shy to do it. Not much has changed to be honest!

CFM: Have you always wanted to be a folk singer-songwriter? When did you start creating and writing your own songs?

CM: I started writing my own songs, on the piano, around when I was 12 or 13. My focus had been on the piano for many many years, and then I switched to guitar when I was about 15 or 16 and taught myself the basic chords, and over the years my style has transformed more so into folk music.

CFM: Why did you move from Manitoba to Grand Manan, NB? What did you do while living in there? How did Grand Manan influence Hiding? What did you learn about yourself and your music while living in Grand Manan?

CM: I was given the opportunity to live on Grand Manan Island sporadically after my family bought a summer home there. The summer home was not going to be used on a regular basis so I decided to take advantage of it and move there alone. The original intention was to go for one summer (I moved at the end of April 2008) to work on songs and to record this ‘home made’ album I had been wanting to record (super super lo fi). My grandparents are from the island originally which is why there was a connection to the place. I ended up staying the summer and loving it, and I continued staying and staying and staying until almost 4 years passed by.

Originally I had a job at a bakery, and then I got a new job as a waitress at a busy restaurant that I ended up loving. I met so many strangers who were tourists to the island, which the island strives off of in the summer time. Time kept passing and even though I was writing new songs, I wasn’t exactly following through with recording the album I had wanted.

I spent a lot of days hiking, sitting, pondering, watching, observing waves crash along the shore line, amazed by how fast the tide goes in and out and how much water travelled. And I spent many many nights on the beach having bon fires and singing songs to the moon.

Basically, the island was a total paradise and I was living a dream.

I became the manager at the restaurant and began using the restaurant as a music venue, and then eventually I started a folk festival (Summers End Folk Festival) which will be going into its third year this year.

What did I learn about myself? I learned independence in a pretty extreme way. I also learned about how some of the simplest things in life is what matters most. And even though I’m not currently on the island, I am still learning off of my experience there.

CFM: Describe Hiding. Which song best represents the album as a whole? Why?

CM: Hidingis basically about my journey there in a bigger picture. It originally wasn’t intended on being that because I had already had compiled a list of songs that I wanted my first album to be, but it became that. It’s about leaving all of the familiar things behind and experience the beauty and sadness of being totally alone.

What song best represents the album as a whole? Why?

That’s a super tough question. Each song sort of explores a different feeling, or thought. When I was living on Grand Manan, I definitely struggled with the thought of loving the solitude vs. missing everyone, and the life I left behind.

It’s like ocean vs. prairie. Not really knowing where in the world you belong. I think the songs are up and down like that too.

CFM: Was this your first time working with Zachary Lucky? How did you meet? What was it like to tour in the Prairie Roots Revue with Lucky, Northcote and Ryan Boldt? Any favorite moments?

CM: Yes, this was my first time working with Zachary Lucky. We met when Zachary was recording for a mutual friend of ours, (Kayla Luky).

Prairie Roots Revue was honestly, hands down, some of the best fun I have ever had. I loved spending 8 days with those boys – they are all so great. We laughed so hard. And connected on so many levels. And it was such an honor to share the stage, and share some songs. If I could do that tour over and over again for the rest of my career, I would.

CFM: Also, for those of us who follow both you and Zachary on twitter, what’s with the love/obsession with the Canadian ranches, horses, & the dramatic series Heartland?

CM:What a great question. Um. Well, we stumbled upon the series Heartland and got hooked. That’s the gist of it! There is some seriously addictive drama on that show! I guess the other obsession with it just comes from pining for that kind of lifestyle. Living out in the country surrounded by beautiful natural.

CFM: What are your plans for the future?

CM: Well, I will be heading out on a pretty long coast to coast tour with Zachary Lucky beginning in March, for his CD release.

After that – well I plan on doing lots of camping this upcoming summer (which it will almost be when we get back!). I’ll be busy planning a 3rd festival for a while too. And, I’ll probably come up with some plans to record a new record in that time. And maybe get a tan.
Carly Maicher: Facebook; Twitter; Myspace
Stream & Purchase Hiding

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A Q & A With New Canadian Songstress Jenny Berkel

It’s hard to believe Jenny Berkel has only been writing songs and playing the guitar for four years. Born out of a love for writing poetry, Jenny started to create music around her written words while living in an empty apartment in Winnipeg. After a year  in Winnipeg, she traveled Canada and Europe the spent two months in Belfast, Ireland where she found her voice and started performing alone. Two years ago, Jenny moved back to Winnipeg where she spent eight months working on her EP Gather Your Bones when tragedy struck her family, which in part led to her phenomenal full-length debut Here On A Wire.

This afternoon I was able to chat with Jenny about herself and Here On A Wire, which has already been released in Canada and is climbing the college radio station charts, but has yet to be released in the United States. New to the whole music business thing, she is working out some kinks on the business end, and is hoping to release it in the Spring. Meanwhile, you can download the three-song preview of Here On A Wire for free and her EP Gather Your Bones for an affordable price on Bandcamp.

CFM: When and how did you first become interested in music? Who were your earliest musical, or, even, non-musical influences? Are there any current artists who inspire and influence you and your music?

JB: I grew up going to a church full of hearty singers who all seemed to have an ear for harmony, so I’ve been surrounded by music since I was small. The harmony lines in hymns still get me – they can be so haunting. My family used to listen to a lot of 1960s rock and roll – not a lot of folk, actually, other than Simon & Garfunkel. It wasn’t until I went to university that I discovered many of the great folk legends that most people grew up on – Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell. Soon after I discovered folk music, I began writing songs.

CFM: Was there one particular experience or instance that helped you to realize music could be a career? When and what was it?

JB: About a year ago, I took the train across eastern Canada to do my first solo tour. My sister joined me for the first half of it, and we did a house show in Hamilton. There was something about the buzzing excitement in the room that convinced me this was worth pursuing.

CFM: How has growing up in Ontario surrounded by both the forests and urban landscapes affected your music? Has moving to Winnipeg changed your music? If so, how?

JB: Our home was nestled beside a deep ravine and forest, but only about 15 metres away from a busy highway. I think growing up next to that severe contrast gave me a perspective that often shows itself in my lyrics. Winnipeg is very isolated compared to southern Ontario – when you drive into the city, it seems to erupt out of nowhere. Moving to a place like that, and so far from home, might contribute to the melancholic feeling of my music.

CFM: How would you describe your music and songwriting style? What do you think makes your music unique and special?

JB: Somebody recently used the term “haunt folk” to describe my album, which I’ve taken a bit of a shining to…

CFM: Can you describe your creative process while making and recording Here On A Wire?

JB: I wrote and shaped most of the songs while living in a one-room studio in downtown Winnipeg with a good friend, her dog, and my cat. I was waitressing about 25 hours a week while preparing to record. Because I was sharing such tight quarters and working so much, it meant being very organized with my time in order to work on music. I was lucky enough to have the aid of my sister, Kristen Berkel, and my producer, Matt Peters. It was so helpful having fresh ears involved in the project. We wanted to be sure that despite all of the extra sounds, the album stayed focused on my vocal and guitar parts, so we were very careful with the arrangements.

CFM: Describe Here On A Wire. Are there any themes? Do you have a favourite song or is there a song that is more personal than others on this album? Which song and why?

JB: Here on a Wire is a quiet collection of mostly sad songs. Throughout the album, there are images of ghosts, dreams, lost love, and cityscape. I’m not sure I have a favourite song, but I think “Come a Long Way” draws the whole album together, both lyrically and emotionally.

CFM: On an album where all of the songs seem to have similar sounds and styles and flows easily, how does the spoken word track, “Awaken In Stars” fit? It keeps within that same dreamy, mellow, and somewhat melancholy vibe of the album but what was your purpose? Why a spoken word? What did you want the listeners to gain or experience from it?

JB: The poem was written by a good friend of mine, Michelle Elrick. We’ve spent the last four years side by side, almost glued at the hip – this has often caused our creative projects to delve into similar themes. About a year and a half ago, we did a tour together to launch her first book of poetry (To Speak) and my first mini-album (Gather your Bones). We would incorporate both elements of our projects into one performance. As a long time lover of poetry and a strong believer in Michelle’s poetry, I really wanted her words on my album. I gave her all of my lyrics and she came up with that piece, which I find very moving. I think listeners will react the same way.

CFM: Name a song, any song, you think best represents you during this time in your life. Why?

JB: “If I’ve Been Fooled” by the Weather Station. I can’t stop listening to it. It’s wrapped itself around my whole apartment.

CFM: What are your future plans?

JB: Here in Winnipeg, we’ve entered the part of winter where we plug our cars in at night, so I’m trying to stay warm while working on getting this album heard. I’ll be doing a lengthy tour in the spring to launch it across the country.
Jenny Berkel: Website; Facebook
Download & Stream Here On A Wire
Purchase & Stream Gather Your Bones EP

Q & A with Everybody’s Brother – Bro. Stephen.

If the name Bro. Stephen sounds familiar to you, it should. Why just last week I reviewed his debut album, Baptist Girls, which in my opinion, should be considered a pillar of fantastic indie-folk for 2012. Okay, I don’t even know if that makes sense, but I’m going to run with it anyway. So, after the review, I immediately asked for an interview and he accepted. In his interview you will find Bro. Stephen to be warm, friendly, causal and humble…Well, you’ll feel like Bro. Stephen is your brother too.



CFM: Where did the name Bro. Stephen come from?

Bro. Stephen: Well, the easy answer is that I liked how it sounds. The longer answer is that growing up, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear people referred to as Brother So-and-so or Sister So-and-so due to the fact that my family was a part of a fairly fundamental Protestant community. Using my name would yield obvious connotations which I wanted to stay away from because I wanted Bro. Stephen to be malleable. So, I wanted a name for the band that would allow the liquidity of form and style that using my name wouldn’t allow, but I also wanted something that harkened to the fact that this is the most personal songwriting I’ve ever done. I’ve been called Scott my entire life, but my first name is actually Stephen so, Bro. Stephen is essentially using my name in a personal way that no one would know to use.


CFM: When and how did you become interested in music? How long have you been playing music and writing songs? What was the first song you ever wrote?

Bro Stephen: I grew up in a pretty musical family so music was always a huge part of my life. My Dad was a great trumpet player and my Mom is a really wonderful piano player and they are both great singers. I took to music a little more than my siblings and sang in lots of city choirs, etc growing up. I didn’t pick up the guitar until 17 or so and I taught myself some chords and found out it was a natural way to evolve the horrific poetry I was always writing. I instantly started writing songs and learning a new chord would warrant in my mind a good reason to write a new song. Writing songs was really how I learned how to play. I thankfully have forgotten all of those songs that I wrote back then, but a few people could probably blackmail me with an EP I put out in high school.

I did the straight singer-songwriter thing for a long time, but started a band called Chemic in Louisville which I did for a few years until we broke up in ’09. I started Bro. Stephen in December of ’08 on a night when I just felt the bug to write some songs. By the time the night ended, I had written 6 songs. They all didn’t survive, but one of them ended up on Baptist Girls (“Shepherd’s Cane) and another is a bonus track on the vinyl (“Fix Your Grip”).


CFM: I read that you are a preacher’s son. Has that had any influence on your music?

Bro. Stephen: My Dad is no longer behind the pulpit actually, but it definitely had a huge affect on my life and thus, my songwriting. The lens through which I intake the world around me is definitely colored by my past, but that’s not to say it is the only thing that colors it. My understanding of faith has definitely changed over the years and it continues to get more and more complicated, but I think there are a lot of beautiful and powerful concepts that come from the church and that shows up in really abstract ways in my writing I think.


CFM: I also read that you recorded most of Baptist Girls in a converted chicken coop. What was that like? What was the whole creative and music-making process like while recording the album? Why did it take two years to make?

Bro. Stephen: It was pretty great. It was in this little town in Warsaw, IN and Mike Adams’s grandparent’s house. Him, Adam Jessup (the engineer) and I holed up in that barn for 3 or 4 days and just tried a million different things. We finished all of the basic tracks for all of the songs, but ran out of time so we put the details in over the course of the next 18 months or so.

The short answer on why it took so long is a total lack of money. The long answer is that I’m a bit of a wanderer and didn’t live in Bloomington at the time. Mike is a super busy guy and I had a lot of other stuff going on too so we just got together when we could, but I also moved around a few times. I’ve found that, for me, things like that will take either a week or 2 years. I have trouble being disciplined enough to do anything in the middle.


CFM: Describe Baptist Girls. Is there a theme? What are the songs about? Are there any you like more or is more personal than others? Why?

Bro. Stephen: I don’t know if I’d say there was a theme or general meanings, but it was more about me wanting to take a new approach to songwriting. Sonically, what was most important to me was figuring out a way to make music that sounded like how I was feeling. I really tried to capture this feeling of longing and being incomplete but also finding contentment in that. It’s obviously a little hard to explain, but I know it when I hear it. Mike did a lot of the ambient noise on the record which definitely elevates the songs as well.

Lyrically, I really wanted to stay away from any general speak. I wanted everything to be really specific. I feel a little pretentious talking about this kind of stuff, but I don’t mean it to be. Song writing means so much to me and the whole point of Bro. Stephen was for me to really explore new ideas and ways to express myself in the best way possible. The music I make in Bro. Stephen is first and foremost for my own well being, for me to better understand what I’m thinking and feeling. The best songs are the ones that really capture me thinking out loud and figuring things out. If other people appreciate it, then that is amazing and I think speaks to our collective struggles and connection, but it’s all personal for me. Even if a song is technically about someone else’s story, it is really me working through things. To me, the profound truths in life are often found in the searching, and sometimes the answers are the questioning. That sounds stupid, I know, but I can’t get around it.


CFM: What musicians do you admire? Who are you listening to now? Just in case my readers missed your guest post on Slowcoustic, are there any musicians/singer-songwriters we should be listening to? 

Bro. Stephen: Man, this is a long list. On Slowcoustic I wrote about 4 songwriters who I think are doing great work: John Davey, Molly Parden, Laura Balke, and Kalispell (Shane Leonard), but that’s definitely a narrow list. I don’t get the chance to listen to a lot of new bands so a lot of the musicians I truly love are people I’ve come into contact with through playing music in the Midwest.

I truly think that Elephant Micah is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and my label-mate Frank Schweikhardt can break me down emotionally with his songs in the best way. I have no understanding of how to be cool or what is cool so I just really appreciate music that connects with how I’m feeling. Some other records/artists that have done that for me in the past few years would be the following:

Mount Eerie – Lost Wisdom
Loren Connors – Sails
Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Wolfroy Goes To Town
Julie Doiron – everything she’s done, but especially Goodnight Nobody
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Vs. Children
The Hollows – Darlings of Naught
Homecomings – LEM EP
Little Wings – Black Grass
Early Day Miners – All Harm Ends Here
Low – Things We Lost In The Fire
Idaho – Levitate
Songs: Ohia – Didn’t It Rain
Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden
Aarktica – Pure Tone Audiometry
Bexar Bexar – Haralambos

There are a lot of others, but one thing that really inspires me more than anything are the people who make music around me. There are so many great bands from Louisville and Bloomington that it’s truly exciting to be a part of things around here.


CFM: When you’re not writing, traveling/touring, or recording what are you doing?

Bro. Stephen: And what time would that be?!

No, actually, I spend a lot of time reading (lots of comics and novels) and watching movies. Also, I tend the bar at a great restaurant here in Louisville called Rye which is actually really exciting for me because that’s something that’s pretty important to me. I try to spend time with my friends obviously as I would be endlessly bummed out without them. Other than that, I try to write all the time. I’m usually in the middle of 3 or 4 songs at any given time and so so so much of my time is spent trying to book tours and get the word out about the music. It’s an intense job just trying to do that.


CFM: What are your future plans? What can we expect after Baptist Girls is released?

Bro. Stephen: I’m not as forward thinking as I should be, but I’ve been trying to figure this out. After the record comes out I’ll be going on tour for a little while to promote it. It’ll be all over the Midwest and then I’ll be heading down to the black abyss of SXSW to hopefully catch a few ears (so if anyone knows of any shows that need some Bro. Stephen, let me know!).

As far as future music goes, I’ve got a couple records worth of songs written that move in a couple different directions and I’m excited about exploring those and see where the spirits lead. I’m excited about what is to come.






Bro. Stephen: WebsiteTwitter, Facebook
Pre-Order Baptist Girls

Edmonton Winters & the Winter King: An Interview with Tyler Butler

Despite that Edmonton’s Tyler Butler has previously recorded an album, he has become one of my favorite artists discovered this year. His new album,
Winter King
, will be listed on my best albums of 2011 list for its gorgeous stripped down, spacious production of soft, dark folk music. Now, months after our botched yet enjoyable interview and conversation via Skype, I’m happy to finally get to share it with you…

Edmonton settles itself into another heavy winter, put off by a brief pocket of hot air. I know, and everyone knows, that the icy grip hovers above us, waiting to ensnare the city once more. –Tyler Butler

CFM: Describe how an Edmonton winter affects your personal and social life.

TB: Addressing the social first, the cold affects our ability and willingness to leave our centers of warmth. Before all excursions, we are faced with the question: “Is this worth braving the winter?” In Edmonton, our burgeoning scene, now recognizable, steadily chips away at that question. Our musical gatherings are deeply engrained with a sense of place and community — absolute hallmarks of my perception of folk music and the folk.

Addressing the personal, winter has great affect over my lifestyle. I eat differently: root vegetables, stews. I sleep differently: guarding a warm pocket of air under my blankets against the morning. I travel differently: riding the bus with troubling frequency. And, I tend to spend much more time indoors. Perhaps this explains my tendency to write prolifically during the winter.

CFM: In what way does Edmonton and Canada affect your music and your own personal taste in music?

TB: The musicians in Edmonton who developed alongside me — Caity Fisher, Liam Trimble, Jessica Jalbert, Layne L’Heureux, to name just a small few — are a constant source of inspiration. Winter King speaks as much to them as it does to me, and their influences are felt in every nuance of my style. A great deal of my listening time is spent on my friends’ music. Outside of Edmonton, I am often inspired by the hardworking musicians who trek across the wide expanses of Canada — Zachary Lucky or Eamon McGrath, for example. Garrison to garrison, their dedication and craftsman’s approach is an attribute of the Canadian touring musician that I profoundly admire.

CFM: What was your creative process like while making and recording Winter King? What was your inspiration for the album?

TB: My creative process is always similar. Lyrical ideas and a thematic outline come first. Then, as music comes to me, I fit it into aspects of that outline, and complete the songs individually. This does not always result in a conceptual album, but helps frame the completed project so that it sounds like an album — as opposed to a collection of unrelated songs.

Winter King is unique because it was written in two stages. The second half of the record, titled “Waxwing,” was recorded a few months before the first half, as a project I showed a few friends. The first half, titled “House Painter,” is more conceptual, although the whole record aligns to the themes I initially laid out.

CFM: You borrowed heavily from winter mythology on the album, explain these myths. Why use them? What do they add to the songs?

TB: Edmonton is a city without a story. When I wrote Winter King, I collected a series of myths about winter, and stories about the greater concerns about winter: life, death, claustrophobia, sex, companionship, friendship. In a way that felt (perhaps unjustifiably) Canadian, I integrated these myths, their characters and their themes into stories that are set, I feel, quite recognizably in Edmonton. My hope for Winter King is that it encourages other writers in Edmonton to engage with hyper-local settings, and in turn create a kind of mythology or sense of story around the city.

CFM: Is there one song that is more personal or holds more meaning than others on the album? If so, why is it more personal and what is its meaning?

TB: A brief answer: “Kingfisher”. It is a highly literal song about an evening with a dear friend.

CFM: How often do you write? What inspires you to write? Have you written any more songs since the release of Winter King? What are your plans for the future?

TB: I write very frequently. Not always songs — I have written short stories and poetry since Winter King. I have written a few new songs.Most recently, I published “Sprinter in a Field” to my bandcamp page. I hope to complete a new album this year, although I’m still working out the details of how I will record it. We may not have seen the last of Winter King either…

Twitter
Buy & Stream Winter King

Q & A with Avant-Garde Folk Singer-Songwriter, David Simard

I approached David Simard, an avant-garde Canadian folk singer, to do a simple interview and he so kindly agreed. And, even though Simard is a relative newcomer, for the past two years the Canadian press has been touting him as one of the best. I happen to agree and you will too once you’ve read this interview and listened to his new album, Slower, Lower.

CFM: When and how did you first become interested in music? How long have you been playing music? Have you always wanted to be a musician/singer-songwriter?

DS: I was always singing and telling stories as a kid. At a certain age I started writing these stories out. Like a lot of people, I took piano lessons for a while and then quit as soon as my parents let me. When I was twelve, I taught myself to play the guitar and the rest came together so naturally that I haven’t looked back since.

CFM: How does it feel to have your first album out and into the hands of the public?

DS: It’s a great relief, actually. I felt like I was carrying so many songs in me that I was kind of choking on them. I’d joke to other songwriters that there were too many goddamn kids in the house and that I couldn’t wait for them all to move out, get a life of their own, and maybe make some space for a new brood. I’m happy with how the album sounds, and I hope that the songs do well for
themselves.

CFM: You have been named in Canadian publications as one of the Best Folk Acts of 2009 and Best Singer-Songwriter of 2010, how has this affected you personally and professionally? Has it added any pressure?

DS: It was really encouraging to see that there was a community of people in Montreal actually taking some notice of me. Other than that, it’s just been good press!

CFM: How would you describe your music and songwriting style?

DS: Hmm… I might leave that question to you and the others reading this, April!

CFM: Slower, Lower contains many different styles, tempos, and instrumentations. Why all of the variety?

DS: It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision. Like I said before, there were a lot of songs waiting for this record so the album itself spans about six years worth of songs. Most of them are more recent than that, but there are a few that have hung on throughout some very different periods in my life. Gives it a larger sort of landscape, I think.

CFM: Describe Slower, Lower. What inspired the album? What was your creative process like while making and recording the album?

DS: Slower, Lower was actually our mantra during the recording process. I’d been playing with the Da Da’s for over a year so we didn’t have to think much about the song structures or arrangements too much. We just decided to try to find the tempo and the key where the songs really dug in, which inevitably had us saying, “Well, let’s try it a little slower, a little lower too, maybe.” A lot of the songs stayed where they were originally, but a few really came to life when we had them in the right place.

CFM: What motivates you to write, record and perform?

DS: Writing is a necessity for me – singing as well, but I don’t often write just for myself. The idea of an audience changes things. Something that’s being observed takes on a very different quality than it had before. I’m fascinated with that concept and how it relates to songwriting. So, the writing generally comes from a very personal place, then it becomes conscious of itself, and then it has to run it’s natural course by being recorded and performed for an audience.

CFM: What’s next for you?

DS: Well… The album is out now and I’m kind of cheering it on from the sidelines. The Winter months should be calm ones, and when the Spring comes I’m planning to move into my family’s shack in Northern B.C. For the summer, I’ll be chasing the Canadian festival circuit around the country.

Buy & Stream Slower, Lower

Q & A with Seattle Busker, Ben Fisher


A few months ago, I featured an album from a popular Seattle busker by the name of Ben Fisher. His debut album, Heavy Boots & Underwoods, is a great list of songs written and sung by Ben and is somewhat reminiscent of the folk singers of the past but done in his own style. And, although Ben is not as well-known outside of Seattle, his star is quickly rising. Recently, he did a live acoustic performance on Seattle’s KEXP radio station and will be one of the featured acts at Seattle’s Folk Festival‘s winter concert event at Columbia City Theater on Saturday, December 10th.

So, as Ben gains more recognition, I thought I’d better score an interview with the man. You can read it below. It’s actually entertaining and I guarantee you’ll enjoy reading it.

CFM: When and how did you first become interested in music? When did you realize music was what you wanted to do?

BF: My parents started me on classical piano at a very young age, but I wasn’t particularly interested in it. It bored me, and I would sneak into the kitchen to knock a few minutes off the stove timer that my mom set for me when I was practicing. I started playing vihuela (a Mexican guitar that I played with a rounded back and 5 nylon strings) in a mariachi band when I was living in Atlanta, and I used my mom’s classical guitar to practice because I couldn’t take the vihuela home with me. I taught myself some chord progressions on it and started listening to my dad’s Dylan and Springsteen and Neil Young albums at around the same time, probably when I was in eighth or ninth grade.

I realized music is what I wanted to do the first time I saw a video of Dylan playing live in 1966. The footage of him playing during that era is pure magic. How could anybody not want to do that?!

CFM: Describe your experiences in and with music thus far. How does it feel to get the kind of recognition you have been receiving?

BF: It’s like being patted on the back for eating your favorite food or watching your favorite movie. That’s not to say I’m ungrateful though, I’m completely and utterly thankful that people enjoy my music, and making cold hard cash when I play blows my mind.

CFM: How has busking helped with your music and career? Why do you prefer busking to performing in clubs?

BF: Busking has helped me develop my voice — my literal singing voice. I’ve gone from sounding like a bad Dylan imitator with a head cold to having my own bellow-y voice which you can hear a block and a half away. When I busk at farmers markets, the other buskers hate me because I drown them out and they have to steer clear of me. Busking prepares you for playing in front of people whereas practicing in your room doesn’t.

I wouldn’t necessarily say I prefer busking to playing shows, but I’m definitely more familiar with it. One thing that I enjoy about busking is not having to use microphones. They scare the hell out of me. I like being able to control my sound rather than leaving it up to technology. Another thing I like about busking is the 2 or 3 year olds who are mesmerized (or petrified) by me and refuse to leave when their parents try to drag them away. I love seeing the elderly people who dance in their wheelchairs to my versions of “Folsom Prison Blues” or “The Weight” at farmers markets. The 80-90 year-old crowd don’t generally make it out to my shows, but they roll down the sidewalk in packs.

CFM: As part of the Seattle music scene, how has the city affected your music and development as a musician? What have you contributed to Seattle, its streets, and its music?

BF: As many musically literate people know, the Seattle music scene is extremely vibrant and phenomenally rich. When you’re a musician living in Seattle, you’re surrounded by musicians who inspire you and challenge you. I thought my album was great when it was all done. Then I heard Bryan John Appleby’s new album and Kelli Schaefer’s and Noah Gundersen’s, and I thought mine was complete crap. When you’re immersed in a group of people that have talent pouring out of their ears, it demands that you work harder to keep up with the pack.

People like to joke that I write too many songs about fish. Hell, there’s a salmon on the cover of my album. If I was still living in dusty old Atlanta, where I grew up, I almost surely wouldn’t be writing nautical songs like “Cast Your Line” and “For Hiram M. Chittenden”, the latter of which is named for the Ballard Locks here in Seattle. Seattle is a beautiful town and the landscape has found its way into some of my songs.

There are a hundreds of great bands in Seattle, but when I listen to some of them, it seems like they don’t consider lyrics to be a priority. I pride myself on my lyrics, and I think that I add a lyrical presence to Seattle’s music.

CFM: Describe the music that you create and your songwriting process. How often do you write? What inspires you to write, make music, and perform?

BF: I think it was John Prine who said something along the lines of “If given the choice of getting a hot dog or writing a song, I will always go get a hot dog.” That’s me. I love making music but I hate forcing it. Songs hit me; I don’t seek them out. A specific line (which usually winds up in the song’s chorus) will slap me in the face at the dentist’s office, or at dinner, or on the bus. I write when I have something that’s been bouncing around in my head, which could be seven times a week or not for a whole month. The songs I write have to do with what I’m up to at the time as well. I took a class about Mystical Islamic Literature at the University of Washington last quarter and found myself writing all sorts of songs that sounded like they were written in Oman 1,400 years ago.

For example, my song “Cast Your Line” came from listening to a lot of Dylan and a lot of Mark Knopfler simultaneously. The first line, “Where she leads me, I do not know” is from a Dylan song that never got released. The second line “But it’s fishing season, and it’s time to go” was my riff on Mark Knopfler’s “The Trawlerman’s Song.” Then after I pilfered ideas from two of my idols, I made it my own.

I’m inspired to make music every time I see a great show (I saw Richard Thompson a few weeks ago; he’s 62 and his fingers are as limber as they were 40 years ago) or watch a great music documentary (every time I need inspiration, I’ll watch a recording of Springsteen & The E Street Band and that gets me going again).

CFM: Discuss the recording process for your first full-length album, Heavy Boots & Underwoods. Explain your feelings and what it’s like to have your music heard not only by the people of Seattle, but nationwide.

BF: I met a Seattle singer-songwriter named Gabriel Mintz around this time last year. He’s a great guy who I’ve played a few shows with. He introduced me to his friend Bradford Button who plays bass in a band called Whalebones and also has a recording studio. I recorded my album with him. I went into it thinking that it’d be just a solo album with guitar and vocals, maybe a little harmonica. However, Brad cut me a deal, and I had enough money to spend more time than I expected in the studio, so I started adding more instruments onto the songs. Gabe sang on a few tracks, Dylan Rieck played cello, and I played a bunch of instruments that I don’t actually know how to play.

I sell a lot of CDs when I busk, but the first time I sold a copy of my album on Bandcamp to a stranger, I thought it must have been some sort of computer error. The first thing that comes to my mind is the rapid globalization of this day and age, but the internet has helped independent musicians get their music out there in ways that didn’t exist 30 years ago, which is definitely a step forward for unsigned bands.

CFM: Which musicians do you admire? Why?

BF: I love Townes Van Zandt and Ryan Adams and Tom Waits, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that I admire any of them. I admire Josh Ritter. First of all, he’s obscenely talented, but I respect him because on a regular basis he’ll stand for hours outside the venue after his show and talk to the folks that came to see him. You talk to him for five minutes and feel like you’ve known him for your entire life. He’s a guy who has made it; he’s been on Letterman, and Springsteen goes to his shows as a fan, but he’s completely down to earth.

I have a friend whose name is Brandon Decker who lives in Arizona. He’s a singer-songwriter and he tours all over the damn country. For some reason, before I met him I thought touring was something that was done exclusively by musicians with record deals and tour buses, but when I met Decker, I realized that all you needed was the motivation and enough gas in your tank. I admire him because he gives up the day-to-day comforts that we have like sleeping in your own bed every night to play his music for complete strangers.

CFM: What are your future plans? What would you most like to accomplish with your music and in your career as a musician?

BF: I plan to graduate from the UW with a degree in Arabic, just as a back up. I’m going to record another album in 2012, probably the spring or early summer. I’d like to tour, either next summer, or if not, the summer after that. I’d like to be able to make music a personally fulfilling but also financially sustainable career. I’ve already worked at Starbucks. I don’t want to go that route again.

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Q & A with Small Houses

Photo from mLive.com story on Small Houses:  http://goo.gl/qX2wl

Of course we are all familiar with Detroit “Rock City,” but in recent years it has become clear that Detroit isn’t the only place in Michigan with a musical reputation. With cities like Lansing, Flint, Ann Arbor, and artists like Small Houses, Chris Bathgate, and Frontier Ruckus, an extremely talented indie-folk scene has begun to emerge taking the nation by storm. Recently, I featured Small Houses’ well-crafted album, North, which I highly recommend. Small Houses is the sole project of Flint, Michigan native Jeremy Quentin, whose talent exudes on North. And, although Jeremy’s talent is prominent, he wisely employs the skills of other Michigan musicians to enhance the album. Just last week, I was granted a Q&A opportunity with Jeremy where I asked him about Small Houses, Michigan, and North.

CFM: When and how did you become interested in music?

SH: I found some Neil Young and Paul Simon records on vinyl when I was a kid that immediately captured me. Pretty soon after I had visions of myself playing the guitar and singing.

CFM: What’s the origin of the name Small Houses?

SH: “Small Houses Blue” was the name of a song I had written about the homes of Lansing, MI. I think a lot of my tunes are written about that particular area or ones just like it.

CFM: Michigan is a state burgeoning with music, why do you think this is? How has living in Michigan and its artistic atmosphere affected your music and your personal taste in music?

SH: I’ve seen a sort of domino effect in the state of Michigan. It only took one band to release a great album and that influenced all of us to do the same. It’s either that or there is something odd in the water making us overly sentimental.

CFM: What kind of music are you drawn to? Are there any particular local artists/bands we should be listening to?

SH: I’m into the likely suspects. Richard Buckner, Springsteen, Waits, etc. Locally, I think Samantha Crain, Frontier Ruckus, Hezekiah Jones, and Gifts or Creatures are the some of the most outstanding artists that might not be recognized by everyone, but without a doubt, these people really match up to the greats.

CFM: Do you think you have you grown since releasing Our Dusking Sound? If so, how has that growth affected your new album North?

SH: I definitely think there is a lot of growth in both the songwriting and the approach to working in the studio. In my opinion, I think that North takes more modest instrumentation while allowing a bigger sound through a more strategic approach to the full band dynamic. On top of that, I think I’ve had some of the most talented artists at my disposal (Phil D’Agostino, Kevin Killen, David Jones, Andy Catlin, etc.). For that, I’m very grateful.

CFM: Describe North. What inspired the album?

SH: North came to me when I was living on the east coast and dreaming of home. When you really long for a place that you’ve once been, you tend to exaggerate how great it was. This nostalgia often took me to some
interesting places in my writing.

CFM: Is there one song that is more personal or one you’re more proud of than the others? Why?

SH: I find more meaning in “Country Flowers” every time I sing it. I think I was being honest with myself, and that’s what I like most about writing.

CFM: What does the future hold for Small Houses?

SH: Once this tour is over, I’m producing an album for a young group called Del Brutto at Double Phelix Studios in Kalamazoo, MI. Small Houses will be recording a split 7 inch with one other songwriter and a backing band (the names of which I’m not ready to tell). In January, I plan to hit the road again for tour and land in Tennessee for a few months of writing and preparing for another album.

Small Houses Website 
Small Houses North Bandcamp