Monday, November 17, 2008

An Interview with Frontier Ruckus

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Matt from Frontier Ruckus, one of my favorite folk bands of recent times. Here's what he had to say.

I hear you delayed the album so you could release it on Matt's birthday? Why was it important to you that it be released then?
The album kept getting pushed back just for promotional purposes and due to how long we were taking in wrapping up all the little details that go into finishing an album that we hadn't really considered. All of a sudden we were looking at a November release date and I thought, "My birthday is November 6th; I can't think of a better gift for myself than the catharsis of this heavy world called Orion Town--sounds good."

Matt - what is your songwriting process?
My songwriting process is to allow the container of my body to go a long period of time (for The Orion Songbook it was my entire life up until then) where I'm just bloating and becoming heavy with obsession for place(s). I feel like I write mostly about places and that the people are less characters than they are more just extensions and images and contents within the containers of places that won't allow themselves to be abandoned by me. And the places I'm talking about are often amorphous and very hard to define. Orion Town is not one town but many towns touching and blurring--it is the multiplicity within the whole. So I am filled by all this seemingly ineffable stuff and memory when I pick up a guitar and hopefully through music I can somehow organize and codify it all into a simpler, less overwhelming form. The image is the most important thing to me and, in a good song, hopefully a large part of the image remains intact after the transaction between internal unvoiced mythology and song occurs.

Once you come in with a song, Matt, how do you guys and decide on instrumentation and construct the songs from there?
Several of the songs on The Orion Songbook have been around for a long time--since it was just David and I. Back then I would bring a song to David and he would just start playing banjo to it and it would sound perfect--very natural. Now there are several more people and more parts to figure out and everyone just kind of hones them as we go along. We really don't think about it all too much as a group, until we get into a studio. We're kind of lazy like that. Everyone is really good about figuring out what they want to do on a song individually, though, and it's still very natural even with more people. Everyone cares about whatever the core of the song may be and how they can complement it. Ryan will obsess over how an extremely minute difference in a beat will effect a song; Zach has to decide what instrument he wants to play on it, or will spend a long time meticulously arranging trumpet harmonies; and Anna has an ear for harmonies that bring a lot of ease to the vocal aspect.

How does the studio process differ from live performances for you guys?
We recorded The Orion Songbook with all of us playing together live in one room, for the very, very most part. I didn't do a single overdub on the record. And I'm not saying that in a boastful way, in fact I'm sure there are probably many people out there who will find fault in it. But that is just the way we feel most comfortable doing it--we really don't do well tracking the core of a song in a piecemeal way. We like to be able to look at each other as we play and try to remember exactly what it is that we're singing about and convey an image instead of just recording notes. This isn't to say that Zach didn't have fun layering horns, since he was the only horn player, or that we didn't have fun trying different textural things after we had the bulk of the song down, but I just enjoy an honest portrayal of what the band is capable of and thought that that would in turn deliver a more accurate account of what Orion Town means.

Where is your favorite place that you've played so far?
Anna and I sang to a rowdy drunken pub in Dublin once and I barely remember it. That was nice. Our best shows of all time have probably been in Lansing. We had a great time busking outside of a strip club in Washington D.C. once and used all of the tips to fill up a hotel bathtub with ice and cans of beer. That night I slipped down the entire rain-slicked set of stairs of the Lincoln Memorial on my side and ribs at 4 am.

Where is the place you would like to play the most in the world?
We're gonna be overseas this summer, which is thrilling. I would like to sell out the segment of shore of the St. Lawrence River that runs past the town Ogdensburg, New York.

Now that you guys have a record label, where do you see the band going over the next few years? What are your short term and long term goals as a band?
We want to release as much music as possible. I have many songs. And the idea of a seemingly endless tour sounds very nice. The Expansion of the Touching-Towns Touring Recital. I want to make snow globes of Orion Town. We're gonna release an EP of our more countrier songs and, also, The Orion Songbook will be out on vinyl in February with about five extra tracks from the Orion mythology, manufactured with the help of our friend John Krohn.

What's the story behind the tandem bike video?
That tandem bike is half-owned by me, and half-owned by someone who is very special to me with whom I made a pact that prohibited me from riding the bike with anyone other than said person. Needless to say, the evidence that that video provided of my and David's mustachioed joyride put me in the doghouse.

A question for Zach - How did you learn to play the saw and do you have any tips for people who would like to learn how to play the saw?
I learned to play the saw by watching youtube videos of Julian Koster playing the saw. By modeling yourself on a sawyer, you can learn to play it prettily. Though, I've noticed that when some people who've seen me do it for years try it, they'll hold it upside-down or bow it over the teeth at first. Literally, I think the easiest way to play the saw is by keeping the handle between your knees, curving it into an 'S' shape with your non-dominant hand in any way that doesn't hurt. And when just starting, I recommend hitting it with something, like a mallet or a pen, before bowing to find the "sweet spots," which change depending how strong your saw's bent, analogously with the pitch. There are so many important tips. Jiggling your leg (as if you needed to urinate) for vibrato, sweeping the bow along the saw so you don't need to be quite so accurate, to name two. Really, I just recommend watching a fellow sawyer and playing with friends or music. If you play alone on the saw, you're lost.

No comments: