Interview – Michael Ferrier – Fathom Lane

I’m glad I’m at this phase right now because there was a time when I was thinking “You know I’m not going to put this record out.”~Michael Ferrier

I thought that I’d remind you that the release show for Fathom Lane’s new album is in just a few days. What kind of emotions are running through you as it approaches?

Oh, right now excitement. I am really excited actually to get onstage and play because there have been a lot of different phases with Asilomar as there are in the life of every album. The making of this record was done a while ago so I’m in the emotional phase right now. The focus has been getting it out to people, to have them get a chance to check it out. I’m glad I’m at this phase right now because there was a time when I was thinking “You know I’m not going to put this record out.”

Really? (jaw drop)

Yes, I just felt like it was perfectly done for me. I love it, the people that made it love it–I’m really happy with it. You know, DONE.

Maybe that speaks to something that I wanted to bring up? The first Fathom Lane album Down By Half was released in 2012, and your self-titled record was released in 2013–nearly back to back. There was a bit more of a time lapse with Asilomar

A lot of bit more, a LOT…

Were there external or internal forces that contributed to the delay?

Both actually. First of all like you said we’d made two albums in a pretty short period of time and that was a lot of material to churn through and get into album shape, so I had to recharge from both a songwriting perspective and a creative perspective. I think I almost went into it too soon? I’m glad we did start it when we did, but we did end up dumping some of the new stuff that we initially did. A lot of it is still there, but the two singles that came out of it are the last things that we did. They’re really the two songs that were fully with Matt Patrick in the band songs, which is coincidental I think, but it also says a lot to that we were kind of striking out in a new direction.

So yeah, it was a lot longer of a process–we have a different rhythm section now playing on this record, kind of an organic change with Paul Boblett on bass and Alex Young on drums. They were around, super enthusiastic and ready to energize the new material. Peter (Hennig: former drummer) and Brian (Roessler: former bassist) were working on other things that were taking up a lot of time so it just felt like the right thing to do at the time for everybody. I still love those guys. So it ended up being Paul and Alex. We’d been doing shows with those guys for a while and then you know life took over–jobs were lost, babies were had, marriages were had, there were all sorts of things going on, both positive and negative really. There’s a VH1 Behind The Music story in there somewhere, I probably shouldn’t share it until VH1 comes calling.

Do tell…

It was a much more arduous process to get this one out. I don’t think it had anything to do with the material, it was really more of a project to get everything exactly how we wanted it this time. We didn’t rush it, we waited until we felt really good about what we had.

You mentioned a “new direction”, being familiar with your past catalog I’d say that I noticed that immediately. There is a fresher, cleaner sound to Asilomar. Maybe the new members have influenced the new direction?

It’s interesting, I think having a couple of producers in the band did influence it, namely Matt (Patrick) playing the guitar and co-producing the new record.

Did you work with Matt Patrick at The Library Recording Studio on the last record?

Nope, I worked with Zachary Hollander at The Pearl on the last one, which was fantastic. This was a totally different process with Matt (Patrick) being in the producer’s chair and on the guitar.

How does that change the collaboration?

Well, I’d say that Matt and I have become much stronger collaborators. He has a definite voice in the material, a strong voice. It was a good infusion of creative juice when he came on board and exercised his ideas into the mix. He seized the opportunity of the guitar in a really unique way and brought his own voice to it. And also, this time I think handing over the mixing completely to him was hard for me because I love that process, but he had been there for the entire process and he kind of half mixed the album as we went. We had creative mix ideas in mind as we were going so I felt good about saying “Okay Matt, now make this into the next Fathom Lane album.” It was different for me this time, getting mixes from him and going “Oh, wow”. Matt surprised me very pleasantly in many ways, he brought out an ambient style into the mix that wasn’t there previously, that the music was calling for.

I’d say that Matt Patrick added some really rocking moments to the album as well, and I enjoyed that. I think that I’ve seen the new line up twice recently and it seems energized and solid.

Yeah, we’ve definitely grown into this line up in part from playing a lot more live shows, and just stretching a little bit more–having Matt’s voice in the mix a little bit louder, I think. He and Shane (Akers on lap steel & dobro) just have a way of meshing that is fantastic as well. Just the way that they are able to weave their guitar parts. Ben (Glaros former FL guitarist) and Shane had that same conversation, and we didn’t need to leave that part of it behind, which was a really important aspect of our band, to have two guitarists with strong voices. The duality of things is part of what this band is about, the female/male voices, so having that conversation with the guitar section is really interesting. It’s fun. It’s been great hearing “Fingers & Toes” on the radio because of those two guitar solos. I love it–I kept thinking “You never hear guitar solos on the radio”, and now of course I am hearing them everywhere! But at first I was like “I can’t believe that we got away with having two guitar solos on the radio!”

You talked about the duality of the male/female voices, and literally Fathom Lane has that with your tenor and Ashleigh Still’s breathy melodies. I think that this album is the first one on which Still has a solo track featured?

“The Great Magnificent” is her first solo track on a Fathom Lane record. I don’t think that my vocals are on the track at all. That was one where I wrote it from the female perspective side of the relationship that I was thinking about, so I really happy when I asked Ashleigh what she thought about singing the song and she was like “Yes, I can do it”.

“The Great Magnificent” is quite beautiful.

I think that Ashleigh is such a wonderful singer, so much soul and she doesn’t oversing. which I hear that a lot these days.

She exudes a vulnerability that is confident at the same time.

That vulnerability is exactly what I needed for the song.

You’ve utilized strings on this record as you have on the previous ones, is it the Laurels String Quartet?

Yes, they’re fantastic. We are doing a show in early 2018 with them at the Cedar Cultural Center. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything because it is all still coming together? The bill isn’t set yet, but it’s going to be the Laurels and us and a variety of their collaborators doing 3 or 4 songs with the Laurels backing them, and if they need a backing band–Fathom Lane as the house band.

That sounds really intriguing.

It’s going to be called Rock The Strings. The Laurels are absolutely fantastic to collaborate with. I actually asked Cory Grossman the Cellist to do the string arrangements for Asilomar. We had chatted a just a little bit, but first I had gotten a recommendation from a mutual friend. So we chatted and he loves Nick Drake as much as I do, which is a lot. He asked me what I was looking for and I said something like Nick Drake and he said “Don’t say anything more, that’s all I need to know–don’t say anything more…”. So I let him do the arrangements for three of the pieces on the album, and I think that they turned out absolutely beautiful.

Any chance we’ll be able to see the Laurels at the release show on Friday at The Turf Club?

There isn’t enough room as we are seven onstage, it’s our full band with Charlie Peterson on keys as well. So we’ll do the best representation of the record that we can do. We’ve actually been doing shows all over, all the way down to a three, and I’ve been doing solo shows as well so we’ve kind of expanded the idea of Fathom Lane, not just a six piece, sometimes a seven piece, sometimes a trio…

So there is a fluidity? And you’ve played MWMF, listening rooms, house show–so a lot of different venue types?

Yep, it is fluid, but always the same material. We really can bring it into a lot of different contexts.

That fluidity brings me to one of the tracks off of the new album. “Heavy” is a song that I heard very early on in its inception from solo to being played live with a trio. Hearing its final version on the album was quite different for me. Asilomar has a stripped down feel, but “Heavy” has more layers, overdubbed vocals…I really like the album version but it seems to have went through quite a metamorphosis. Talk about how that song progressed.

It’s quite different than what I though it was going to be like as well. It was one of the newer pieces. Some of my songs are based on things that I wrote during the ’90’ s to the early 2000’s–I’ll take elements of those things and weave them into new songs. “Heavy” was a brand new song that really kind of evolved. I thought that it was going to be a more angular and jagged piece, but it turns out that it’s more of a brooding, sensual and dark song. Smooth on the surface, but there is a lot of turbulence underneath, that’s kind of what I think about that song. We like to have one piece where we can kind of stretch out a little bit. We used to play a few covers that way but “Heavy” has kind of become the song that we kind of stretch out at the end of or near the end of the set to see what energy we can get out of the room.

You mentioned cover songs, and you had a lot of success with your cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”. How much of a challenge was it to find a song to cover that could be as good?

Actually it was kind of a challenge, we tried to do the LLoyd Cole and the Commotion’s song “Forest Fire,”–we even did basics for that one and it is still sitting somewhere so we could finish it, but I was listening to it and just said “Nah”. It wasn’t quite working with this album, and with this album in particular we’ve had a few moments where we felt like things weren’t quite working and that was one of them. The “Country Roads” cover on Asilomar kind of came from a project that I was given by Daniel Groll (The Counterfactuals). He asked me to do an assignment for a Hootenanny where we got to pick our first favorite song as a kid, a song that wasn’t a joke song–no “Wheels on the Bus”. So mine was “Country Roads” by John Denver, as a kid I just fell in love with that song. I loved John Denver–he had a variety show, and I saw him at the State Fair. My very first concert as a kid so it had resonance. But obviously it isn’t a cool song.

There’s that.

David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” would have been the way cooler choice, but no, “Country Roads” was the choice so I at least had to make it into something in our style with major chords. I wanted to look into the song to see if I could make it have more of a Fathom Lane vibe. You know maybe this guy isn’t super happy about things back home?

I wouldn’t say that your version is super sunny…

Yeah, I think that we got something different out of it which is the sign of a great song. It’s a fantastic song, that is why it’s so popular. It’s fun to take a song that everyone knows–just about everybody, and halfway through the chorus their eyes light up in recognition “Oh, that song”–I’ve seen it happen when we’ve played our “Country Roads” version live. People have told me that they never realized the lyrics were so beautiful because they hadn’t heard them in such a way.

Because it is so iconic, we don’t even hear it for what it is anymore.

Exactly, it is just there like “The Wall”. So to take it and try to do something different with it is a lot of fun. It was one of the last things that we recorded along with “Fingers & Toes”. I’d had an option that we might open for The Jayhawks so I was really excited because I love them, and we didn’t get the gig, but I was still super excited. I was sitting there with this idea of a song that I thought of as a Jayhawk’s song, but then I realized it wasn’t a Jayhawk’s song and I quickly wrote it down. It was one of those songs that every songwriter wants, where you can’t even catch up to the lyrics fast enough to write them down. It just all came out–two verses, then a chorus and kind of a structure all planned out in under an hour. It never happens that way, sometimes it does so you just go with it. So I threw that and “Country Roads” at the band in one day, and we did that session really quickly that day. It sounded really alive and tight. We were ready to go at that point, been playing the stuff for a while, and we’d been working on the record for like three years so we needed an infusion of newness to get it over the finish line. You know when you are working on things in fits and bursts like that, you need a catalyst to finish it. Our creative juices as a band really coalesced at that time.

There were definitely times that I wanted to check in with you to see where the record was at, but I didn’t want to add to the pressure!

I’d been talking about the damn thing for three years! it wasn’t like it was Chinese Democracy or anything you know, but it was our problem child that we just had to get off of the couch and out into the world. Maybe the next record will come out really fast? We are hoping to do it at a better pace, maybe take a weekend and go to Pachyderm Studio and mix and overdub it somewhere else? It’d be interesting to have Matt Patrick just be in the guitarist chair instead of both the engineer and guitarist chairs.

Courtesy of Google I found that Asilomar–your album title is an actual place, what is its significance to you?

It is a place. Asilomar means “asylum by the sea”. It’s the Spanish name for a beach in California near Pacific Row. I was visiting a friend there and had a few hours to myself, and I was sitting on that beach one day after a pretty rough time, it was kind of chilly, and there were guys out there in their wet suits surfing and at first I was like “cool, surfing.” I was watching them over and over again surfing out and paddling back in, surfing out and paddling back in, and it was just amazing to watch. They were doing it for no apparent real reason other than joy. The joy of doing what you love. That something that just keeps you going back and keeps you doing it, it kept them taking their boards back out and doing it again, and again. I was kind of in the middle of a lot of things and decided I just had to get going, get on the board again, swim out and surf back in–make music again. I had felt blocked off from the community in some ways, and I had felt blocked off from people that I had worked with in the past and I just decided that I wasn’t going to let those things stop me. I had to get going. That happened at Asilomar.

It seems the perfect title for a record that nearly didn’t come out to be tied to such a profound experience. 

It totally made sense. When I was thinking about this record, asylum can mean an insane asylum or a refuge, it has that duality of meaning, so I was thinking of that duality. I mean the record could have been called “Asilo” but I thought back to the place and it made more sense to tie it to that experience that I had at Asilomar Beach. A lot of people have asked about the meaning of “Asilomar”, it’s a cool word, and it gives the record even more meaning for me.

I see a new confidence with Fathom Lane’s line up, especially live.

Yeah, we also have played more shows. We don’t play a ton of shows in town, we want them each to be special. Lately we’ve been playing out in Northfield, it’s very supportive and I don’t have to worry as much. I still worry about stuff, but it is different when you play in another town. It’s a little less pressure, we can work out new material and get to know Matt as a musician more. It’s also been an opportunity for myself, Ashleigh and Matt to fine tune our vocals together because we do a lot of three part harmony now. I think that has really taken us up a few notches on the new material as well, to bring Matt in on the harmonies.

With the new level of confidence and everything gelling really well, is Fathom Lane where you want it to be–what aspirations are still out there?

Yeah, I think that we are. I can’t imagine us being any other place except touring the world on a Lear jet you know, which would be great if anyone can set that up for us. I would want to do it more if possible, I’m doing it as much as I can and working with really great musicians so we do it as much as we can do it, and do it well. We are going to be doing some shows out of town in Southern Minnesota, and later in the summer in Northern Minnesota. In the fall we may end up touring to Chicago and Madison, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Iowa–a bit of a Midwest tour. First we need to get the record out there. We had really great radio support for the last record so we need to get it out to them, and visit them too.

Your release show is this Friday, the 26th at The Turf Club who is joining you that night?

Monica La Plante and Tabah. I’m so excited, Monica was the third person that I met at the Pearl (recording studio) when we started and she has been doing fantastic. I love Tabah’s freewheeling genre exploration, you really can’t nail them down.

People say that about Fathom Lane…

I like that, they are so completely different than us, they have a different sound that is difficult to pin down, but in that sense I really respect what they’ve been doing and the music that they’ve been putting out. It’s going to be a fantastic night.

Everyone that attends the show will get a copy of our record and they can pay what they want, they can take it home for free, or sign up to support the ACLU and drop ten dollars. Obviously if they want to pay us they can do that, but if they want to become our Facebook friends and follow us on Spotify that’s great. We want people to do what they want and pay what they want. We just really want to get this record out there and into the hands of the people. I don’t want people to come to our record release party and leave without a record, that doesn’t feel right. I know it’s hard to pay a cover charge, pay for a record and booze, so I wanted to take that off of the table. Let them take it with them and throw it in the CD player on the way home.

By Rebecca Marx, Photo Credit George Roedler