Interview: Front Country’s Melody Walker Talks Getting Vulnerable, Being Collaborative With New Music
Front Country released their most recent project -- a covers EP entitled Mixtape -- in May, but the five-piece bluegrass-meets-pop-meets-Americana band is now gearing up to release their second full-length album of originals. The Boot sat down with the group's lead singer, Melody Walker, at the 2016 Americana Music Festival, to talk about the new project and the band's roots.
Front Country is comprised of Walker, mandolin player Adam Roszkiewicz, guitarist Jacob Groopman, violin player Leif Karlstrom and bassist Jeremy Darrow. Over the summer, they funded their upcoming new record via a successful Kickstarter campaign, with the promise that their backers would receive the disc before Christmas. That short timeframe didn't give the quintet much of a break to work on the album, but the result, Walker tells The Boot, is a project filled mainly with "intensely emotional and relationship-based" original tracks; she herself wrote eight of the songs on the disc, which also includes two instrumentals penned by Roszkiewicz, a traditional song and one cover.
"It's a big turn songwriting-wise for me because it's a lot more emotional songwriting, which is something that I haven't done. As a tough chick, I haven't let myself go there for a long time," Walker says, adding with a laugh, "I wrote some brooding, emotional songs as a teenager that were terrible, but since then, since I've been much better at songwriting, I think I've resisted the love song and the relationship song. I challenged myself the past two years to write on that and it's been really good ... I'm really proud of that; I think it's really vulnerable."
That vulnerability, Walker admits, came from telling true stories of love and heartbreak; however, her hope is that the songs ended up representing a new take on a traditional subject matter.
"It's all just challenging myself to write in that well-worn area of the love song, the relationship song, and see if I could find some new way. It basically is these, hopefully new, perspectives on the love song trope, and slightly different ways of looking at relationships and talking about love," Walker explains. "I think that everybody experiences relationships of all kinds in their life, and I resisted writing relationship songs for a long time, but I think that they're really relevant to people, and they're really relevant to myself, come to find out."
I think that everybody experiences relationships of all kinds in their life, and I resisted writing relationship songs for a long time, but I think that they're really relevant to people, and they're really relevant to myself, come to find out.
Even though Walker did much of the up-front work on Front Country's new tracks, the band works as a team when it comes to workshopping, selecting, recording and finishing their music.
"It's all about the way that each person in Front Country has a really strong instrumental voice and aesthetic," Walker notes. "When we come together to arrange things, before we even get into the studio, everyone brings the coolest ideas together, and we figure out how they fit together.
"A lot of what Front Country does is create textures and grooves that are different ...," Walker adds. "We're figuring out how to do this thing that's like a roots-pop-string-based sound. If I write a folky pop song and bring it to the band, how do we support that with the instruments together and make it work?"
Part of Front Country's collaborative efforts is using a democratic voting system to select songs. Walker sent about 20 new tunes to the entire band to listen to, and after everyone voted for their top tracks, they ended up selecting the eight most popular to work on and record for the album. Using this process means that Walker knows which of her songs weren't as well-liked by her bandmates, but she knows that the right songs are being picked in the end.
"It really is all about what works for the band, and I think we're mostly in agreement on that," she confesses. "What was interesting is that when I sent those 20 songs out, they weren't all relationship songs, and they weren't all love songs, [but] it's kind of funny because those were the ones that everybody gravitated toward, and I was kind of surprised to see, just in my own band, which ones people liked the most, and they really responded to the super-emotional ones, strangely. I'm in a band with a bunch of dudes, and I didn't know which ones they were going to like at all ... So, as a songwriter, you can't be too self-conscious about the material."
Walker shares that at least one song on Front Country's forthcoming record is about an experience that another band member had -- and they know that: "I told them," Walker remembers, "and they're like, 'Oh, that makes a lot of sense, actually.'"
Front Country have yet to share -- or even to select -- the title for their new disc, but they've been throwing around the name Other Love Songs, to honor the album's subject matter. After releasing the project to their Kickstarter backers later this year, they plan to release a handful of tracks in early 2017, followed a full release in the spring.
"I think that'll be a good way to build up some excitement about it," Walker says.
We're not afraid to be a little 'hippie'd-out' every once in a while.
Although their home base of San Francisco may not be well known as a bluegrass hotspot, Walker insists that the scene in the Bay Area is perfect for them. She points to the Grateful Dead's album Old and in the Way as an example of how bluegrass has found a home in that part of the country.
"We are definitely in this tradition of California bluegrass, West Coast bluegrass, that I think maybe is a little more folk-influenced, and we're bringing it a step further and merging with all those influences that you'd think of as West Coast, like psychedelia and blues-rock and just this laid-back feel," Walker says. "We're not afraid to be a little 'hippie'd-out' every once in a while."
Greatly influenced by bands such as the Dead, Front Country recognize that honoring the past while also trying to move music forward is an important part of the Americana genre.
"I think everyone who plays Americana music is passionate about [the fact that] something came before you," Walker muses. "That's what we're doing in Americana, is keeping this thread ... It's about this thread that we're all participating in, which is music, and we're all borrow from each other, and it's this richness of the past that you can bring into what you're doing now that makes it so much more grounded and authentic, and it's like you get to be a part of something."
More information about Front Country, including upcoming tour dates, can be found at FrontCountryBand.com. The Mixtape EP, as well as their 2014 debut album, Sake of the Sound, is available via iTunes and Amazon.
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