Chris Compton’s Furtherville is a keen exploration of Southern culture that pays homage to a Southern literature. Furthervilleis no moonlight and magnolia lost cause glorification of the South; rather it’s a melodic exploration about the conflicting ideas of masculinity and region. The titular track is a shrewd chimera of gypsy jazz and Southern Gothic. It’s a love song set in a Faulkner-esque ruined house where the speaker is “Sharing a piano with a nest of birds / whistling along to our favorite tune / they never learned to fly and they never left the room”. There is no escape from Furtherville; “all of our kin are buried in the ground” – yet like Faulkner’s Thomas Sutpen, they’re stuck here in the loss of a haunted past that was never worth glory any way.
Buy a copy of Furtherville here.
SC: I love this line about birds in the piano. Can you tell me about this line?
CC: The setting for the song was inspired by a house I used to live in next to the railroad tracks. Because of our proximity to the freight yard, we had a lot of “vermin” in and around the house—rats in the trees and roof, snakes in the laundry room and a family of mice living in the piano. We didn’t disturb the mice in the piano, so over time they ruined it because they built a nest using the felt from the hammers that strike the strings
I still remember the sound of their little claws picking the strings as they ran across the soundboard—kind of like a harpsichord. So employing poetic license, I changed them to birds to go along with the stay-at-home-or-fly-away theme and tie in with the musicality of the piano.
SC: This song is about the hope of somewhere else—Furtherville—but it’s set in a minor key that undercuts the yearning. Can you tell me about that choice?
CC: There is a struggle between “staying or leaving” in this song which is reflected in the interaction between the hopeful lyric and the mood of the music. The protagonist lives on slender means in a “one room” shack in less-than-desirable conditions. He feels tied down to the land (“We know the men who built this town, all of our kin are buried in the ground”) and like the birds in the piano who should fly away, he never does. Instead of setting out in search of a “place to call our own,” he does what is expected of him and settles down, perhaps to start a family. (You could also reverse this and see the “place to call our own” as where he is now; that he has accepted his fate)
SC: Tell me about writing “Furtherville”
CC: This is a warped snapshot of me at 25. It’s the point in your life when you’re supposed to buy your first house, get married and start a family, but I was still wanting to be a rockstar. We lived in an old mill neighborhood near the quarry with four dogs and all our tripped out friends crashing on the couch. At some point you have to make a decision to give up a little bit of the dream in order to perform the everyday roles of father, husband or coworker. But there is also another underlying theme in the song of the struggle for the protagonist to break away from the friends and family that tie him to the land, and for he and his partner to move away to “a place to call our own”. I was listening to a lot of Hank Williams at that age so I included references to two of his songs in the chorus with “House of Gold” and “Mansion on the Hill.”
SC: You collaborated with Zach White on this record. Can you tell me about this process?
CC: All of the songs on the Furtherville album were recorded in Zach’s basement studio. He and I live less than two miles from each other so we would meet once a week to work on the project. Because of this laid back approach, we had plenty of time to experiment with different sounds and recording techniques. In the intro to the song you can hear what sounds like a train rumbling on the tracks, but what we actually used was a drum tom turned upside down and filled with nuts and bolts. Some of the percussion on the chorus included an African balafon, a chain being dragged across a metal sheet and a hammer striking a tire iron. The whole thing kinda screams Tom Waits so I thought a tuba on the last verse would be a great standout moment along with the counterpoint vocal line. We ended up finding a friend who could play the euphonium so that worked out well.
SC: What’s next for you?
CC: I have written a lot of material since the songs for this first album were recorded, and Zach and I are scheduled to start up again this summer. I’m not one to stick around too long in any one genre, so while I do have an album’s worth of Americana songs, I’d like to experiment with something more electrified and edgy. Maybe a couple of projects going at once.
I’ll also be playing some clubs and festivals with a band called the Buckdancers to help promote the songs on Furtherville.
Photo credit: Jen Coyner
Flower Shopping, the latest project from Ross Swinson (Release the Dog, Barnwell) is a reflection on age and the meaning of friendship. On “Waste” Swinson’s lush assortment of guitars suggests late career Elliott Smith mixed with bands like Noah and the Whale. It’s smart of offering of passing chords and epiphanic revelations that show Swinson’s not only a great guitarist, but a keen arranger and lyricist. He joined me for a chat about his new EP, questions of identity, and finding inspiration in old things.
You can listen to “Waste” here.
SC: Tell me about “Waste”
RS: I'll get the shameless promotion out of the way and start off by saying it's the single off my upcoming EP, which will be out June 8th.
Basically it's a song about how relationships suffer over time. As we get older, life gets more complicated and it's just hard to keep up with everyone you might want to stay in touch with. Ultimately you just have to cherish the time you get to spend with people and be thankful for the people that reenter your life here and there, even for just a moment.
SC: I love these lyrics “Our voices crack and howl at the thought of spending our lives just as we're told” Can you tell me about them?
RS: A lot of times meeting up with old friends can make you feel like nothing's changed, even though it's been years. At the age I'm at, it feels like a lot of people are split between going full adult, or being in this sort of arrested development stage where you're refusing to do what is expected of you. I feel a little torn between the two, like I don't want to grow up but I feel like I kind of need to in some ways.
SC: The song ends with a musical interlude with guitar feedback. Does this relate to the song’s theme?
RS: I thought that the acoustic part at the end was really pretty, but I couldn't really find a place for it to happen more than once. I wasn't really thinking about the overall theme relating to that part, more that it just sort of evokes this sense of longing and it doesn't fully resolve. So I guess in that way it does inadvertently fit the theme.
SC: What was your process for writing “Waste”?
RS: The main acoustic part I actually wrote a long time ago, like maybe 6 or 7 years ago in college. I like to record all my ideas from over the years and when I'm trying to write some lyrics, I'll pick the riff that seems to evoke the feeling I'm going for the best. I wrote the first half of the verse to this song and was stuck with that for a while, and then recently I redid the music to the chorus to what it is now. The rest of the lyrics and the structure of the song came together in like an hour after that. I have a lot of songs like this on deck from over the years that just didn't work with the bands I've been in for the past 6 years or so, which is why I'm excited to do my own thing and finally get them finished.
SC: What’s your songwriting process like? Do you write every day? Do you wait to be inspired?
RS: I split the writing into two different parts, the music and the lyrics. The music I can usually just sit down and come up with something I like if I set my mind to it. Lyrics usually have to be a little bit more inspired by events or thoughts I have while living life. I'll just have a thought that might be a good thing to write about or a good line, and I'll jot it down in my phone to expand on later. How often I write depends on the project and what stage of the project I'm in. Like right now I've been finishing up the EP, so I'm focusing on recording instead of writing.
SC: How does your community of songwriters inspire you?
RS: The music community in Columbia in general is pretty interesting. It's not a huge scene, and I feel like a result of that is that people are pretty enthusiastic about new bands or projects coming along. So it's kind of nice because it feels like just being a new project is enough to get you some sort of attention. I try to tell everyone that's even thinking about starting a project that they should just go for it. We could always use more new people in the scene. There are also some great songwriters around here, but I feel like everyone is generally down to earth and approachable as normal people, which can't be said about every scene.
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