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.
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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.
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