We are excited to premiere the track “Nothing” from Bay Area neo-folk duo* Wolf + Crow‘s new album Folklore, due out next Friday October 23rd. This track epitomizes the masterful songwriting, musical chops, and poetry that makes the entire album an instant classic for fans of old folk, new folk, blues, soul, spirituals, and/or just damn fine musicianship.
“Nothing” – Wolf + Crow
For those of us** who know the stunning, breathlessly beautiful folk songs of Wolf + Crow, the wait for Folklore has been almost unbearably long. After running a successful Kickstarter in 2012, the band took to a hundred year old brick building in downtown SF with Hyde Street Studio’s Scott McDowell and producer Brandon Keeley. Tracking was complete within a year, and then, as it does, life interrupted.
Crow – Zachary Vieira – hit hard times facing the middle-class equivalence of homelessness, and the project was put on hold. Climbing to steady ground brought the duo back to the record; parts were rewritten and rerecorded. The results are worth the wait. As Vieira and Mathieu Stemmlen (aka Wolf) are musicians so attuned to detail that they can change your entire impression of a song with the slightest movement of a note or a breath, even with the challenges causing the delays, this level of attention created an impeccable, almost cinematic, sonic landscape in Folklore. This is the sort of album you cannot listen to enough, because each listen begs more.
All nine tracks are tightly crafted songs that incite emotion and intellect at once, inspired by a love of musicology, field recordings of old spirituals and early blues, design, film and history. They say of the album: “At its technical core is an exercise in minimalist methodology—seeking ways to express more with fewer, artfully executed strokes.” And this seeming simplicity, so difficult to achieve, is what makes Folklore soar. Tender fingerpicked guitar parts, reverb-laden piano, and Stemmlen’s haunting slide guitar leads expertly paint whole universes in just a few minutes of song.
Vieira’s gift vocally is to give the impression of fragility and vulnerability, while he masterfully controls phrasing, tone, timbre, vibrato. Matching this vulnerability lyrically, in “Shaker” he sings “You can’t touch the butterfly / You touch their wings they die,” conjuring the melancholy of greats like Nick Drake and Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam. Though the songs have the tenderness of Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago, they avoid the sentimental romanticism. These are not songs for wooing or missing a lover – these are humanist songs ripe with solitude. Songs for gazing into the world and seeing the self, or vice versa.
Meanwhile, Stemmlen’s harmonies often feel like an extension of Vieira’s voice, giving the impression of these compositions being performed inside one’s mind. Using traditional folk harmonies on some tracks, the duo strays on tracks like “O’Mama” using an almost dissonant harmony to invoke siren sounds.
“No Spoken Word Can Define” is an incredible example of the band’s storytelling prowess. In three verses, they manage to speak the unspeakable, and touch that place of deep sorrow buried within so many of us. “And every year it comes around / the day that he was found / she has cried / and if you ask what’s on her mind / you gotta let her take her time / cause it’s a hurt no spoken words can define.”
I asked Vieira to share a little bit about creating the album, and “Nothing” in particular. Here’s what he said to say:
“Mat and I stopped playing music together and became somewhat estranged after our previous band, The Frequency, failed. We’d been recording with Jeff Saltzman (The Killers Hot Fuss Producer) in Studio 880 while Green Day tracked American Idiot in the next room over. We thought we had “made it.” But it wasn’t so, and we broke up soon after that. In hindsight, the music was solid but the content was contrived and soul wasn’t there, and while pop can fly on a beat and a hook, when you’re working from the ground up, “shit don’t fly.”
“So we quit and went to school, same school turned out, CCA for Graphic Design. And that’s when something just bubbled up in me and I said to myself, I have to do this and I have to do it right this time. And what that meant, was I had to write from the deepest truest place inside of me, regardless of whether the sound or style was contemporary, trendy, or even considered any good by others. I had to do this for me or else I would die with regret. “Nothing” was the first song I wrote after that, and I kind of just vomited it out. It’s about letting go of all the entanglements of pleasing others and walking out into your own darkness as frightening as that is. The horses (left for dead) represent that. You love them and care for them, and they represent something to you, but in order to find out who you really are, you have to journey out into your personal wilderness and let go of everything, in order to harness some kind of purpose. And when you find it, the wild black horse that it is, you have to tame it and ride it.”
There’s so much more I could say about this album. But I’ll just repeat: if you are a fan of old folk, new folk, blues, soul, spirituals, and/or just damn fine musicianship, this is an album for yourself and your dearest friends. It is ageless. The release show happens on Friday October 23rd at Tank 18 in SF. Details here.
*Note: Wolf + Crow are supported on the album by stellar backing players who deserve mention: drummer Andrew Laubacher (Con Brio, Kelly McFarling, The Dodos, Peter Frampton, Guster), bassist Oscar Westesson (Bhi Bhiman), Leanne Kelly (The New Spells), Greer Ashman (California Diamonds) and Rebecca Cross.
**Full disclosure: I played in this band for a short stint in 2010. I joined after fanning out on them hardcore and gushingly offering my skills. Then I got this gigantic pregnant belly which kept me from playing the double bass. 5 years have passed. I was not involved in the album except to support their Kickstarter and anxiously await its release.
Annie Bacon / @anniebacon