If a look back at the creative output of mankind has taught us anything, it’s trying times make for good art. Sure, there are some other lessons in there as well but to steal a line from Sean Nelson, “happiness writes white” and there’s nothing like discontent to get the ink flowing.
In modern times, few topics push artists as consistently and as reliably as break-ups. Tonight’s recommended headliner, Fort Union, has its start in an ending. What makes their story different than the traditional “Blood on the Tracks”-esque inspiration is the new Seattle/Portland duo taps into the shared experience of a band break-up to fuel a new beginning. Rising from the ashes of Friday Mile, Jace Krause and Jake Rohr took the opportunity to embrace change and explore less traveled, more experimental sonic terrain.
In advance of their album release show at the Tractor tonight, we were lucky enough to catch up Jake, the Seattle half of the equation, to talk about the band’s genesis, the debut album and their new approach. If you like what you hear (and read), be sure to head over to Ballard tonight for what promises to be a great show. Widower and SLM favorite Cataldo will open.
The self-description of Fort Union as a “refreshing departure from Seattle’s ‘guy with a guitar’ music scene” has certainly struck a chord with music critics and likely fans. While people know what not to expect, what key elements should they expect from Fort Union, musically speaking?
At their core, I think the Fort Union songs are accessible pop tunes with catchy melodies and we could’ve easily gone down the familiar ‘guy with a guitar’ folk/country route with the instrumentation and production. But that didn’t really interest us. Early on, our goals were to take this songs, flip them upside down, stretch em out and throw some texture, atmosphere and weirdness in there. Ryan Lynch’s guitar playing is huge part of setting our sound apart. It’s a constant presence throughout the record, both creating space and tying things together.
Your bandcamp page prominently mentions Fort Union formed from the ashes of a band breakup. How did Friday Mile’s end affect your approach to songwriting, arranging and recording in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if Friday Mile was still active and Fort Union was just a side project?
Jace and I had a handful of the Fort Union songs on the back burner while Friday Mile was still together. They had a bit of a different feel so we kept it as a separate project. Honestly, I would’ve loved to have worked on the two projects sided by side, but the restraints of jobs, schedules and finite amounts of energy didn’t allow that. When the band broke up, Jace and I dove right in on the Fort Union songs.
Speaking of recording, how did your experience recording in Jace’s garage differ from past recordings you’ve done and how did that ultimately impact the sound and feel of the album?
Our past recording as Friday Mile were all done in proper studios with engineers and producers. I think that was the right choice for that project and we learned a lot about the recording process by working and observing professionals. With Fort Union, we had a lot of ideas for the feel and vibe of the record, but the actual songs hadn’t been all written. We recorded as we wrote, initially just as demos that allowed us to play multiple instruments ourselves. I think early on we had the idea to go into a professional studio, but as the songs took shape over multiple passes we found that we really liked the way our recording sounded as is. We got the songs sounding as close as possible to where we wanted them and handed them off to Gary Mula to mix. He heard what we were going for, tore them down and built them back up. They sound beautiful thanks to his expertise but retain our original vision.
When you uploaded your album to bandcamp, you encouraged fans to set aside 40 minutes as the album was designed to be heard in its entirety. Can you share a little about your approach to the album as a whole and why the entirety is greater than the sum of its parts?
We always wanted people to experience this record as whole. We had done previous records that were more a collection of stand-alone singles and were ready for something more cohesive. These songs flow together and support each other. I wanted to make a great road trip album.
Can you talk a bit about your video trailer project for the album – how it came about, how you selected the local filmmakers and how this played into the bigger picture of releasing and promoting the album?
It’s so hard to compete for people’s attention these days with so many people promoting stuff online the we were looking for different ways to draw people to what we were doing. I realized one day that there are a lot of extended instrumental sections on the record that have a very cinematic quality to them. We know a ton of talented videographers and reached out to see if they could set some images to our music. We gave them 60 seconds each and a lot of freedom. It’s interesting that they independently all went the scenic, nature route. I was very happy with how they turned out.
Going back to Seattle’s ‘guy with a guitar’ music scene, are there any other Seattle musicians that break from that tradition that you’re particularly enjoying at the moment?
Oh man, there are so many bands that I think are doing great stuff out there. One band that I’m really digging right now is a ‘girl with a guitar’ band – Deep Sea Diver. One of my favorite shows of the last year.
What should people expect from your set this Friday?
We want to celebrate and throw a party. Our live set has bit more energy. We’ve got two drummers, percussion, harmonies and we rock the songs more than what you’ll hear on the record.
What’s next for you and the band through the end of the year?
We’re putting together some more shows this fall in the Seattle/Portland area to support the record. But we’ve got a whole bunch of new songs that we’re itching to get to work on. Hopefully a year from now we’ll have another record under our belt.
7/27 – Fort Union, Cataldo, Widower @ Tractor, Doors at 9:30pm, $8