The Futurebirds are one of those bands I’ve had on my radar for a few years now. They opened for Drive By Truckers here in Norfolk back in late 2010 or early 2011, whereby a trusted musical pal or two started selling me the goods.
I saw them play Bonnaroo in 2011, their biggest show to date, and the first one of the 4-day festival for me. They were tight and had enough South in them to fit in with the likes of the Truckers, and Widespread Panic; their other Athens, Georgia based forefathers. They also were young and indie enough to go the other direction–solid rock without the Southern tinge if they so chose. They had only one album out and the sky was the limit.
As chance would have it, I found myself standing next to a couple members during a different show later that same day. As they shared their iPhone with me, I saw the audience I’d just been a part of from their stage perspective. Still obviously psyched from the momentum of it all, we discussed how they’d texted friends and relatives the pics, and I offered them a smile and a congratulations.
Since then, I’ve kept up here and there. I’ve got their phenomenal cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Wild Heart” on a couple coveted playlists (check out a nice comparison blog of the two versions here); I’ve liked a Facebook status or two.
Seeing that they were opening for Band of Horses in support of their new album Baba Yaga last week at the NorVa, I was stoked to get a chance to see how things are going with them these days.
Having listened to the three main records any Futurebirds fan should know: 2010’s Hampton’s Lullaby, 2011’s Record Store Day release Live at Seney-Stovall Chapel, and 2013’s aforementioned Baba Yaga, in order, I was struck by the changes I hadn’t noticed by listening to one-off songs or even a chunk of an album on its own.
Baba Yaga was written largely on the road or during breaks from duties promoting previous work. Gone are the days of straightforward rock or southern rock. The first track, “Virginia Slims” starts very Helios Sequence-y or Beach House-y with reverb and backing, sweeping anthemic guitar. Unfortunately, it stays largely at the same tempo for most of the 5:44 minute song, with only the bridge bringing out a little bit of the country a longtime listener may expect.
By the end of the second song, “Serial Bowls,” country is now back in the forefront, though its in the spirit of that oh-so-now sound coming out of Delta Spirit or Deer Tick.
As the album progresses, I realize that it’s not bad at all, it’s just not unique. I’m not sure if it’s the touring and outside influences getting in the way, or if they really want to be a jam band, but neither push their songs to full jam proportions nor edit them to a traditional timeframe. Most of the songs on Baba Yaga are in the 4-6 minute range with the final, jangly, hazy, Beach Boys-meets-Deer Tick “St. Summercamp” going over 8 minutes.
“St. Summercamp” rambles into a few new territories and lets the listener in on what a live Futurebirds show might entail, which is what I’ll give it the most props for. In fact, I’m partial to their live album, not just because it’s vinyl, or because it was recorded in Athens’s historical Seney-Stovall Chapel, but because it showcases the band at a place where they are best: on the stage.
Tuesday’s show at the NorVa had a great energy. It was near capacity during the Futurebirds 30+ minute set, and I’d venture to guess at least ⅓ of the audience knew who they were beyond “that band opening for Band of Horses.” Walking through the crowd, with Peter Buck-esque riffs wafting around, the Athens roots were thicker than I’d expected to hear. The set went quickly and they played a good mix of Baba Yaga and Hampton’s Lullaby. Their second-to-last song was “Wild Heart”, which was an excellent choice because it’s definitely the song that will introduce them to ears more attuned to Instagram than to Spotify. And their finale had five (that’s right FIVE) guitars!
Singer/guitar player Carter King was kind enough to do a quick email interview with me from the road the day before their NorVa show, where we talked about the changes I hear in Baba Yaga, the band’s progression, vinyl, and which of their cover songs is “dead sexy.”
AltDaily: You’re touring in support of your new album Baba Yaga. What does the title mean & can you share with me your motivations for choosing that as a title?
Carter King: Baba Yaga is a woodland witch with both light and dark qualities important to the tales she appears in. She eats children on the one hand, is physically ugly and the like, but on the other hand she is serves to help heroes on their individual quest. That duality perfectly summed up this record for us.
Several songs on Baba Yaga top 6 minutes. I understand you were still looking for distribution when you released it. This seems a brave choice in a world where labels are looking for more 3 minute formulations. Did you consider shortening songs?
We did. We also struggled with the possibility of cutting the record itself down in number of songs, but in the end it didn’t feel right to us. We knew it would catch flack for being too long, but it was named after a monster, Baba Yaga, only seemed right that it should be a monster.
What was the process of writing and then getting the album out there? I understand a lot was written on tour and you were performing songs from the new album before you had a deal for it.
It was a piecemeal process for sure over a long period of time. we planned things as much as we could, things like preproduction (writing/practicing), studio time, costs, payment, and such. but so much of the creative and business process are out of your control so we were forced to roll with the punches on that side of things.
What ways have you grown or changed since the release of your 2010 debut Hampton’s Lullaby?
I think we’ve grown together most of all. Really becoming a cohesive band.
Were specific sounds or other bands influencing Baba Yaga in anyway?
Not consciously, no. influence is mostly a subconscious force, coming at you from every direction, so its really too hard to pinpoint a handful of things that specifically influenced this record.
You released a live recording, Seney-Stovall, for Record Store Day last year, which was recorded in Athens, GA’s historic Seney-Stovall Chapel. It’s got such a realness to it and is a good representation of your live show for fans who haven’t had a chance to see you. Did you always know you would do this project? Or did it happen after the fact?
We planned on multi-track recording the show for a future project. The Record Store Day release came to light later on and fit perfectly. We took a few days to mix the tracks we wanted to put out and got it going thanks to the fine folks at Think Indie and Junket Boy.
Do you guys listen to vinyl? If yes, please briefly elaborate on why and some of your favorites.
Yes. because it sounds great. i had fallen into a deep hatred of hearing our new record, until it we received the test pressings. it hadn’t sounded that great since we were in the studio listening to the final mixes. made me hate it just a little less…
You did a cover of Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” for the record. Why this song?
We did this song for one of our EP’s, Via Flamina, along with Wild Heart by Stevie Nicks. That Seney-Stovall show was a release for that EP so we played all those songs. We chose that track in the first place to record because it was dead sexy, and no other reason.
Do you do covers often when playing live? If yes, what are some favorites?
Not really, we sprinkle em in, depends on the show.
You guys are an Athens band, which means big shoes to fill (REM, NMH, WSP, and many more). What is the scene there now, in 2013?
Still fertile as ever.
Are you fans or friends of any other Athens bands?
Absolutely. Too many to name really…
I actually met one of you at Bonnaroo 2011 (sorry I don’t remember who) (I *think* it was at a Wavves show but I could be wrong), and you had just played your biggest gig up to that point. You showed me iPhone pics you took from the stage, and were just so stoked on the opportunity and the energy of performing and living out a dream. It was a great moment. Did you guys keep that momentum going? What’s it like thinking about that moment now, two years and several albums/tours later?
Still just as unreal. We’ve played to more big crowds since then. But that was a pretty radical (and terrifying) day. One ill never forget. Anyone that says differently is a liar. We’re really excited to be back this summer.
Your band only formed in 2010 and you were playing Bonnaroo by 2011. Do you feel thing began happening really fast? What is the summary of when you met to that moment on stage?
We actually started at the turn of 2009 so it was 2.5 years into us being a band. I don’t think things have been happening too fast or too slow. Right on time.
What do you have planned next?
Please feel free to write/say anything else at all!
Sorry for some of the short/non answers and please excuse and typos/misspellings, I answered this from the van, doing 75mph.