Fresh off the January 14 release of their awaited sophomore album, Darkest Hours, Dallas' premier folk rock collective, Fox & the Bird, opened their melodic minds to the Dallas Observer about the band's collaborative Texas sound, juggling life as part-time musicians, and how shadowy realities can still shine with harmonious sun-rays of hope. Here's our conversation with three-fifths of Fox & the Bird: Dan Bowman, Paul Grass and Jacob Metcalf, who reminded us once again why they were voted "Best Folk Act" at our 2013 Music Awards.
For those who have not yet been introduced to Fox & the Bird, how would you all describe your sound?
Paul: I'll take a crack at this one. I'd say we have a very homegrown sound blurred with rowdy Americana folk rock. But then again I'm not the best sound identifier sometimes.
Dan: I'd agree with Paul. Since we've had so many great collaborators over the past several years, we have an alternating sound of rolling folk drums that get rocky but at any time can flip and sound a little like mariachi. Our sound is really driven on harmonies and melodies though. It's all about those harmonies.
Jacob: Our sound reflects how we like to shake things up. Fox & the Bird's goal are to keep our music and live performances full of surprises.
How far back does this collection of writers and musicians go back?
Dan: We came together in late 2008. Since then we've had 14 incredible writers, musicians, and just all-in-all lovers of music join Fox & the Bird like Wheeler Sparks and Travis Sparks. Some left and came back, but they all contribute through some kind of collaboration. I'm the only original member.
Who makes up the Fox & the Bird lineup these days?
Paul: There are five of us -- the Dan, Paul, Jacob combo we have going on right here, plus the talented Petra Kelly and Sarah Scott. We're all instrumentalists and vocalists, so we play more than just one instrument at any given time. Petra and Sarah are violinists and Petra also plays the glockenspiel.
Jacob: And Paul's a really talented percussionist, even though he plays the ukulele and banjos when he gets the urge to. We all play a part in wearing multiple hats.
How did you all come up with the name Fox & the Bird?
Dan: The title track from our first album, Floating Feathers, was a song the band wrote about relationships between two people that know they may be complete opposites but still choose to make those differences work to make something great. Just like the the birds and the bees or even a fox and a bird, we're a cast of characters that choose to make our differences work in harmony for the love of storytelling and music.
Well, I know your fans are excited about the release of your second album this week after a three year wait since Floating Feathers, so some congratulations are in order. Does this new album have an overall message you want listeners to catch?
Jacob: As a band, we've all been taken through trying times, the type of experiences everyone goes through, you know? But that doesn't mean you still can't have peeks of optimism too.
Dan: Exactly, from death to divorce, a lot of tough things have happened since our first album but hope should always be like a silver lining with every dark cloud. And all that goes for the album. Just because it's titled Darkest Hours and we're addressing some everyday real stuff, doesn't mean it can't upbeat at times.
You have a new music video for "Wreck of the Fallible" with a really unique concept. What led you all to that type of visual?
Dan: The guy who directed the video, Wheeler Sparks, is a past band member and a phenomenal writer, musician and director. The band sat down with him and we started with the raft imagery to represent the lost, downtrodden beggars and whores who respectable folks leave lost at sea. Wheeler had a challenge in conceptualizing brokenness and loss and ended up creating striking images that we're all proud of.
How would you say Darkest Hours is different from your first release, Floating Feathers?
Dan: The first album was recorded in so many different studios with the actual songs being a testament to the band's four original members' collective skills, but with so many producers and sounds it was more of a folk music show-n-tell than a collective piece. Darkest Hours is a collection that reflects our studio sessions at Ramble Creek Studios in Austin with Britton Beisenherz.
Paul: I joined Fox & the Bird after the first album and the journey in creating this album from scratch gives me a feeling that we each have left our fingerprint on a sound that is all ours and not just one genre. With this release we're redefining what Fox & the Bird means.
Jacob: Paul injected so much energy into the band and it was right on time. Plus with Britton as our only producer, he helped balance personalities while giving us a chance to truly capture the feel and sound of the band. This album feels more like a live show than stitched studio sessions.
Do you all have any rituals before prepping for a performance or recording session?
Dan: None of us are able to be full-time musicians so we record on weekends that would consist of us sitting down with Britton, grabbing some beers, maybe some wine and just unwinding from life before we had to knock out a complete song.
Jacob: When Dan says "knock out" he means play and record a song all in one take. We took some chances with this album by not stacking tracks instrument by instrument. What you hear on the album is what is sounded like when we created that moment.
Paul: Jacob, Paul and I live together, so it wasn't uncommon I'd come home after a long day of work planning to unwind and in the meantime our daily experiences in Oak Cliff became music.
What do you all do when you're not being Fox & the Bird?
Jacob: Well, I teach music part time and am a baker, Paul's about to get married, and Dan's is really involved in the city government and a group hub.
What do you like about the Dallas music scene?
Paul: I feel the music scene here is really unappreciated on a bigger picture level but I love the humility all the talented artist we come across have. So many of these artists aren't just musicians we respect but they're friends. The Dallas Family Band is like a community of a lot of local musicians and song writers like Daniel Hart, The Dark Rooms, and Doug Burr out of Denton. Our band member, Petra's a Dentonite by the way.
Where's the farthest from the Dallas area you all have performed?
Dan: Salt Lake City, Utah. We've played all over Colorado too. Some of the shows could get a little weird because it's a different culture but there were more ups than downs. Lubbock, Texas, also treated us well.
What's one last thing you all need to say about your band and this album?
Paul: We have no intentions of living life as rock stars. We're here for the people that like us can't afford a counselor and need music to understand life and build camaraderie.
Jacob: This album was stuff we'd been sitting on for a while, so know that there's a lot more of this and a whole range of areas we haven't even touched yet. We're all about sharing our lives over a variety of instrumentation.
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Dan: We feel a deep connection to our fans because they're come to our shows for the mutual stories we share, not the experience of being at a rock show. The people of Dallas and the Dallas music scene have given so much to us and we will continue to give back to our community.
For Fox & the Bird, social media is a great way to stay connected.