The first thing Jacob Metcalf sees when he wakes up in the morning is a wall of sticky notes. The musician — a local staple for his folk sound as a soloist and through his work with the band Fox & The Bird — is an avid reader and writer, and these notes contain turns of phrase, inspirational words and a series of questions. One note in particular asks, “Is this the end, or the beginning?”
Metcalf lets that question hang in the air as he talks about his new two-song release, Strawberry Summer. After a pregnant pause wherein Metcalf seems to try to answer this weighty, philosophical query, he sighs and lets out a soft, almost beatific smile.
“I like to think of things as beginnings,” he says.
The two new songs, including the single "Strawberry Summer," come as the musician makes a new start. Three years after the release of his well-received debut album Fjord, Metcalf is back in the studio working on new material. Fjord was tough. Fjord was long. It took Metcalf and his collaborators 10 years to write and cut the record, years during which he doubted himself and his prospects in music.
“Before the album came out, all of this seemed impossible,” he says. “I’d ask myself, ‘How in the world can I make music for a living? How in the world can I complete an album?’”
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the Fjord release. Friends and artists whom Metcalf loves all came together. Metcalf's album-release show at The Kessler featured 20 backing musicians. The grueling process of releasing that work eventually ground to a halt, and listeners (especially critics) enjoyed the finished product. Metcalf was grateful, beaming with joy and gratitude for the loved ones who helped make the impossible possible.
During the 150 tour dates that followed the album’s release, Metcalf ruminated on love, life, loss and conflict. He describes himself as a “lifelong learner” and says, “My tape is always rolling.” But something about Strawberry Summer sounds even more reflective than what he created with Fjord. The first part of the two-parter, entitled “Run the Other Way,” is a brisk folk-pop ditty that opens with strings strumming and Metcalf’s ethereal voice.
“I don’t care if we crash, don’t care if there’s pain,” he sings, his delicate vocals and backing music providing a stark contrast to the dramatic heft of the lyrics. He says the song is about love and all of the beauty and disappointment that come with that dicey territory.
“I wanted the tempo up. I wanted uncertainty and energy in every stanza, every line.” — Jacob Metcalf
“It’s easy to forget in the middle of a blinding romance that everything beautiful will eventually end,” Metcalf says, describing the song. “But that’s the way life goes. To live is to struggle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t see joy.”
There are still shades of Fjord on Strawberry Summer. Listeners will hear the often moody, sometimes melancholy music of the folk instrumentalist they know. But this is a departure for Metcalf, sonically and personally. He’s mining himself, searching for meaning, searching for light, searching for what makes him Jacob Metcalf. And his music is searching, too.
“I wanted the tempo up,” he says. “I wanted uncertainty and energy in every stanza, every line.”
Toward the end of “Run the Other Way,” the bass, drums and light, breezy guitars give way to a trumpet. At first listen, the trumpet may sound a little sad. But it’s not.
“If we’re fortunate in life, we’ll have moments where we feel small victories,” Metcalf says. “And that’s what a trumpet does. A trumpet is the sound of victory.”
“Strawberry Summer” is a single and a B-side, both of which will be released Friday, July 5.
Listen to Metcalf's new single “Run the Other Way” below: