Monday, November 24, 2014

Kristin Andreassen bio

Gondolier was born in isolation – a solitary flintspark nurtured into lantern light. Given life by a community of musicians committed to translating traditional music's lasting lessons into indefinable new truths, the result is beguiling, enticing. It’s an album that asks but only sometimes answers – and, for that reason, is all the more moving and uplifting.

At the back of the craft, her hand on the rĂ©mo, is Kristin Andreassen. She says her feet were her first instrument – and her years as a professional clogger lend an undeniable rhythmic undercurrent to her music. On her debut album, 2007's Kiss Me Hello, that rhythm bounced and swayed. Gondolier's pulse is more of a heartbeat: consistent, comforting, almost tidal – in keeping with the thematic elements that bind its songs. “Most of these were written on a quiet island in New Hampshire,” she explains. “So the lake itself shows up everywhere — rainstorms, boats, fish — submersive sounds and layers in the lyrics and the music.” Throughout Gondolier, rural and urban play against each other, in parallel to Andreassen’s explorations of the lines dividing fantasy from reality. “For some reason my dreams are all about water,” she sings in the title track “The Boat Song.” “It replaces the concrete, I can breathe it like air.”

These songs coalesced over a period of years – years in which Andreassen was performing and recording as a supporting musician and harmony singer with Aoife O'Donovan, Sufjan Stevens and Jeffrey Lewis, among others. She hosted a weekly old time session in Brooklyn, called square dances, founded a popular week-long music camp for adults, and occasionally performed her own music for a range of audiences. Over time, the sum of these experiences progressed into a sound both grounded and ethereal, brought to life by a unique ecosystem of performers and writers. “I feel very lucky to be a part of this community where many of us have some background in traditional music,” Andreassen says. “When we write songs, I think we're choosing what to carry with us from the folk music we know, and we’re asking what newness we have to offer from our own modern experience.”

Gondolier entered the water when producer and percussionist Robin MacMillan invited her to record a few songs in his home studio in Williamsburg, just for fun. “Robin is one of the purest artists I’ve ever encountered,” she says of MacMillan, who has performed and recorded with Aoife O'Donovan, Mike + Ruthy (aka Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar of The Mammals), and Christina Courtin. “He wants to make beautiful sounds and serve the song, and he doesn’t care how long it takes. He’ll try any number of different things before settling on one approach. That was great for me, because it got me off the obvious path. I could have made a record more quickly with strumming guitars, fiddles, and banjos, but we chose to do something else.”

That “something else” is as difficult to describe as it is to resist. Beds of circular finger-picked figures blur the boundary between organic and mechanical; wood-toned clarinets give the sensation of breath; percussion alternately laps like waves and rolls like thunder. While every element is identifiable, the ensembles are arrayed and arranged in intriguing, counter-intuitive ways that beautifully illuminate Andreassen's observations and ruminations.

The musical approach, deriving from hours of experimentation, is decades away from the “old time” sound that Andreassen was known for in her time touring with the clogging company Footworks or with her stringband Uncle Earl, or even from the friendly kitchen folk sound of Kiss Me Hello. “With these new songs  traditional music seeps in through the lyrics above all,” she says. The song “‘Simmon” self-consciously steals verses wholesale from the folksy standard “The Crawdad Song,” while the choruses pay back the theft with a poetic nod to nostalgia itself, and the way human memory is the traveling companion of any old song.

Other fragments of traditional songs appear like trail markers, carefully placed throughout Gondolier to guide the listener. “The Boat Song” echoes an ageless children's round while reflecting on choices one makes from childhood to the present day. “That's the most autobiographical song on the record,” Andreassen says. “The first verse is completely true: If you ask my parents, they'll say all I ever did as a kid was daydream and bounce a ball against the garage door.” Twin organ parts recall aging fairground calliopes, as Andreassen's observations spiral outward from childhood dreams to adult consequences – searching for the wonder and truth in both.

The gently swinging “Azalea” emerged from a specific moment – a chilly, early spring wedding in Louisiana. “I started writing it the day of the wedding,” Andreassen says. “These friends of mine got married in their backyard. It was cold and grey, and they built a big fire. It started raining, and we ended up dancing a big hole in the lawn.” Embroidered by lightly twanging guitars and accented by harmonizing clarinet and flute, “Azalea” becomes a meditation on commitment and change. “As I get older,” she continues, “these are questions that I'm asking myself now. How do you stay with the people you love? How do you grow and change but still be in that relationship?” The answer comes to her in this song, as she realizes that, to keep time and love in balance, she must “change like a tree, slow and even…”.

Gondolier's original sessions with MacMillan at the helm were subsequently complimented with three songs recorded with percussionist Lawson White acting as producer. These recordings share the same spirit of adventure and experimentation, while adding a bracing dose of immediacy. “Some Do” was recorded live on the studio floor with Andreassen on tenor guitar and harmonica, White on percussion, and Chris Eldridge of the Punch Brothers on acoustic guitar. Other accompanists heard throughout Gondolier include bassist Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers), multi-woodwind player Alec Spiegelman (Cuddle Magic), cellist Rushad Eggleston (Crooked Still), former Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone (heard here on clattering banjo bass), guitarist Jefferson Hamer, fiddler Stephanie Coleman (who has played alongside Andreassen in Uncle Earl and with whom she co-hosts a popular weekly old time jam session), and vocalists Aoife O'Donovan, Ruth Ungar (The Mammals, Mike + Ruthy), and Cassandra Jenkins (Eleanor Friedberger).

A native of Portland, Oregon, Andreassen's own roots as a performer stretch back to her early years touring as a featured dancer in the Maryland-based Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble. In 2003 she joined Uncle Earl, a pioneering all-g'Earl stringband that blended traditional and modern influences. With Uncle Earl, she toured the world, appearing on such festival stages as Bonnaroo, Telluride, and Celtic Connections, and released two well-received albums for Rounder Records, including the acclaimed Waterloo, Tennessee,  produced by former Led Zeppelin multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones. Andreassen's debut record, Kiss Me Hello, was released in 2007 and featured her song “Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for Your Eyes” – co-written with fellow dancer Megan Downes and winner of the children's music category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. She also recorded two albums with Sometymes Why, the irreverent and evocative trio she formed with Ruth Merenda and Aoife O'Donovan.

Constantly on the road, Andreassen only put down roots in Brooklyn a few years ago, where she quickly integrated herself into the vibrant avant-roots scene that helped bring Gondolier into the world. Depending on the night, she can be found driving fiddle tunes on acoustic guitar, adding bells, ukulele, or harmonica to an indie-folk outfit, or performing her own songs on her own. It's the latter that intrigues her most these days. “I feel like I've gone in reverse,” she says. “I started with full bands playing old time tunes, but lately I've been dialing it back to just me, a guitar, and a song…I like the freedom of being able to interpret my own song on the spot.”

From its most orchestrated moments to its smallest gestures, that conversational intimacy and willingness to take changes enriches every aspect of Gondolier. “We took our time making this record,” Andreassen concludes. “Looking back, I can still feel how the quiet space of being on that island informs these songs. They are thoughtful and more philosophical than I've been in the past. I can't shake the idea that, when you chose to do something, you close off a door to something else. I wanted to pay respect to the various dreams that we've all had but chosen not to pursue: Those dreams have a certain untapped power that, if we let them, can inspire us while telling us more about who we are…”.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

WFUV WELCOMES KRISTIN ANDREASSEN FOR ON YOUR RADAR CONCERT AT ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL STAGE 3 DECEMBER 9

Kristin Andreassen – the former member of Uncle Earl and Sometymes Why whose new indie-folk album ‘Gondolier’ comes out in February – will join a WFUV-curated concert hosted by John Platt December 9 at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 3. Possessing one of Brooklyn’s finest singing voices, Andreassen has already joined Black Prairie and Dawn Landes for tours and is confirmed on nationally syndicated radio shows Music City Roots (Nashville, TN) and Mountain Stage (Charleston, WV) for early 2015. Andreassen’s sound benefits from the unexpected, both lyrically and melodically.

WHO: Kristin Andreassen, with WFUV’s John Platt, Zak Smith, and The Hello Strangers
WHAT: WFUV On Your Radar Concert
WHEN: 7pm, December 9, 2014
WHERE: Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 3, 196 Allen Street, NYC 10002
TICKETS: $12 via Rockwood box office or at TicketFly

Thursday, November 13, 2014

‘SIGNATURE SOUNDS 20TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION: RARITIES FROM THE SECOND DECADE’ (MARCH 3) SEES LABEL CELEBRATING AFTER ITS MOST SUCCESSFUL YEAR TO DATE

COLLECTION OFFERS LAKE STREET DIVE, EILEN JEWELL, CHRIS SMITHER, CROOKED STILL, AND MORE; THIRTEEN UNRELEASED SONGS, COVERS OF RANDY NEWMAN, ERNEST TUBB, AND MORE; AND 18 TRACKS OVERALL

Signature Sounds – the Americana and folk label that launched the careers of Josh Ritter and Lake Street Dive and sustained that of Chris Smither – will release ‘Signature Sounds 20th Anniversary Collection: Rarities From The Second Decade’ featuring thirteen unreleased tracks, eighteen tracks in total from the likes of Lake Street Dive, Crooked Still, Eilen Jewell, Chris Smither, and others. The label is coming off of the most successful year of its existence, which saw Lake Street Dive catapult to Billboard’s top 20 and become "this year's best new band," according to Rolling Stone.

Entertainment Weekly said last month, “Folk music’s having a moment right now–maybe its biggest in decades” and Signature Sounds has helped fuel that trend. Tracks on the ‘20th Anniversary Collection’ draw on the rich strains of Americana music, country music, and folk music that have marked Signature Sounds’ entire oeuvre. Van Dyke Parks joins Jeffrey Foucault on “Real Love”; Parsonsfield’s version of the traditional song “Moonshiner” was recorded at Sam Kassirer’s Great Northern Sound Society (which has also been covered by Bob Dylan and Uncle Tupelo); Peter Mulvey covers Randy Newman’s “Lonely At The Top” while Eilen Jewell tackles “Why I’m Walkin’” (which was a #6 Billboard Country charting hit for Ernest Tubb in 1960 and which Elvis Costello and Loretta Lynn also recorded) and Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers interpret Dock Boggs’ “Country Blues,” which originally appeared on the Gold-certified, GRAMMY-winning Anthology of American Folk Music. (Boggs is discussed in Greil Marcus’ book Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes.) Eilen Jewell’s barn-burning gospel band Sacred Shakers takes “Samson & Delilah” for a spin, which has also been performed by the Grateful Dead. These tracks are accompanied by strong originals by Lake Street Dive, indie folk band Winterpills, Chris Smither (who is celebrating his 50th anniversary in music this year), Kris Delmhorst (with Foucault backing her) and a hidden, bonus track by Lake Street Dive.

Since its founding in Whately, MA in 1994, Signature Sounds has released over 150 albums; moved to Northampton, MA; established its own venue the Parlor Room; landed songs in Six Feet Under, True Blood Weeds, Grey's Anatomy, Sons Of Anarchy, Nashville, Modern Family and in a T-Mobile ad campaign. Originally launched as a label to spotlight the burgeoning western Massachusetts folk scene, it has gained national prominence behind acts such as Mary Gauthier, Erin McKeown, Crooked Still (from which Aoife O’Donovan has emerged), Patty Larkin, Lori McKenna, and Eilen Jewell.

Signature Sounds will also host a 20th anniversary celebration the weekend of November 28-30, as a thank you to its fans, featuring 19 different artists over four concerts in Northampton, MA. Here is a Signature Sounds 20th Anniversary Playlist of artists playing the November shows.

The celebration will continue July 10-12 at the Green River Festival, which is produced by Signature Sounds in Greenfield, MA.

‘Signature Sounds 20th Anniversary Collection: Rarities From The Second Decade’ Track List

1.      Lovesick Redstick Blues - Crooked Still*
2.      Real Love - Jeffrey Foucault*
3.      Be Back Home - Sweetback Sisters
4.      Moonshiner - Parsonsfield*
5.      What I'm Doing Here - Lake Street Dive
6.      A Tree In The Lung - Winterpills*
7.      Such Great Heights - Joy Kills Sorrow
8.      No Shortcuts - Heather Maloney & Darlingside
9.      It's Lonely At The Top - Peter Mulvey*
10.     That's Why I'm Walkin - Eilen Jewell*
11.     Carey - Barnstar!*
12.     Here In California - Caroline Herring*
13.     Drive You Home Again - Chris Smither*
14.     Country Blues - Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers
15.     Violent Love - Sweet & Lowdown (Miss Tess and Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive)*
16.     Samson & Delilah - Sacred Shakers*
17.     If This Ain't Heaven - Kris Delmhorst & Jeffrey Foucault*
18.     I’m Satisfied - Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem*

* Previously unreleased.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Kristin Andreassen artwork

 credit: Laura Crosta
 credit: Laura Crosta

FORMER HIGH SCHOOL LITERATURE TEACHER JOE FLETCHER’S ROOTS MUSIC ELECTIVE KEEPS THE CIRCLE GOING

DEER TICK ANNOUNCES FLETCHER SUPPORT SLOT IN NYC DECEMBER 28 AS ‘YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG MAN’ GATHERS STEAM

Joe Fletcher was not always a fast-rising Americana music artist and veteran of two Newport Folk Fests. For ten years, he was Mr. Fletcher, English teacher at Foxborough Regional Charter School in southeastern Massachusetts. Already playing in a band and reading deeply on roots music, he also taught an elective course on the subject on the subject for three years.

In other news, Deer Tick has announced its annual New Years Eve residency at the Brooklyn Bowl and Joe Fletcher will open the December 28 show. Outlets such as Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Esquire have raved about ‘You’ve Got The Wrong Man,’ which premiered on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and is featured on a Spotify-curated playlist. The Entertainment Weekly full album stream is here.

Fletcher says, “We'd start each year by watching PBS’ American Roots Music documentary series to prime them for the variety of styles we'd be talking about. It was important to me to show the lineage of Howlin’ Wolf to Led Zeppelin to the White Stripes. We used a large timeline to mark the careers of Hank Williams versus that of Skip James to get perspective on what was going on in what part of the country at the same exact time. Jack White was always a great modern example to tie Blind Willie McTell, Led Zeppelin, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan all together.

For two of the years, they did a concert at year’s end. Fletcher recalls, “We had kids fighting over who would get to do Hank Williams or Robert Johnson songs. That's when I really knew I'd done my job."

Several students have taken up the mantle of roots music champions. Eric George lives in Burlington, VT and plays harmonica, guitar, banjo, and fiddle. Fletcher remembers, “He got really good really fast. I had him in 10th and 11th grade. He was the student ringleader. He's told me this class was a pivotal musical experience for him. He’s an incredible musician and was my guitar tech at Newport 2012.” George is in the process of recording his first album right now and has a tattoo in honor of the class on his arm. In fact, he kickstarted a Newport Folk afterparty with only his harmonica, voice, and boot.

For Fletcher, his love of literature has informed his sense of songwriting. He simply says, “All of these things go hand-in-hand.”