Bay Area folk-rockers the Dry Spells talk with PopMatters about side projects, Fleetwood Mac and how they managed to be influenced by both Laurel Canyon and traditional Arabic music.
California and folk music don’t seem like they should go together but, for decades now, they have. With this year’s Too Soon for Flowers, Bay Area group the Dry Spells continue on in that left coast tradition. Initially formed in 2002 in New York, the quartet’s debut is a promising mix of traditional, almost Medieval folk music with modern rock energy. The band’s April Hayley, Tahlia Harbour, Adria Otte and Diego Gonzalez recently got together as a group to answer some of our questions.
How do you think Too Soon for Flowers would be different if you all hadn't been playing more abstract, less conventionally song-based music in your side project, Citay?
All music influences other music, so being involved with Citay has almost certainly had an affect on us as musicians. The founding members of the Dry Spells met Diego and Warren through playing with Citay. Citay has had little structural influence on the Dry Spells' music because Citay is one songwriter’s vision while the Dry Spells songwriting approach is a truly collaborative process.
The album ends with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s "Rhiannon". Why did you decide to end with a cover, and why that song?
Ezra from Citay, who drummed for us for awhile, was very influential in the way we arranged and recorded that song. We ended with “Rhiannon” thinking of it as more of a bonus track rather than part of the album. While there is no particular personal meaning associated with the song, we all love Fleetwood Mac and Tahlia and April in particular do try to channel the spirit of Stevie Nicks through their singing.
It seems as if the songs here are melded together from very disparate elements. Is that mix something that's thought out during composition or is it something that just happens organically?
Our songwriting process does not usually include conscious, thought-out decisions. We mostly play what we feel, so the fact that our many disparate influences can be heard in the music is a natural result of playing together. The musical directions our songs take sometimes surprises us. Usually a few members of the band come to the rest of the group with a basic melody or a few chords and we build upon that foundation together until we reach a place where we feel comfortable. In “Evangeline", for instance, we started out with a simple medieval-inspired melody brought in by Diego, but after playing around with different rhythms, the song settled into what it is now, with a slight reggae feel. We don’t feel confined to stay within any particular musical boundaries.
Bands often talk about wanting to be part of a tradition or preserving a certain approach to music when they have a more traditional style. Is there an element of that to the folk side of the Dry Spells or is there another reason the band incorporates that kind of music into your sound?
Traditional music is an important thread that we weave into our music. We gather lots of our lyrical influence from traditional English language ballads, and traditional music from all over the world provides us with ideas and inspiration. We relate to the storytelling element of folk music and believe that music is a unique form of communication.
Who do you think has influenced the Dry Spells and why? Similarly, who do you think of as your contemporaries?
Everyone contributes their own ideas and has their own personal influences that affect the band’s sound. For instance, Diego is inspired by black metal, post-punk and traditional Arabic music while Adria is influenced by free improvisation and experimental music among other things. Tahlia likes the Laurel Canyon sound of the '70s while April finds inspiration in the Harry Smith folk anthology. As close friends who have played music together for several years, we are all very comfortable sharing ideas with one another which we have found leads to a fluid process of music creation. We all grew up with classical music and have a weakness for early '90s rock. Some of our favorite artists today are Tune-Yards, Faun Fables, and Espers.
The songs on Too Soon for Flowers share themes and imagery -- is there a particular story being told over the course of the album, or any particular overall message?
There is no overarching story or message contained in our album, but Tahlia and April work closely together to create lyrics that tell stories and incorporate images from our pasts and the fairy tale realms of our childhoods.
First albums are often an encapsulation of everything a new band is trying to do. Do you feel you've accomplished what you set out to do with Too Soon for Flowers? Also, where does the band go next?
We are happy with Too Soon for Flowers and hope to continue to grow with our second release. The band is currently focusing on writing new music and hope to record again in the near future.