Music

David Huckfelt (The Pines) Delivers a Waltz of Discontent Via "You Get Got" (premiere + interview)

Jedd Beaudoin
Photo courtesy of the Syndicate

The new video from David Huckfelt's (The Pines) upcoming solo LP, written in a remote national park and recorded in a Wisconsin farmhouse, further solidifies his reputation as a formidable songwriter.

David Huckfelt, leader of Minneapolis' dark, ethereal Americana outfit the Pines issues his debut solo album, Stranger Angels, 22 February 2019. Huckfelt now presents a new video for one the record's key tracks, a gorgeous, politically themed waltz titled "You Get Got". The video was filmed in a single afternoon at Minneapolis' Eagles Club #34 during the organization's Country Dance.

The song's lived-in melody and Huckfelt's guitar lines accentuate the stillness heard in the track, a song that seems guaranteed to advance his reputation as one of his generation's finest voices. Inhabited by a patchwork of characters readily accessible in virtually any neighborhood where there are people who struggle and souls who find frustration in life, it's a song that speaks to the problems of our times. But Huckfelt's gentle storytelling and unpretentious approach add a sense of the timeless, delivering a heartfelt gift that will endure.

In 2017, the veteran songwriter retreated to the remote Isle Royale, the country's most remote and least-visited national park. Surrounded by Lake Superior, the Island is a six-hour boat ride from the Michigan coast and remains the largest island in the world's largest freshwater located. Selected as an Artist-In-Residence by the National Park Service, the songwriter spent two full weeks writing the music that would become Stranger Angels.

Tracking for the LP took place at a 110-year-old farmhouse studio in Menomonie, Wisconsin with a dream team of musicians including vocalist Amelia Meath (Sylvan Esso), Trampled By Turtles' Dave Simonett on harmonies, drummer/co-producer J.T. Bates (Andrew Bird, Mason Jennings), bassist Darin Gray (Tweedy, William Tyler), and more.

Stranger Angels may be pre-ordered here.

Huckfelt recently spoke with PopMatters about the writing and recording of the album and provides some insights into "You Get Got" as well as the video which accompanies it.

Tell me about the decision to go to Isle Royale to write Stranger Angels.

Isle Royale in Lake Superior has been full of mystique in my psyche since I was a kid, the land of wolves and moose, shipwrecks, canoe routes of the northern Ojibwe, mythical beings, strange angels. When I found out about the National Park Service's Artist-In-Residency program, I knew I had to get up there to find the right mix of danger and beauty to write and say all the things there isn't space to say in our cluttered daily lives. I applied and received the residency, and the park service set me up in a gorgeous, secluded little cabin and left me alone for three weeks, and I was able to finish 16 songs, 12 of which make up the new record Stranger Angels.

I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is remote, but the Isle is really remote. My experience of being up there is that time slows down. You can almost feel the seconds crawl if you're paying attention. That said, it can also open up one's creativity.

I refer to anywhere around Lake Superior as "The Land of Room Enough, Time Enough". To get to the heart of the matter, to find a way to articulate the emergencies of life, now more than ever an artist needs to find a habitat, a place where you don't owe anyone anything, and no one owes you. Getting comfortable in your own skin is essential, and the U.P. and Isle Royale offers room to do that: no cell service, no internet, no newspapers, a chance to catch your breath. We rarely encounter what our original mind is like beyond the bombardment of distractions, and in wild places, you can actually watch time ripen. If you sit very still up there, the natural world begins to re-take its shape around you. I needed a place where I could go and hear myself not-think. Isle Royale is the best place I've ever found.

Where did the track "You Get Got" appear in the writing process?

"You Get Got" is one of the songs that fell out of the night sky; it didn't exist, and all at once it was there, just this unconscious remembering of living with my grandparents on the family farm in Iowa. My grandmother had recently passed away before my residency, and being alone up there called to mind all the slow times we had on the farm in Iowa, at night me standing outside their bedroom door and writing down the beautiful, strange, hilarious and touching things they would talk about in bed after 64 years of marriage. The song came along in the middle of my time in Isle Royale, and I felt like I could start with the things they would say to each other, and then launch off into the politics of division that have consumed us, and the feeling of hopelessness many people feel about how to change their lives. In the end, it's true we are captains of very little, and how we spend our attention and our love matters most.

What can you tell me about the actual tracking of the song?

"You Get Got" was a wheel-house song for the band I assembled for the record; every one of these guys could jump aboard a Willie Nelson style waltz and find all the cracks and spaces to do something original in that classic form. We got this in one, maybe two takes. Before we started, I was thinking about how the old outlaw country guys had no trouble singing on each other's songs and records, taking verses here and there. And Erik Koskinen is one of my favorite singers and guitar players, so I asked him to take the third verse. He said yes.

How did you go about assembling the players who'd be part of the record?

I asked my best friends in the world to all come to one place at the same time, and stay as long as we needed to get these songs captured, which ended up being only three days. I thought we'd get 10, maybe 11 songs; we got all 16. J.T. Bates is one of the musical wide-minded musicians I've ever known and an unparalleled drummer. As a producer, he knew exactly where I was coming from and where I wanted to go. Koskinen, Rossetto, and Jeremy Ylvisaker are three of the best guitar players in the world in my opinion. Darin Gray was a stranger to me but blew everyone out of the water with his playing (bass). And the icing on the cake was having guests in after the fact, Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles, Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso, Frankie Lee, Andrew Broder, Constie Brown, Phil Cook. Collectively I call them the Unarmed Forces.

Recording in Menomonie, Wisconsin also took you out of Minneapolis. Did you want that same kind of isolation you'd had in writing for the sessions?

The writing was about solitude, and the recording was about collective solitude. All I really wanted was a quiet, pretty place where everyone could eat, sleep, hang, and play together for a short time; if we hadn't tracked a record at all, it would have still been one of the best hangs imaginable. Just so happened we got down to business quickly and didn't stop.

What was it like to see the project enter a stage of completion?

Almost euphoric. We staved off all the over-thinking until the music, the mixing, and the mastering was done. The over-thinking part comes as you try to figure out how to release a record in an era where people don't buy them anymore, sometimes don't even make them (physical products). Compiling artwork, photos, and everyone's contribution was one of the most satisfying, collective experiences of my life.

Tell me a little bit about filming this video.

One snowy Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago Michael Rossetto and I stumbled in to the Eagles #34 Club in Minneapolis to see a country band we were curious about; what we didn't know is that we were walking into a time warp, dozens of older couples dressed up and dancing to live music, not a common thing anymore. The whole scene was beautiful, and utterly without pretense. When it came time to do a video for this song, it had to be at the Eagles Club, but we didn't want the experience to be canned or scripted in any way. So we asked the house band if we could do a couple of sets on their breaks, and what you see in the video is a live band playing to a live room. No actors. And the whole vibe gets back to the genesis of the song, my grandparents, and making it through this life together, intact.

We won't hear the full album until February of next year. When something comes out, something that you finished some time ago, do you go through a process of re-living it or does it take on a whole new life as people interact with it?

Both. The shows, the performances, is really where the life, the catharsis happens. The completed circuit between performer and audience. The process of introducing songs to people that they have never heard because they're brand new. And it's a perfect storm of repetition and improvisation, because it's never, ever the same way twice. We could replicate the playing on the record if we spent a month trying. And with a revolving line-up of musicians, the songs have their own life, in moments. Which is just how it should be.

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