Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Frank Fairfield Discusses "Ingleside" and "Turn Me Loose"
Frank Fairfield released his latest, limited edition, hand-printed, self-released CD last spring on his own new record label called Ingleside Records. It is a direct, no-nonsense recording, similar to his previous recordings issued by the Tompkins Square label (2009's Frank Fairfield and 2011's Out On The Open West), filled with carefully crafted fiddle, banjo, guitar, and vocal tunes.
Fairfield is a truly unique artist driven by his unwavering pursuit in collecting, studying, performing, and paying tribute to the music that resonates deeply with him. It is his own genuine respect and enjoyment of playing and sharing this music with such deeply heartfelt admiration that shines through each of his recordings and live performances. Although he has toured with Fleet Foxes, Cass McCombs, and many others, it is in the small intimate venues where Frank's uniquely timeless performances really shine brightest.
Hit Frank up for one of the 500 copies of his new CD while he still has some for sale. You can purchase your own copy of Frank's new CD either at one of his live performances or by direct messaging him via his Facebook page (and then forwarding payment via Paypal).
In addition to his own new album, Tompkins Square has recently issued Frank's second compilation of unheard gramophone recordings from his own personal record collection called Turn Me Loose: Outsiders of Old-Time Music (his first comp for Tompkins Square was 2010's Unheard Ofs and Forgotten Abouts).
Frank Fairfield will be performing as part of this year's city-wide MusicFest NW (MFNW) in Portland, OR. He shares the bill with one of my favorite new artists, Hurray For The Riff Raff, at Bunk Bar on September 6th. Advance tickets are available on the MFNW website (included in the wristband festival-wide price packages, or $13 at the door the night of the show).
To coincide with the release of Frank's new releases and current tour schedule, I recently had the opportunity to interview Frank again (my first chat with Frank coincided with the release of 2011's Way Out West).
The Tompkins Square label released your previous recordings. Why did you decide to self-release your new album?
Frank Fairfield: Well, to be perfectly honest this whole music racket is a pretty rough way to try to scrape by a living. You’ve got to have something to sling on the side. I very hastily put this thing together on my own because I can’t afford to do it any other way. All cynicism aside, I really do hope people enjoy listening to it (despite the poor sound quality).
Can you talk about your song selection for the new album?
Frank: These songs and tunes have just been my repertoire lately.
Please discuss your process for arranging, interpreting, and recording traditional songs. What aspects do you hope to preserve and promote, and what is your approach for injecting the "you" in these songs?
Frank: There really isn’t much of any process; these are just songs and tunes I like to play. They make me feel something to play them and I hope they can make other people feel that as well. I hear that term “traditional” a lot. I’m not really sure where the boundaries of that term are.
I wouldn’t consider myself to play traditional music. I play down-home music… popular music. I don’t think there ought to be any kind of approach to playing music. I play what I like to play, in the way I see most fit.
I haven’t found that there is much to learn from playing a song for a microphone. And I don’t consider myself to be a songwriter. Every once in a while I might make a little something up though. I think there are people that view certain music as having an “old style” and think they can just jump in and play in one “style” or another. I don’t believe in “style”, music is a discipline.
I really admire your guitar, fiddle, and banjo playing. Are these instruments all equal to you? Is there one that you view as a primary? Which one would you say is newest to you and what excites you most about it?
Frank: I probably play the five-string banjo the least; I hardly ever pick it up at home just for my own amusement. When at home, for amusement I’ll work out popular songs on the guitar or play tunes on the fiddle. I probably have ended up as a fiddler primarily. I also enjoy playing plenty of other instruments, although I admit I’m far from proficient at any one.
What is your approach to singing?
Frank: I’m not much of a singer; I don’t have a clean voice. I just want to sing like a man. The singers I enjoy to listen to and I suppose have had an influence on me are the ones that can really mean a song.
Can you talk about why you decided to make this a limited edition run? When the 1st edition of 500 are sold out, will you issue a second CD edition? Will the album eventually be available digitally?
Frank: I don’t like things hanging around my neck to long. There are 500 of these and when they’re gone, they’re gone. Then I’ll record something else. My wife tells me some blogger on the Internet has already put these recordings up somewhere for free anyhow. It is a tough way to make a living.
I really admire the packaging of the CD (black CD with a bright orange paper label in the center). Can you talk about your decision/ inspiration to hand print these and design the artwork in the old 78 style?
Frank: Thanks. I just want it to look respectable. I wish I could have done a better job, but there will be time for that.
Ingleside is the name of your record label. Does the new album have a title? I have been calling it Ingleside...
Frank: Well, I don’t really think of these things as albums, so there wasn’t any name to it. Ingleside is the name I came up with for a record company, which I’m working on fully establishing. Ingleside is also the name of a town just north of the Corpus Christi Bay in Nueces and San Patricio Counties, Texas. That’s a region that much of my family had lived in since the colony days, so I feel a strong connection to it. I suppose I just thought it was a nice name.
Will you be issuing other releases on your label?
Frank: That’s the plan.
I'd like to ask you about your new compilation for Tompkins Square called Turn Me Loose. This is your second collection composed of recordings from your own personal collection.
First, can you describe why you wanted to share these recordings (regarding Turn Me Loose and your first collection, Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts, both for Tompkins Sq)?
Frank: Tompkins Square asked me if I wanted to do it, so I did. I always enjoy having people at the house to play them records of beautiful music they’ll unlikely hear elsewhere. It’s gratifying to share these things with others whether in my home or on a reissue collection.
In your selection process for the album, what is your philosophy and intentions for promoting and sharing these recordings (to purists, the curious, and a larger audience just discovering this kind of material today)?
Frank: I suppose the goal is to sequence certain selections of music in such a way that a narrative can be wound around them in the notes to get a certain point across. Honestly, I don’t think these selections best represent anything. They’re just a few examples that I thought would fit into the narrative.
You have described the recordings on Turn Me Loose as "challenging the stereotypes of Anglo-European-American vernacular music". Could you elaborate?
Frank: By “challenge the stereotypes…” I mean to rebel against the terms “Americana” and “Old Time” as genres of music. “Americana” pretty much just means there may be an acoustic guitar somewhere and “Old Time” just means Tommy Jarrell.
So, to me, this collection is about showing what Anglo-American vernacular music actually is, not a “genre”. This includes musicians from all over the country not only the southeast; instruments other than fiddle/banjo/guitar and certain musicians that don’t sound like anybody else and can’t be swept into any “genre” (Willard Hodgin, for instance).
How does this collection differ from your previous compilation, Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts? What connects the two and what sets them most apart from each other?
Frank: Well, they differ in that the Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts was only limited by vernacular music. Turn Me Loose is limited to Anglo-European-American music. The similarity would be that the narrative around both is that of attempting to demonstrate the similarities and inseparable connectedness in all peoples music rather than attempting to divide music either regionally, ethnically, socio-economically… etc. as seems to be the approach of most “Ethnomusicologist”.
What kinds of contemporary music do you listen to?
Frank: That’s kind of a tricky question. If contemporary music means rock and roll, then I suppose I hardly listen to any of it. I love to go to El Mercadito here in Los Angeles and listen to men play banjo sexto and accordion for instance. They play many polkas, redovas and schottisches that have been around for hundreds of years, but it’s not “traditional” or “old time”, it’s just popular music. That’s some contemporary music I like.
Can you share some of the artists and albums that you have been enjoying and/ or inspired by, for readers who enjoy your recordings and may want to dig into your sources of inspiration?
Frank: I seldom listen to albums. I put my records in albums though. There are many musicians that I enjoy listening to and whom I greatly admire. Craig Ventresco in San Francisco is in my opinion one of the greatest musicians that there has ever been. Tom Marion is another brilliant string player that I’ve learned a great deal from. I could name names all day, there’s a tremendous amount of great musicians out there.
What have you been listening to lately?
Frank: The last few records I’ve put on recently have been by Ezra Buzzington’s Rustic Revelers, McGinty’s Oklahoma Cowboy Band, John McKenna, Will F. Denny, Bert Shepard, Jasper Bisbee, George Sibanda, Udi Hrant, Leandro Torres, Santiago Morales, S. Poujouly & A. Marc, Mike Bernard, Duci De Kerekjarto… A little of this, a little of that.
What is next for you?
Frank: Whatever shows up.