Megafaun: The Improvisational Code
Is that why you guys decided to self-title the album?
I think that’s the only answer. I’ve come up with a bunch of them in my head because we were really fighting the self-titled thing up until the very end. Our label really pushed for it. We have pages of e-mails where all of us—and our tour manager Martin, who was also on the e-mails—were just like, “What the hell are we going to call this record?” We came up with as many lyrics from songs as we could—the things that just felt related to the album and ideas that were completely unrelated as far as their use in any lyrics. It was endless.
I think we just got to a point where we all thought that self-titling the record would be the biggest copout possible. But it just got to a point where it was like, “I think this is our most direct, simplest statement yet, and it just makes sense to call it Megafaun.” So exactly what you said is right: our songwriting is more direct now so the title of our record felt like it had to be direct too.
The album also has the potential to introduce you to a whole new audience. So for many listeners it will likely be your first album.
Absolutely, I think it was definitely a checkpoint. I feel like we’ve reached a record where we can stand behind every track and feel like we’ve definitely said something. Our other records have said something too, but this one just felt like we were closing a door on some things and opening a door to so many others.
Is it stylistically a door closer or more of a growth in maturity?
Both. It was a door closer on certain types of songs that we’ve done in the past. We’ve tried to make an album like this before but never reached this place. This felt like, “Oh, this is what we’ve been looking for, this is what I’ve been trying to do these last three times.” So in a way it’s a door closer, but it’s also a place we understand well.
We used to have this loose rule in place while recording—especially during Gather, Form & Fly —that if there were three harmonies, we’d each sing a part. Now we’re letting the lead vocalist stack his own harmonies more often, and reserving the other two voices for background parts, like “oohs” and “aahs” and stuff like that. Brad has really gotten the most mileage out of this approach. When he overdubs doubled melody parts or harmonies, his voice creates this devastatingly beautiful, fragile sound. In the past, we wanted everything to sound like the three of us singing in a room together, but lately we’ve been feeling better about letting our voices stand alone. It gives us a much wider palette to choose from, and also allows us to create an extra contour in the music, just like an extra instrument to pad things out.
We also sang at a fraction of the volume we normally do on this record. It was a conscious choice that we made the same day we started tracking vocals. It wasn’t anything we had talked about before that day, but once we started, we all got really excited and hooked on experimenting with our voices at really low volumes. We learned that when you sing at a low volume it’s easier to stay in tune, and its also allows the character of your voice to come out. Thus, there are many more subtle vocal inflections on this record. We’ve worked really hard at staying in tune with each other, and now we’re at a point where the bigger challenge is to allow our own individuality to come out in a vocal performance, take some risks, and allow our voices to just do what they do naturally.
I heard you are also working on a solo album. Can you give us a little information on that project?
There are a few projects, actually. I just went back to North Carolina for a month and recorded another record with some friends in Richmond. The other guys in Megafaun still live in Durham but I recently moved to LA where my wife went to school. Phil [Cook] and Heather had a baby so I saw the baby, and we did all sorts of stuff around North and South Carolina. So it’s been kind of a busy summer. Then I also just finished tracking a solo record this summer for Space Bomb Records, which is our friend Matt White’s label. We did Sounds of The South with him—he co-arranged all the horn parts for that project.
He has this band called Fight the Big Bull, which is a big jazz big band. It is seven people, and they all come from the university down there in Virginia. From my perspective, they are the kingpins in this deep web of jazz musicians who are keyed into the whole Richmond music scene. He’s just has this endless number of musicians that are willing to play on his records and support his record label by lending their talent. So he has this little recording studio that’s a tape-and-analog place in his attic, and his goal is to do a solo record for each member of Megafaun. What I did was I just wrote songs that were kind of coming from this funnier place, almost like an inside joke taken too far.
I’ve got this character named Grandma Sparrow that I entertain my friends with by kind of improvising songs when we’re having our hangout time. When he asked all three of us to do a record with him that was the first thing that came to my mind—to make an album of this silly poetry that’s been turned into songs and to really flesh them out. His whole thing is he just wants to be the arranger and the engineer. I had a children’s choir come and play on the record and there’s a badass rhythm section on there. It goes from orchestral, Frank Zappa-influenced songs to R & B and a bunch of silly songs that are kind of all strung together.
We’re still working on it—we still have plans to mix it in the winter, and it’ll probably be at least a year before we release it. But Space Bomb Records is definitely an exciting awesome project to be on the lookout for. They’re just doing an amazing, awesome, inspiring thing.
There is also Phil Cook & His Feat, Phil’s solo record that came out on Trekky Records last spring. It is Phil doing solo stuff just on guitar, bass drum and a tambourine rig. He wrote an album of all instrumentals that are really awesome, really beautiful and real folky.
But Megafaun is really our main focus right now. It is the quiet before the storm, if you can call it a storm [Laughter].