Sometimes, things only start to come together as they’re falling apart. Such is the case with Denver’s Fairchildren.
“We played this residency at Lost Lake, and that’s how we became a band,” recalls Julie Davis of the inception of her new project. “We would play one set of jazz standards, and then we’d play a set of Bela Karoli songs.” Out of that Lost Lake residency grew a powerful band, and that band is poised to release its debut EP, “Crumbs for Flints,” on Friday at the the Ironwood Collection.
Of course, there would be no Fairchildren without Nathaniel Rateliff (or the project formerly known as the Wheel). Just as Rateliff and lifelong friend Joseph Pope finally put their successful band, Born in the Flood, to rest, Rateliff was signed to Rounder Records and began touring aggressively. His supporting band included Pope, Davis, keyboardist James Han and drummer Ben Desoto. Drumming duties were later given to Meese frontman Patrick Meese.
Born out of existing friendships, the band grew even closer while touring heavily last year. It was a wild ride for seasoned players who had always seemed to just miss the popularity boat.
“We’d be gone for a month, home for a month, gone for a month,” Davis remembers. “That went on and on.”
“You’d be home just long enough to pay your bills,” adds Pope.
But then something happened. Rateliff began to really find his foothold in Europe and his touring focused there. With the economics of touring being what they are, it didn’t make sense to send him around the world with a whole band. And so, Pope, Davis, Meese and Han found themselves back at home — a band with no leader, but with plenty of creative juice and a renewed sense of what was possible.
“We had so much knowledge, and had gained so much experience and perspective about music and music business and touring and we had this momentum,” Davis explains. “We naturally carried it into these other things, and it was so organic and joyful. It just felt like we were this family that belonged together and we were just going to play together.”
Beginning with songs that Davis had written for her previous band, Bela Karoli, the outfit quickly found a groove. Upon seeing them perform, Gregory Alan Isakov asked Fairchildren to go on tour with him. Knowing all too well the unforgiving mathematics of touring, the quartet decided to put together an EP so that they’d have merchandise to sell to cover expenses. Out of that, “Crumbs for Flints” was born.
Inspired largely by a book of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales illuminated by Polish artist Arthur Szyk, “Crumbs for Flints” gives haunting, holy voice to some of the darkest spots of imagination. Fans of Bela Karoli will recognize Davis’s languid, jazzy style, but where Bela Karoli’s heart beat with a chilly electronic regularity, Fairchildren’s has the warmth, unpredictability and wrinkles that could only come from flesh and blood. Pope plays spaced out guitar parts unlike any you might expect from his earlier work, Han adds illuminating textures and Meese drums with a musicality to which most drummers can only aspire. Meanwhile, the songwriting draws both its inspiration and its macabre mood from the old folk tales and Szyk’s intricate illustrations. It’s an arresting and compelling record that rewards listen after listen. If it has a fault, it’s simply that it’s duration — just over 15 minutes — hardly gives the listener time to settle in to its eccentric esthetic.
To get a taste of “Crumbs for Flints,” steal “Hansel and Gretel” right now. Then get yourself down to Ironwood Collection on Friday night to catch the band live and pick up a copy of the CD (with handmade artwork).
In addition to Fairchildren, Pope and Davis — romantic partners as well as musical — also started a project that puts Pope front and center. Dubbed Miss America, the band also includes Han and Joe Sampson on bass. As with Fairchildren, the project pushes its members into previously unfamiliar territory. Pope is the frontman, Davis is the drummer, Han provides vocals and Sampson plays as a co-creative member. Pope is just about to scrap the recordings of Miss America songs he has made so far, but keep your eyes and ears peeled for more coming soon.
Please note that downloads offered via Steal This Track are intended to whet your appetite, and are NOT CD-quality recordings. If you want those, please support the artists by buying their music and/or seeing them live.
If you’re a band or musician ready to expose your fresh sounds to the readers of Reverb, email your tracks — along with any interesting facts about them, as well as a photo or album art — to Eryc Eyl for consideration.
Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout for stories about Denver musicians doing extraordinary things. Against his mother’s advice, Eryc has also been known to tweet. You can also follow Steal This Track on Twitter. Sorry, Mom.