A CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL FERRIER OF FATHOM LANE
Being in a band is one of my favorite things in the world. It has been the impetus for innumerable unique, wonderful, and trying experiences. Whenever I meet someone else in a band, I am incredibly curious about what their experience has been like. Have they ever been paid to stop talking between songs? Have they every had to pee in a Nantucket Nectar juice bottle because there wasn't time to stop at a rest stop? Have they ever had to sleep in their van in sub zero weather? Michael Ferrier of FATHOM LANE took the time to tell me what his experience has been like and luckily, it sounds like he hasn't had to pee into weird stuff. -Peter Miller
FATHOM LANE has been around since 2012. Y'all have released two records and made quite a name for yourselves. So far, what has been your favorite part of the ride?
Realizing I could do this again. I had pretty much resigned myself to being done doing this kind of music. I've been writing this stuff forever, really, songs and words. But I had been doing Electropolis for so long, playing sax and electronics, I didn't think I'd be allowed to do the singing and songing thing again. I don't know why. But, I'm finding that it makes me so happy, making Fathom Lane songs and records. Music had become a chore, or something. And this got me all turned on again.
I listened to your old project ELECTROPOLIS! It's incredible! The written description of that project drew such a contrast in my mind with FATHOM LANE. As I listened to both self-titled records back to back, I noticed that while the two projects are very different, there are some striking similarities. What creative strings do you tie between ELECTROPOLIS and FATHOM LANE? What things feel the same? What feels different?
I learned a TON about writing songs in Electropolis, even though we weren't specifically writing "songs". In that band, we made up our songs right in the moment most of the time. We just counted it off, and then whatever happened HAPPENED. It was liberating not obsessing over an idea, or working it into the ground until it lost its luster. Also, not taking the idea too seriously. Because, pretty soon there will be another idea to take its place, and it might be better or cooler or funkier, and SO WHAT?! Keep moving, keep making notes, keep listening for openings, keep listening to chances to say nothing. Edit your ideas, make them simple, make them have an impact in the MOMENT right now, and then get out of the way. That really liberated my songwriting, and new songs started coming out.
How do you folks in FATHOM LANE write your songs? Do y'all just get together, start on one drum pattern or a guitar part and go? Does someone come to the table with a full song and the rest fill it in?
For Fathom Lane I am the songwriter and the guy who picks what songs we cover. And I set the creative direction for the whole shebang, do our posters, all of it. So I am the guy bringing the songs to the band. Sometimes I have very specific ideas about how I want the parts to work, but most of the time it's a collaboration between me and the people in the band. I want them to bring themselves to each of the songs, and I work with people who are more than willing to bring their juju to what I'm showing them. And, then the songs take on a new life of their own. It's beautiful. So, I usually start with some music or a chord I like. And some nonsense syllables for a while, or one little lyric I want to base the thing around. Sometimes, a song can go from the first kernel to a full song in a few hours. That's a fun ride. Most of the time, it takes shape in fits and starts over a period of months. Some of the songs on our records were started in the 1990s, some were written right in the studio. I'm easy, I'll take a song however it wants to come to me.
What attracts you to songwriting?
There's this magic time, right after I've really settled on a song and its form, and the words, and all the little hooks and stops . . . a magic time that just feels like love. I don't know how else to describe it. I'm sure there are all sorts of chemical explanations, like adrenaline and endorphins, and all of that. But, you know what? How it feels is love. I can't stop playing the song, embodying it, teasing it out, even if my hands don't want to work anymore. I just take a little break, and then go back and do it again.
Once, when I was in a terrible rock band, I split the crotch of my pants right before playing. There was a huge hole in my pants and my undies were showing. I had to duct tape the hole shut and it looked super goofy. The tape stuck to my leg hairs and it hurt every time I moved. Then I switched pants with a friend of mine who was a lot skinnier so when we played I looked like a loaf of bread spilling over the pan. Has anything like this ever happened to you?
I am seriously wincing in pain thinking about the leg hairs thing. OUCH. My super embarrassing moment wasn't totally music related, it was sports related. I played basketball in high school, but I hardly ever got any minutes during the varsity games. One game late in the season, we were blowing out our opponent, and the pep band started chanting to put me, their fellow band geek, into the game. That was embarrassing enough, but coach then told me to go to the scorers table to check in. As I was going into the game, I pulled my warm-up top off which accidentally ALSO pulled my jersey off with it. Before realizing, and trying to look cool, I tossed my warm-up to the guy I was replacing. He then unknowingly ran to the bench with it and my jersey. So, THEN I had to run back to the bench topless to retrieve my jersey. SPORTS!
I think most of the musicians I know dream about being able to do music full time. We dream of touring, making records, having our craft affirmed by tons of adoring fans, wearing leather pants, having laser shows and shooting t-shirts out of t-shirt cannons. Do y'all dream of some of this stuff?
Of course. Busloads of groupies, yes, yes. But, more realistically, my music life has really blossomed as I've resigned myself to having already "made it". I've arrived. I can write a song I like and my friends like to play music with me. I know I want to learn new things and get better every day. I want to do that in some capacity until I die. Plus, I don't think they play videos on MTV anymore or some shit.
How do you feel about the relationship between art and commerce in the music industry? Does that relationship play a role in how y'all approach making music?
As little as we can get away with. My goal is to lose money less fast. I want to keep making records, if they sell that would be nice. I think. But either way, if I don't make music I am not healthy.
What's your favorite kids movie?
Marry, Boff, Kill- Oprah, Weird Al, Double Rainbow Guy
Hmm. Weird Al rules. I like Double Rainbow Guy's enthusiasm, for SURE. Oprah. Hmm. I had better not say or I will have some of her handlers whisk me away in the night.
If you could have your hands replaced with one inanimate object what would it be?
I'm struggling between something practical, like a knife and fork, and then something completely impractical like circa 1966 Claudia Cardinale.
What's the best show you've seen at the Cedar Cultural Center?
Laura Marling solo. I've seen dozens of shows over the years there, but that one really stands out. Just her and a guitar, which I am usually bored by. She had us from the moment she opened her mouth.