How Great Thou Art: A Fletcher Magellan guest blog

For those of you I haven’t already had the pleasure of meeting, my name is Danny Shaheen, and I play lead guitar for Fletcher Magellan. Cody was gracious enough to let me write a few words on his blog to discuss a bit of what my experience has been over the past few months. There is so much already happening (with even more left to plan), and I figured that now was as good a time as any to get some of my thoughts down on the page.

As some of you may have heard in the last couple of days, the Fletch record Became a Stranger has been finished. It has been over a five-year process, recorded in many locations, and with a whole community of musicians filling out the arrangements of these songs. I hear nods to records Cody and I share an affinity for like Muswell Hillbillies by the Kinks and ‘70s and ‘80s era Tom Waits, a trip down our friends’ musical history (i.e. Marc Bromaghim-Oropeza’s piano intro evoking Elvis’s gospel record How Great Thou Art), and some irreplicable spontaneous performances that we were lucky to capture (i.e. Cody and Cole Pulice’s saxophone and guitar interplay recorded in the basement of the old Blackbird Music shop), among many others.

Additionally, having been in as many bands with Cody over the years as I have, I notice so many features we previously experimented with (to varying degrees of success) coming to their fully realized potential on this record – the fruits of many other projects’ labor – which surely is motivation for all of us to continue trying good ideas even if we’ve hit dead ends in the past. It is similar to giving love another shot after you’ve gotten your heart broken; I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again, being committed to a project like this is more similar to being in a romantic partnership than it is different. But anyways, back to the record.

It is a kaleidoscopic sound which, in my estimation, transcends country, folk, americana, whatever you want to call it, and can only be described as Cosmic American music (which sounds exactly like you’d think it would). Somehow Cody managed to whittle five year’s worth of ideas down to a cohesive record deserving of being listened to start to finish, and actually saw the project through to its completion – an impressive feat, to be sure. I am proud to be involved with it to the extent that I was, and for my friend to finally be able to breathe easily again.

As if that wasn’t enough, though, Cody and I (in between working during the summer growing season in Alaska for him, and a jump headlong into a master’s program in mental health counseling for me) have been simultaneously honing a two-person sound that has taken on a very different feel than that of the record. The two of us have known each other since kindergarten, and have collaborated musically for over ten years, which hopefully you can hear embedded in our performances. I am lucky not only to have maintained such a friendship for the length of time that I have, but also that at this stage in the game we are still frequently surprising one another.

Each of our approaches to playing differs from the other’s – mine very much favors sounds and textures compared to his strengths as a more traditional songwriter – but through a give-and-take process I believe we’ve found a way to meet in the middle. If it weren’t for me these tunes would likely be more traditional, straightforward country songs, and if it weren’t for him I would likely be alone in my basement with a loop pedal making sound collages that I rarely share with anyone (like I was for years following the dissolution of one of our last bands). Though we’ve each been down many divergent paths, just as we likely will again in the future, it feels like the right time to make this music a priority in each of our lives together.

Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to see us play lately. We have been making the effort to get as much practice in as possible playing house parties, record stores, intimate living room performances, and traditional venues alike as we build up our endurance to go on the road for about a month to spread word of the record throughout the American South.  

I made an 11th hour decision to accompany Cody for this tour, and forgo my master’s program (I’m a little over halfway through) for awhile. I am humbled by the amount of support I have gotten from administrators and instructors at my school, as well as my employer, to take this time. I can’t help but think that all of the work that I have done thus far learning about what it takes to be a therapist has compelled me in this direction. When I thought about what I would tell a client facing a similar choice – tour or grad school – the decision seemed easy. Why couldn’t it be for me, too? Just as with the album’s completion, it will take a village to pull of this tour, and we’ll likely be calling upon your help with booking, places to stay, and must-see stops along the way.

Lastly, before we get too ahead of ourselves here, we have an album release show to play at the end of the month. We have begun to flesh out our stripped down versions of these songs with new musicians (Paul DeLong on bass, Gabriel Roy on percussion, and Victoria Carpenter on backing vocals, respectively), and will be performing January 30th at the Nicollet. I have been impressed by the malleability of these songs that work just as well as solo acoustic numbers as they do full-band arrangements. Good songwriting, regardless of the presentation, never goes out of style – and it also never hurts to have such talented, and dedicated players backing your music.

I truly do hope that many of you will come to the show to celebrate with us, purchase the record, and otherwise continue doing what you do to keep us afloat and creating. Thank you for reading, and if not before, I’ll see you on the 30th!

 

-Danny

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