At a glance, the trajectory that our band Fletcher Magellan is on doesn’t seem to make sense.
Thus far, Fletch has been seasonal. We do as much music-making as we can in the late fall, winter, and early spring, and the rest of the time – while Cody and Emmalyn work in Alaska – we move on to our other pursuits. This is always a challenge, as right around the time Emmalyn and Cody leave seems to be when the band really begins picking up steam. For example, we have already had to turn down multiple gigs we have been offered this coming summer. Better-paying gigs to larger crowds is the goal that bands should be working towards, isn’t it? Does it even make sense to keep this up if we aren’t going to reap the fruits of our labor?
Right now, we’re in that special place, too, where everyone is completely warmed up to each other again. We’ve re-gained the familiarity with one another that brings out the most satisfying performances. Even following a long hiatus when we come back it sounds good, but certainly not to the degree that it does now once everyone has settled in. This time last year it was the same way, especially by the time the third show in two days rolled around during our time up the North Shore. This is the best we’ve ever played, and the weather is finally getting warm, and now we’re going to stop?
To play devil’s advocate with myself, though, each member of this group has so much to offer besides playing in Fletcher Magellan. To use my own life as an example, if Cody and Emmalyn did not leave each summer, I don’t know how I would be so close to finishing grad school. Also, would our songs about nature and eschewing the white collar American dream resonate with people in the same way if our songwriter didn’t spend so much of his time in the wilderness? Balance is a topic we find that arising regularly.
The balance we try to strike lies not only in learning and rehearsing songs, booking shows, scheduling, promotion, etc. (all of which we do ourselves), but also finding time to simply hang out with one another in an unstructured fashion. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that Cody and I have had to consciously restrain ourselves from discussing band-related logistics while out at an unrelated social event. There is always more that could be done for the band, and our personal lives are so intertwined with our musical goals that there is often little separation.
Finding a balance between structured, goal-driven time and being looser and more
friendship-oriented would be a challenge even if we were a band that operated year-round, however, I do think we are further compelled by the notion that each season might be our last. The sense that we might not have a band to return to when Cody and Emmalyn come home in the fall is an added wrinkle that most other groups do not have to consider when making decisions. If we no longer had a band upon their return, the least we could do is salvage some friendships, right?
Paul DeLong, our bassist, has become quite prolific in the Twin Cities music community. One of his other bands, Kiss the Tiger, (who are excellent, and you would be well-advised to see live) are making big moves. They have played a considerable number of out-of-town dates in the brief time they have been a band, and are posed to make their First Avenue Main Room debut on May 18th, opening for the Suburbs! We are fortunate enough to be sharing a bill with them for our last gig of the season (March 24th at the 331 Club – hope to see you there!).
During our time spent in Red Wing for the inaugural (and spectacularly fun) Big Turn Music Festival, I overheard a conversation between Cody and Paul. Essentially, what transpired was Cody acknowledging to Paul that he understands that a six-seven month hiatus is a long time to keep anyone on retainer, especially someone who is already spread so thinly among the Twin Cities music community as Paul is. Who knows what might change in Paul’s life by November?
I, too, will have (if all goes according to plan) started a career as a mental health counselor before Cody and Emmalyn’s fall arrival. It is difficult to predict what challenges that transition might bring. In addition, I also play guitar with two other groups (The Honeytones and A Constant Cough). The combination of all of these keeps me plenty busy already, without a major career change thrown into the mix.
Jordan Hedlund (our drummer) makes a sizable portion of his income from playing music. It is not uncommon for him to have a gig on keyboard or bass with another group across town afternoon or early evening, and then drive to wherever we are performing for the night, change out of his dress shirt and slip into a pearl-button Western, just barely making it to soundcheck. Itis unlikely that he will be sitting on his thumbs waiting for the band to re-form as well.
Outside of Fletch, Marc Bromaghim-Oropeza, (keys and backing vocals) seems to tirelessly serve Twin Cities youth both through his day job at Project Success and involvement through his church. Marc has been the longest-running member of our band, and his contributions to both performances as well as arrangements seem irreplaceable. While not much attention gets brought to this publicly, a great number of the our quirks that break the traditional country music mold come from integrating Marc’s diverse musical sensibilities. Diverse, as in ranging from Phillip Glass to early 2000s-era pop-punk bands. If you really wanted to deconstruct some of these songs there are some extremely unexpected roots to our music you could find.
I should also mention that Emmalyn has carved out a very specific Minneapolis niche for herself at Green Garden Bakery – a youth-run, produce-based baked goods business – born out of the Heritage Park neighborhood in North Minneapolis. A rare instance to exercise both social justice advocacy and mass-production baking knowledge. In addition, we are slowly beginning to feature her on lead vocals, which is potential we have yet to fully utilize. If you make it to the 331 you’ll hear her featured on a brand new song “Fairbanks Bound,” which I hope will lead to her in the spotlight more moving forward. Those of you who have heard our cover of Lucinda Williams’ “World Without Tears” already have an idea of what you’re in for.
Though he is no longer playing pedal steel guitar with us, Ross Fellrath’s musical influence can be found all over our songs as well. In my opinion, his mark is the most noticeable on my playing, and he has been a generous mentor to me over the past couple years. Everything from what tones to use when, to how to always ensure that my guitar is balanced properly in a live sound mix can be attributed to his base of knowledge. You can find Ross on the pedal steel and Tele in Whiskey Jeff and the Beer Back Band (with the omnipresent Paul on bass, naturally), as well as flamenco recitals around the Twin Cities.
Similarly to the last time I wrote one of these blog posts (just over a year ago), we are preparing a recording that would document a certain time period in our band’s life. Before our show on the 24th, we will spend the day in the studio, laying down five new tracks that we hope will be the definitive sound of this particular iteration of the band. Cody and Emmalyn might do some vocal recording out of their canvas tent at the land they purchased outside Camp Denali, and the rest we would resume in the fall.
As of now, we all plan to pick up where we’re leaving off when Cody and Emmalyn return, but there are, as always, no guarantees from anyone. This is hard, but at the same time, those same endeavors we are each pursuing alongside our goals with Fletch are also what keeps our audience engaged with our music (which I think is true for each of us band members as well). Also, at the time of last writing Jordan was only guaranteed through a couple shows, and here we are a year later with his continued, regular involvement. I’ll take that as a promising sign.
Anyways, I really do hope that if you’re reading this you’ll make it out to the 331 on the 24th. We are at our prime right now, we’ll have new music on display, and while we hope this isn’t the case, it could be your last chance to see this version of the band. We’ll channel that tension stemming from uncertainty into the best performances in the studio and onstage that we possibly can, and it will definitely be worth your while.
Playing music with this group of individuals is one of the great joys of my life, and I hope that you’ll come celebrate that with us before we go our separate ways (for now).