By Simon Weedn
In the contemporary indie rock world, it can be difficult to find bands with country leanings that don’t fall entirely into the country genre. However, Futurebirds from Athens, Georgia, seem to be very adept at walking the line between the two genres. Taking influence from one side and blending it with helpings of the other, the band merges the styles into a sound as incredibly unique as many legendary country rock bands that came before them. Much like The Flying Burrito Brothers, the most distinctive quality of Futurebirds sound is its heavy leanings toward a more psychedelic sound. The band’s tunes are enveloping, utilizing heavy reverb to let its instruments ring out and create a rich tapestry of sound that’s so thick you can almost lay in it like a hammock. Nonetheless, with sweeping slide guitar lines and the band’s singers’ thick Southern drawls, the country qualities of the band’s sound are clear and undeniable.
Though the band’s first LP, Hampton’s Lullaby, was a solid debut record for Futurebirds, its most recent release, 2013’s Baba Yaga, may be the most definitive recordings of the group’s sound so far. However, Futurebirds had to overcome an array of challenges and hurdles both in the studio and outside of it to get the album released, something it laments. “The whole album process was long and excruciating,” explains band member, Thomas Johnson. “The whole process took close to three years. We spent a lot of time in the studio, we demoed and tracked 25 or 30 songs, and worked that down to 15 we mixed and mastered, and ended up putting 13 on the record.” In addition to the time spent in the studio, the record was delayed by trouble finding an appropriate label to release the album, with one potential label deal falling through, before eventually finding a home on the awesome indie label, Fat Possum. While some records that take a long time to see release tend to be over done or over produced, that is simply not the case with Baba Yaga. Instead, the record is clear, focused and shows off a wealth of beautifully crafted, ornate songs which are laden with gorgeous, textural guitar playing and well-thought out, beautiful lyrics. Futurebirds’ sound is at its most dreamy and ethereal on Baba Yaga, while never floating too far off and becoming boring or drab. “A lot of the songs deal with a similar subject matter, because, as a band, it’s a shared experience that we all have,” says Thomas. “We’re getting older, distance starts existing between your friends, you lose track of people, folks start moving on with their lives, and a lot of times when you’re on the road you have to miss a lot of things. So it’s not something we tried to do, but I think we ended up writing a lot of material that was on some level, derived from those same experiences.”
From a songwriting standpoint, the band also focused heavily on stripping away some of the excess in its tunes that may have existed in earlier efforts. With a more streamlined, focused approach to the band’s song writing, and time to demo more than two-dozen songs, though it may have taken longer than they hoped, Futurebirds constructed one of the most powerful psychedelic country rock albums ever recorded, and certainly the best record so far.
Heading into 2014, the band has a good run of dates taking them across the U.S. and back, including a much anticipated show at Pappy & Harriett’s. For anybody that’s hoping to see them multiple times throughout Southern California, the band prides itself on changing things up night to night. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be the type of band that plays the same show every night,” Thomas explains. “I think for some bands it works really well, but I don’t know if we’ll ever be quite like that, we just don’t see the point in doing it that way.”
Outside of its touring plans, Futurebirds is getting set to write and record their third LP, which it is hoping will see the light of day in a much more timely manner than Baba Yaga. Beyond that, the band’s ambitions are wonderfully simple and summed up in one succinct sentence by Thomas Johnson, “We’re just taking it a day at a time and making sure we can pay our bills.” It’s that kind of simple logic that will hopefully keep Futurebirds continuing to create, develop and stay active for years to come.
Futurebirds at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com. Sun, Feb. 2. 8pm. Free.