The Daily News-Leader published an edited version of the following interview on 11/29/12. This is the complete interview by Bill Kramer, with his permission.
swallowsongs interview by Bill Kramer. Daily News-Leader
Bill: You mentioned the songs are quite different for the Findells and that also you saw them as a short story collection of sorts. Who wrote the tunes and what was the inspiration to have a bit of a departure with this concept?
I am the initial writer and lyricist, but the songs take new shape when presented to the band, thus we all contribute and can be considered songwriters. There was no conscious plan for swallowsongs to be conceptual or literary, as I find that songs usually start as subconscious meanderings, but ultimately they have to be shaped into physical form. Words have to be decided upon and structure appears in the music.
The fact that I’m an avid reader and particularly enjoy short stories I suppose helps bond this process, not so much in a narrative sense- the swallowsongs don’t particularly have a beginning, middle and end- but they seem to evoke an immediacy of time and space and are certainly driven by characters involved in specific recognizable and relatable conflicts. And, there are more literary references in this record.
Directly, Isadora, though originally inspired by the ethereal spirit of Doris Morris, who lived a primitive life in the mountains of Nelson County, derived its tone from one of my favorite stories, The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers. This was not intentional, but upon reflection I realized some intriguing parallels, not only in subject, but also in my word choice. The last verse, however, is an intentional nod to the beginning verses of Nabokov’s Pale Fire.
On a less literary note, Oh Mona is about a guy who drinks too much and comes home late only to discover he’s been locked out of his apartment by his partner. A time of reflection.
Better traces a relationship gone sour after many wonderful years. The protagonist is sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. It’s a country song, really. Very minimal, but full of emotion.
The Girl on the Bridge was inspired by a chance encounter of two lovers one night as I was crossing the Charles Bridge in Prague. This vision stayed with me for a long time and other verses were added to it while traveling over the years, one verse set in El Salvador and another in Santa Fe. This probably can be considered the original centerpiece for swallowsongs. Swallows, because they are faithful to one mate, have been traditionally used as symbolic metaphors for travelers away from home, longing to return. Many sailors traditionally have swallow tattoos. In this sense, they symbolize faithfulness and return.
The coda in the song is a poem from surrealist poet, Paul Éluard.
But not all of the songs are stories. Lenore is dedicated to the late beat poet, Lenore Kandel, who was notorious for her very frank sexual poems. It challenges extreme puritanism from a romantic point of view. “There is no place to hide from the rising tide of the sanctified who take love out of our hearts and put it the sky.”
The only song I did not create, In the Burrow, was written by a longtime friend, Greg Baker, and draws inspiration from a Kafka short story.
Bill: I'm guessing you're the driving force behind much of the new creation in terms of writing the material. Did your background in film and other forms of literate art contribute to the somewhat different approach to the music?
Absolutely. As a film teacher and filmmaker I consider movies a great storytelling medium. I believe in the power of images and tend to lean heavily toward visual metaphors and imagery, and I’m sure this influences my writing. I enjoy songwriting for its brevity- the challenge of inserting indelible images into such a small space.
Where and when was the album recorded and how did that process go? Since you indicated it was a different approach, I'm curious if the environment in the studio was different from when you've done your other projects.
Our last record, Lost in Paradise, was initially recorded in Nashville. We came home and changed a lot of it in our own studio – actually Andy’s studio (Tonemaster, or the FinHut)- here in Staunton.
We decided to do this one entirely on our own because we began to recognize that it was going to be a long labor of love. We wanted to nurture each song and add to it as necessary. We couldn’t afford to do that with the clock ticking in an expensive studio. Being comfortable in your home environment also adds to the song.
Admittedly, I’m usually one who likes to record live, impatient to move on to the next new thing, and can be satisfied with the usual imperfections of that process. Andy’s more methodical and caring. He really deserves the credit for making swallowsongs more palatable to the ear. The entire band worked hard, contributed many ideas and we all lived with these songs much longer than is usual for us. Andy describes this record as “epic.” Paul jokingly refers to it as our “Rubber Soul,” maybe because it’s our sixth record, but also because of the attention we gave it.
Bill: Was the decision to include only a couple of more rocking numbers a deliberate one or did the material just develop that way for you guys?
Many of the songs began on acoustic guitar or piano. I only knew that I wanted the song to dictate to its form. There are no pretensions of what “the Findells” are supposed to sound like. We served the songs instead of vice versa. Also, there are two wonderful female voices in the group now and I wanted to take advantage of that. I don’t consider them background singers, but great instruments. For instance, the harmonies in Isadora send shivers up my spine.
We also took the chance to stretch out musically a bit- Carl plays some upright bass and tuba, Andy adds lap steel, Sera and Lola both play keyboards and Paul’s drumming is more nuanced than ever.
And we brought in some other great players. Anna Hennessy and René DeVito on violin, Richard Adams plays some horns, Jim Harrington helps us out on accordion, as well as other friends.
But, even though swallowsongs presents a new direction here and there, we still rock hard and are just as passionate toward these songs as ever.
Bill: Can you give the full band line-up these days?
The current line-up is the same we’ve had for a little more than 10 years with the addition of Lola Mullen on vocals and keyboard and some squeeze box.
I’m on guitars and occasional keyboard.
Andy Easley is the better guitar, as well as steel guitar.
Paul Cline is the drummer.
Carl Brooks plays basses and tuba.
Sera Petras sings and plays occasional keyboard.
We all sing.
Bill: How did Anna come to be a contributor to the music? What can you tell me about her? Is she playing with the band at the Mockingbird date?
I’ve heard Anna many times with Jim Waive. She and Lola have played as a duo called the Pony Twins. We love her playing and she’s good at improvising, so we were excited when she agreed to record with us. There’s no doubt that those songs would be very different without her. She plans to join us at the Mockingbird. We look forward to that as well.
Bill: How long as the band been together to this point? It seems like you guys have been playing for eons! How has your music and approach to music changed over the years from an inside perspective?
Longevity definitely contributes to our music, symbiotically if nothing else. Musicians grow comfortable with each other. Still we try to keep it fresh by reinventing the sound as we go.
Andy and I began over 30 years ago and could probably finish one another’s musical sentences at this point. Paul has been steady for more years than I can remember. Carl and Sera now have over ten years invested. Lola joined about a year ago.
Bill: You've played the Mockingbird before - how did you guys find the vibe there?
We like the opportunity to play in a venue that focuses on the performers. That being said, we also understand that the audience is part of the performance, so we encourage and welcome response to the music. If you’re moved to dance, then do so. The Mockingbird has been good about this. We’re lucky to have such a venue in Staunton.
Bill: Do you plan on doing the whole new album in its entirety at the show? I'm assuming you'll also be doing some of the older material as well?
We will probably play the entire record, but we’ll play other stuff as well. We’ll do whatever feels right for the moment.
Bill: Finally, the Findells are an institution at this point and you've literally got fans of all ages. How does it feel to have attained this sort of "favorite sons" status among the music fans in the area?
If that’s the case, it’s an honor. It’s wonderful when you can look at the dance floor and see kids of people who have listened to us for years grooving on the music. Our shows still vary from acoustic to rough and tumble. It’s about passion. And passion exists in all ages.
But, admittedly, I would rather be recognized for the music we’ve made and are making. We work hard and love doing it. I’m ready for some new songs.
The Findells: Press
Beloved local band celebrates 30 years of high-energy shows, playful songwriting
By Bill Kramer and Maria Longley
It looked like a thin, but well orchestrated parade. To the sound of chuckles, commentary and a pattering drum riff, the Findells walked down Central Avenue, into The News Leader and headed straight to the photo studio.
It was picture time, but really it wasn't that much different than any other get-together between bandmates Allan Moyé, Andy Easley, Carl Brooks, Sera Petras and Cline. Whether they're on stage, hanging out together or posing for publicity, the Findells do what comes naturally — they entertain.
'Breaking into People's Cars'
Rock 'n' roll music has always been about having fun, first and foremost, and Staunton's own Findells have never shied away from that. In fact, they've had so much fun for so long that the band finds itself celebrating 30 years of making music together. They'll mark the milestone anniversary with a special acoustic show this Saturday at the Mockingbird.
Moyé, the band's songwriter and lead vocalist, says its history is one shared by plenty of local fans who have been to the Fins' always-upbeat shows.
"We're a band associated with fast rhythms and crowded — sometimes chaotic — dance floors," Moyé said. "We don't take breaks. We sweat. We can be loud. Things get lost."
But in keeping with the Mockingbird's format as a listening venue, the Fins plan to perform a somewhat more reflective concert that showcases their music for the upcoming anniversary show, Moyé said.
"Even acoustically, however, we do not plan to compromise the passion," Moyé said. "All music evokes response."
The Findells have earned its place in Staunton as a musical institution by performing its own original music with a delirious energy that seems unmatched in the Valley.
Moyé and Easley (guitars), the band's other founding member, have been playing together since the Findells' first rehearsal in 1979. Cline (drums and percussion) joined the band in 1993, Brooks (bass) first played with the band in 2001, and Petras (vocals, piano) joined a year later at one of the band's popular Halloween shows.
The Fins hope to reunite the original four members, which include Randy Hypes and Terry Paris, at the upcoming Mockingbird celebration, and also promise to include some surprise musical guests during the evening. Plans are being made to record the whole concert and possibly even shoot video of the show for future release.
'Take Your Dress Off, Irene'
Part of what endears the Findells to audiences is that each performance is a unique experience. Fans often describe an inability to keep still during a Findells show. The music and its ability to transport both audience and band alike are what matter to Moyé and his band mates.
Petras, who at 32 is the band's youngest and most recent member, says the 50-something Moyé is the conduit for the band's catchy energy.
"They're so high energy," said Petras, a photographer by day. "Allan — I don't know where he gets it. He knows how to bring the audience up, then down, then up again. They know how to work a crowd. We usually don't have a set list."
In fact, the Mockingbird show will be the first time Petras can recall the band ever having a pre-set song list.
For Moyé, too much planning before a show can dampen spontaneity.
"I never create a set list, because every audience is a bit different, and there's a possibility of losing a wonderful moment if I were to try to regiment the evening," he said. "For me, it's better to let the music take over. There's nothing better than when this becomes infectious and a roomful of people step outside themselves and shed their everyday lives and inhibitions."
Nathan Moore is a Staunton folk-rock singer and songwriter with his own loyal following in the Central Valley. Moore, 38, grew up listening to the Findells and says, somewhere, he still has the Findells' debut album, "The Radiators are Bleeding," on vinyl.
"The thing that's given them the staying power is that they've been true to their sound while continually reinventing themselves, so it never gets boring," Moore said. "But it also reminds you of why you love the Findells. It takes me back and pushes me forward."
'Die on the Dance Floor'
Some of the band's most memorable shows took place at the now-defunct Panama Café and during countless Halloweens at the old McCormick's restaurant in downtown Staunton.
"That became infamously legendary, as was a party in the Masonic Building, in which the floor was so full of people dancing that we were really quite frightened that the floor joists would give away," Moyé recalled. "As for most of the most notorious gigs, I'm sworn to secrecy."
Easley is proud when he hears from people who've just heard them for the first time express pleasant surprise at the level of musicianship and originality from a local band. As for longtime fans, Easley said that's a special relationship.
"I've heard people say we create a place for them to be comfortable and happy in," he said.
Fans will be glad to know that the Fins, although entering its fourth decade, aren't interested in treading water. The band remains at work on new material and plans to record a CD next year, says Moyé, an assistant professor and director of media at Mary Baldwin College.
"We figure we'll keep at it until we get rich," he quipped. "If anyone would like to put an end to the Findells, they're welcome to send us a big fat check."
"Lost in Paradise," CD
"Naked and Blue," CD
"The Radiators Are Bleeding," CD/LP
"Fast Furniture," EP
Music videos: "Helen of Troy;" "Take Your Dress off, Irene;" and "Eleven eleven."
For more information, visit findells.com
Findells to celebrate release of new album
Bill Kramer • columnist • August 14, 2008
The Findells are a longtime favorite band of folks in this area, and fans will have several chances to celebrate the release of their latest recording, "Lost in Paradise," with them.
Friday evening they'll be having a CD release party at the Baja Bean Co., and then on Aug. 28, they'll be playing Shakin' at the Station. Two days later, they'll join a host of other bands to celebrate Staunton Jams.
In their almost 25-year existence, the Findells have established themselves as an almost always guaranteed good time, a band that has as good a time as the audience — the way it ought to be.
Although they've been through more than a few mutations throughout the years, veteran guitarist/vocalist Allan Moye has good company in what is a tight present configuration of the group. Paul Cline (drums, vocals), Carl Brooks (bass, vocals), Andy Easley (guitars, trombone, vocals) and Sera Petras (vocals, piano) all shine on the new release, which combines studio cuts with live recordings.
One thing "Lost in Paradise" has is variety. There are plenty of rockers that will be sure to get fans moving, but there are also some interesting and moving ballads. This dichotomy seems to have come from the band sometimes playing in acoustic settings as an alter-ego, Bolt Swiftpace.
As Moye recently explained, having another side to the band has informed the group's music. "After a few rehearsals playing acoustically, I immediately recognized the added potential for writing some different kinds of songs. I had always wanted to try my hand at a torch ballad, so the first original Bolt-influenced song was 'The World Tonight,'" he said.
The CD is all original material, and it's a group effort, with each band member contributing to the overall sound, something that Moye is quick to point out.
"I'm the principal writer, but the songs are shaped by the band. They take on new life when we do them together," he said.
Moye's voice is balanced in both live and studio settings by that of Petras, and she has become a vital part of the Findells' new sound. "Her range and pureness of voice quality serve as good contrast to my gravel (voice). It didn't take too long to know she would be a terrific addition to the Findells," Moye said.
The group has such a long and varied history in our area that it has even influenced members in the current band, the kind of longevity that hasn't escaped Moye. "We're still honored when younger musicians say they were inspired by the Findells. Carl (Brooks) often points out that he and Paul (Cline) were big Findells fans before they started playing in the band with us."
Moye thinks that one thing that has always set the Findells apart is their own identity.
"I think whatever reputation we've garnered has a lot to do with originality. I think we're one of the first rock groups around her to thrive on our own songs," he said.
That originality and staying power has kept old fans and brought new ones into the fold.
"We've been lucky to attract a variety of listeners," Moye said. "In two weeks' time this past year, we played for a birthday party for a 60-year-old and another for a 16-year-old. Both of these people came to us because they like the Findells, and both parties were a blast."
E-mail Go! music critic Bill Kramer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview with Allan Moye conducted by Bill Kramer, music critic of the Daily News-Leader. This is for an article to promote the release of “Lost in Paradise”. See the related news item.
Here goes with the questions. I really liked the CD.
You've certainly found a balance on this CD between the Findells-danceable numbers and the Bolt Swiftpace-styled more introspective numbers. Did you purposely try to bring both personalities to the CD or is this how it tumbled out?
I'm kind of a restless soul who needs to keep things creatively fresh to maintain interest. That may explain some of the diversity in the Findells over the years and is probably one quality that has helped keep us going. I could never survive in a band that plays only covers week after week. In fact, I don't even want to play our original songs the same way from gig to gig. Thus, the fundamental idea for Relax with Bolt Swiftpace was to arrange and present the songs differently. When this thing started, I didn't know if the rest of the Findells would want to do join in, but I was pleased when they were enthusiastic about it. We added Sera during this time. After a few rehearsals playing acoustically, I immediately recognized the added potential for writing some different kinds of songs. I had always wanted to try my hand at a torch ballad, so the first original Bolt-influenced song was "The World Tonight."
But the line has blurred and The Fins are playing Bolt songs and vice versa. Essentially, I, for one, see no real difference in The Findells and Relax with Bolt Swiftpace except we play acoustically as Bolt and sometimes we sit down. But we have improved as musicians because of it, I think. Notably, Paul's diversity as a drummer has been brought to the forefront. I'm enjoying the transformation.
I'm impressed with the actual production values of the set. The live cuts stand up sonically with the studio tunes. Whoever did the mixing did a fine job. It's a very listenable CD. Did you guys collaborate on this on did one person did the final mix?
I give all the final mixing and mastering credit to Andy who spent long hours in the Finhut (our Batcave) tweaking the recordings. Of course, we laid many of the basic tracks in Nashville at SAE with our friend, Crystal Armentrout. She and her crew were a great help and I think the freedom it offered us- allowing us to spend time together crafting the songs and getting Andy out from behind the board- was invaluable. There's no doubt that the overall sound of the album began in those sessions.
The idea to include some live performances actually came later. We tried a few studio recordings of "Pauline," but they lacked the dynamics of our live performances. I'm delighted that we had the foresight to bring a recorder to our Shakin' gig and that Gary Kirby and Brian Johnson separated the live mix well enough for us to master it in the studio. Sera really rips on that song and I love the feedback Andy and I were able to get from our amps that night. Feedback has its own life. It's different every time.
Since I knew that “The World Tonght” was a bar song, it seemed natural to record ambient bar sounds in our favorite venue, The Baja Bean. It’s great when people can listen to the album and recognize themselves. You can even hear a truck pass in the background if you listen for it.
The other “live” song is “Love Like a River.” It’s an intensely personal song that begged for an intimate recording style. We simply formed a semi-circle around the mic and performed it with no overdubs or separation. It’s essentially a 2-track recording. Rick Cook’s harmonica blending with Sera’s vocal and Carl’s bowed upright bass give it just the right atmosphere.
A few of the tunes have, to put it daintily, have suggestive or provocative lyrics. How has your audience reacted to those tunes?
I'm not sure if I know what this means. I hope all of it is suggestive, really. I guess I just try to use what works in a song. I'm not trying to be provocative, but I do try to shape evocative images, and I will have to admit to being a romantic. Maybe the combination can be construed as provocative. And, the best rock 'n' roll has always balanced on a provocative edge. I’m really writing and singing about the human condition and using images to support it, sometimes metaphorically and sometimes directly. And, do admit to enjoying the playfulness of the occasional double entendre.
Are you the lead male vocalist? I notice most of band sings, but I'm guessing that's you on the lead vocals? How about guitars - who plays the leads on the tunes? They're very different on several of the cuts, but all the leads are very nicely done.
There may be irony in the fact that I probably have the worst singing voice in the band, but I'm the lead singer. Maybe it's more important to emote than to sing. It seems more vital and keeps the song naked and true. I don't know if Sera would agree with this, but in the same sense, I think she has improved as a singer since she's been with us. She's always had a wonderful voice, but now she seems to make it count more in the song. That's why I'm writing more songs for her to sing. I think our audience may be appreciative of that. It lends to the diversity. And, I like trying to project things from another, dare I say feminine, point of view.
Andy is our lead guitarist. All of the best guitar playing is his. I'm a dabbler. I use the guitar to write with and to hide behind, although I do think I've improved somewhat over the years. I love his work on this record. The distorted lap steel lead in "Naked With You" is just killer. Andy's strength lies in the fact that he listens to the song and plays appropriately, giving texture and emphasis in just the right amounts. He's given a nod to a few classic styles on this record, including Mick Ronson (David Bowie's early guitarist) on "Another Femme Fatale" and Dickey Betts on "Eleven:Eleven" , and there’s a bit of Robert Fripp in the long sustaining notes of “Take your Dress off, Irene.” He blends these well with his own indomitable style. I think a paper in D.C. once praised it as a surf-punk sort of style. But listen to "Helen of Troy." It's beautiful. I've been really lucky to play with this guy for so many years. There would be no Findells without that sound.
I'm assuming your wrote most of the tunes and lyrics? From who have you drawn inspiration to do the songs? And what musicians have been influences on you. I swear, I hear all kinds of stuff on this from the Guess Who (remember them?) to punk and even some slight reggae/ska stuff as well as good ol' rock and roll.
I'm the principal writer, but the songs are shaped by the band. They take on new life when we do them together. As for influences, that's harder to pin down to just a few sources. I'm influenced by everything. I jot notes in an ever-present notebook. The rock 'n' roll that I grew up with includes The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, Bowie, Dylan, Talking Heads, Television, the Ramones, and many from that era, although I listen to all sorts of things. For instance, I love Miles Davis, Merle Haggard, Julie London, Johnny Dowd and I'm a big Tom Waits fan. Lately, I've been listening to The National. I'll listen to anything that seems to come from a place propelled by sincere passion.
The mix of vocals is really good and the contrast with Sera's voice is unique. How did you hook up with her in the band?
I first heard Sera when she accompanied Nathan Moore on a few songs during one of his shows in town. As I said earlier, I was looking for someone to sing background for Bolt Swiftpace. I knew right away she'd be great for it. Her range and the pureness of voice quality serve as a good contrast to my gravel. It didn't take too long to know that she would be a terrific addition to the Findells as well. And…she's certainly more pleasant to look at.
Now, some general questions....
The Findells have had a long history and have been huge favorites over the years in this region, kind of like the Skip Castro band was in Charlottesville. To what to you attribute the longevity of the group in spite of line-up changes over the years. What keeps you going when you have 'day jobs', famlies, etc.?
Well, let's see. Some people play golf. Some go home and watch American Idol or The Sopranos or Weeds or play video games all night. The Findells create and play music. It's our form of expression. I can't explain it beyond that. It’s our addiction. We're honored there are people out there who want to listen and dance to it.
I really don't understand it when I run into an old friend in the grocery store who emphatically suggests "How can you still be doing that after all these years?" Are we supposed to abandon the things we love? Quite frankly, we don't look down on aged jazz musicians or country musicians or classical musicians- only rock 'n' rollers. I can't imagine not writing and playing songs. Mark Sandman of the group Morphine died on stage during one of his gigs in Rome. I can't think of a better way to go.
This is essentially what we’re singing about in "Die on the Dance Floor." I guess our hearts really do beat in 4/4 time.
The Staunton music scene has grown even more since you started. This must be exciting for you because you guys were among the first local groups to kind of kick that off. Comments?
I know we're small potatoes in a big world, but we’re still honored when younger musicians say they were inspired by The Findells.
Carl often points out that he and Paul were big Findells fans before they started playing with us. He says it was like joining his favorite band.
Still, I think whatever reputation we’ve garnered has a lot to do with originality. I think we're one of the first rock groups around here to thrive on our own songs. We did some crazy things along the way - Paul's drums ended up in the swimming pool at one hotel gig; we dressed as the Statlers (and did versions of their songs) for a memorable Halloween party at the Armory; there was an infamous cake fight at Mulligan’s, many notorious nights in the old McComick’s in Town Center; great hot, sweaty nights in the old Panama Cafe) and the reputation expands. People like good stories. But, I'd like to think that it's the music and our passion and devotion to it that really stands strong. We do this because we love it. We’ve never been a money making band- not that we wouldn’t like to be offered a check here and there.
Finally, over the years you've played to a lot of folks who undoubtedly have kept supporting you while getting new, younger fans. How does it feel to sort of be the "elder" statesmen (and woman) of the scene here while still making really live, relevant music?
We’ve been lucky to attract a variety of listeners. In two week's time this past year, we played for a birthday party for a 60-year old and another for a 16-year old. Both of these people came to us because they liked the Findells, and both parties were a blast.
There are many wonderful local acts in Staunton now- many of them playing original songs. I don’t know of a town this size that hosts so many musical choices. I do, however, wish there were more venues open to younger people. A good example of the local talent is presented at Staunton Jams. It’s a wonderful thing to see a sea of people on Beverley Street dancing beneath the stars.
We’re not foolish enough to think that the Findells’ music is for everyone- we’re only one option- but I do feel that music crosses all barriers. Everyone understands this language. We’re born with it. As we get older we seem to suppress it. People need to toss their inhibitions out the door once in a while. Get out of the house. Turn off your computers and televisions. Go hear some of these bands and have some fun. Be carried away by the rhythm, anointed in the beat.