Little Orange Room Sessions is a one-take, one-shot, “living-room”-style performance video series recorded in Eugene, Oregon. Each two-song session is recorded in the 125 square feet that I use for mixing, producing, and sometimes even recording entire albums. Little Orange Room Sessions grew out of my crazy love of music and mixing, a growing curiosity about film and cameras, and a deep-seated passion for performance and the art of song.
Session #7: Foxgloves
Foxgloves is the songwriting folk duo of Gregory Rawlins and Mike Surber. Their history as friends and dual front-men in the Seattle rock band Sons of Guns translates to a familiar energy onstage as they belt out and whisper their acoustic stories born out of life in the Northwest. Gregory and Mike recently took the time to answer some questions via email.
LORS: Greg, you live in La Grande, Oregon and Mike lives in Eugene. What does the writing process look like for you guys being almost 400 miles apart?
GR: We’re best friends. We rarely go a week without talking on the phone, and if we do, we manage to leave a healthy amount of silly and obscene voicemails to keep it real. In talking, music related anything is always close at hand– who we’ve seen lately, listened to, and what we’re independently working on. Between us, there are heaps of ideas– big ones, little ones, fat ones and skinny ones, and Mike knows if I’m in the mood for a saltine cracker or a full-on roasted squealer. We get some work done through sending recordings back and forth, and while there’s progress there, it isn’t until we meet up and shut out the world for a spell when things hit hyperdrive. It’s amazing to me how much we create, and the expedience by which the songs manage to reach completion. Distance brings its difficulties, though is a constant reminder of things to cherish and be grateful for.
MS: Fortunately, we both love to drive, and from one side of Oregon to the other is a gorgeous commute. We’re definitely working our way toward more and more digital file-sharing and correspondence—and our tin can/string game is strong—But it’s still rare that a month goes by without us finding an excuse to be in the same room for a couple days.
LORS: You both are also in the indie-rock band Sons of Guns which has been around for 15 years now. What’s the biggest difference in how a Foxgloves song gets written vs how a Sons of Guns song gets written?
GR: Naturally with Sons of Guns, EJ and Seth (our bassist and drummer) are present, and immediately give songs that either Mike or I spawn a signature feel and sound of the band. From there, it’s kind of sealed. For the last Sons of Guns record, as with the forthcoming, EJ and Seth (who both live in Seattle) laid down foundations of drum and bass, sent those recordings to us, and we built off those.
I suppose it’s worth writing that a big difference in the two projects has a lot to do with the intensity and volume, and the acoustic vs electric conditions. With Foxgloves, we make an effort to keep it rather stark, minimalistic and mellow. That varies a bit, and the lyrical content can get plenty dark, but we don’t click on our Lucifer2000 doom pedal to send any points home. There’s so much power in restraint, in space, and it’s taken me a very long time to recognize and embrace that. Such things are hallmarks of Foxgloves.
LORS: There is a DIY feel that Foxgloves has that works so well. The songs available on your website (otherwise known as The Cowboy Bathmat EP) were “recorded after shows in hotel rooms around the U.S.” That lo-fi kind of treatment feels so natural and right with these songs. Was that always the plan for this band? Do you have any releases or touring planned for 2020?
GR: With the loose aim to record while on that tour, I never could’ve imagined how dreamy they turned out. It was as if everyone we met along the way had got a telegram months ahead describing our intentions, then had everything prepped by the time we showed up. Access to venues after hours, hotel rooms either far removed from everyone else, or right next to the near-deaf gameshow binger who’d been living in #210 for two years with his ten cats. Solid Gold! To me, the end product (the Cowboy Bathmat EP) set this magical tone and standard for what places this project apart from others– Lowdown Sentimental 2-Star Hotel Room Folk– that’s us.
This coming year will begin with two releases– a full-length by Sons of Guns (March 13th), and next month (Jan. 18th) I release my sixth solo album,Blackjack Pennsylvania, on the newly formed Junkerdash Records out of Boise. There’ll be a handful of shows around the region in support of both, then Foxgloves is beginning to map out a sizable summer tour that will include much of what we did last summer (WA, OR, CA, ID, MT) plus a few more miles and states– recording along our merry way.
MS: The upcoming Sons of Guns album has me elated, it’s coming along so well. We get to do this fun dance of collaborating with the band, then taking duet trips for Foxgloves shows, and solo projects in-between. I’m currently releasing some singles for my solo project “Dear Mr. Henshaw” over the next few months (the first one is on Spotify now), leading up to a full Dear Mr. Henshaw album later in 2020. Our variety of projects are all of similar spirit; it’s just the result of us both wanting to write, record, and perform as much as humanly possible.
LORS: Guy Clark sings, “Some days you write the song / some days the song writes you.” Which line best describes you?
GR: Well, first I have to wrap my head around the two lines– and I’m not sure if what I’m reading is genius or bullshit. I’d say to Guy, “Which of these lines best describes you–
“You can dance, you can jive,” or “having the time of your life?”
Depending on his answer, I’d probably end up going into his bathroom and stealing his pomade.
MS: Time is a flat circle. They’re both happening simultaneously all the time. The words from this interview are probably going to become an 8-minute ballad.
LORS: Any music you’re listening to (old or new) that I should put in my ear holes? Or any good books you’re currently reading or just finished?
GR: books…Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, Freebird by Jon Raymond, Far from the Maddening Crowd by Thomas Hardy
music… C.W. Stoneking, Wire, Federale, The Dead Milkmen
MS: I can’t get enough of the band Water Liars. It’s some of my favorite songwriting in recent years. They don’t have a bad album, but I highly recommend their album Wyoming. And I just finished Jeff Tweedy’s autobiography Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) which is great. Now I’m double-fisting The Complete Book of Tying Knots and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run from the mid-1980s. They both have lots of pictures.