Americana Highways is hosting this album premiere stream of Farewell Friend’s album Samson. All songs on Samson were written, produced, mixed and mastered by Tom Troyer. They were recorded at Black Rabbit Audio and the Waegerle Residence in Greensboro, NC.
Musicians on Samson are Mark Byerly on lead electric, pedal steel, resonator and keys. Tom Troyer sings, performs electric and acoustic guitars on all songs, played keys on “Chasing the Glow” and synths on “Paper Airplanes.” Evan Campfield played upright bass. Caleb Baer contributed violin and viola. Tom tracked electric bass on “Dying at The Hands of Love” and Mark Byerly tracked all other electric bass. Aaron Cummings was on drums with Luke Thompson on drums for “Paper Airplanes.”
This album is some unquestionably quality songwriting, sometimes with an easy country groove, and sometimes with darker folk and even punk style inflections. “Chasing the Glow” is a little bit eclectic folk and a little bit groovy and “Birds in Flight” is a country folk number. “Dying at the Hands of Love” is shines a light on the cruel banalities of being just a number in society. Taken all together, the album is at the heart of contemporary Americana music.
We had a chance to chat with Tom Troyer. The premiere appears just beneath the interview.
Americana Highways: The album has a light, almost airy vibe. Was that a mood you were intentionally trying to curate while recording?
Tom Troyer: Some parts are intentionally that way but for me, it’s more about the low end. I emphasized the heavy bowed bass and the full, straightforward electric bass. In other places
In so far as the end needs to feel like relief I did want the listener to feel lighter by the close of the album. Ode to Geology is the most ethereal, the guitar solo made me think of the water cycle for whatever reason. For me, the sonic balance of the album is more about the layers of bass and weight working as a foundation for my vocals. It’s more about searching for an anchor than reaching for a kite. It wasn’t my intention to rely on airy or ambient elements to make the album dreamy or laid back. In past records I’ve found that I allow the bass guitar to mask the low mid-range of my voice, instead here there’s a rock-solid foundation that gives me room to let the low end of my vocals sit with a little more authority than what’s been more airy or shrill in the past.
AH: This album deals with the millennial situation. It’s nice to hear a writer try to put a voice to our generation. How do you feel the biblical narrative of Samson fits in?
TT: I hear Samson’s used sometimes as a hero in conservative evangelical circles and that’s problematic. The biblical context of Samson in the Old Testament book of Judges is one of a nation spiraling further and further away from God and out of control. Trump’s supporters see him as a Samsonian type of mans-man here to kick ass and set America back on some Godly course…and yet with a closer reading (I mean anyone who reads) one should see Samson’s story obviously as cautionary. He’s a failed prototype…a side attraction. It’s easy though to take sides against Trumpism and his evangelical supporters. For me it comes closer to biographical in that for me there have been some specific times when I felt like the kinds of promises or goals I made as a young adult faded away and I wasn’t able to be the kind of friend I meant to be because I was distracted which is another way of saying “drunk.”
AH: You grew up in the midwest, and that geography comes up pretty often in the lyrics. Did the flora and fauna of that region impact the lyrics of these songs?
TT: I grew up wanting to be some sort of paleontologist, geologist, dinosaur bone collector, or whatever. The idea of digging, peeling back layers or strata of dirt to find hidden secrets from millions of years ago was fascinating. We’d be out driving and my dad would point out that some ditch or whatever was where some unsuspecting farmer had found a Wooly Mammoth skeleton at some point. That surprise factor, the element of finding something unexpected, surprising, or even monstrous under the patterned and predictable rows of corn and soybeans has had an effect on how I view songwriting. I want to write songs that are accessible and meaningful on the surface, palatable as pulling an ear of corn from a stalk only to notice an arrowhead or tusk exposed in the dirt.
AH: What’s your favorite lyric on the record? The one you’re proudest of?
TT: “Her garden’s rows are worn by stubbing of her toes against the stones her enemies have thrown. And all her perfect edges float like cursive birds in flight and I know better than to call her mine.”
AH: Tell us about the setting where you recorded the album.
TT: In 2019, my wife and I bought and renovated a house upending my previous studio space. While everything was under construction, my in-laws graciously permitted me to set up a recording space in their living room. We recorded the bulk of the guitar, drums, and electric bass on [SAMSON] over the course of a few weeks in their living room.
So it was recorded in my wife’s family home here in Greensboro. I’ve always wanted to be in a cabin or some far away shack in the woods like Justin Vernon recording For Emma Forever Ago, this project was a chance to spend two weeks in an empty house compressing the recording process into as small a window of time as I could. I’ve always loved their house and the acoustics and wanted to record there, finally her parents were away for two weeks on a missions trip and I was able to get a drum kit in there and make some waves. I got as much of it done as possible before life got crazy and my wife and I began renovating our current home and studio.
By contrast, the final bit of audio I recorded was from a pier at Emerald Isle, the waves during the intro of Paper Airplanes…not as far as you can get from Indiana but far enough.
AH: What inspired the songs?
TT: The songs are a catalog of early childhood memories and daydreams infused with biblical narratives smashed up against the frustrations of watching family and friends lose their own faith. “Even as I hope to hold up the stories I’ve known since childhood, deploying them as if they are some kind of search light, beacon, or lighthouse, I begin to wonder out loud how far I myself have drifted from safer waters.” As I write in “Paper Airplanes,” ‘On the outside this looks like a bridge collapsing, on the inside it feels like a tempo change. Either way I hardly notice the distant shoreline for the rain and the cursing lightning,’ this album is about wanting to help others hold on to hope, but checking my own footing first.
Am I Samson? No, I’m a god-damned Donald Draper, I’m a philistine. I am one of the philistines celebrating the defeat of my enemies, unaware the man will eventually come around. I’m a mad man, at best I’m subjecting my listeners to a sketch of my father’s generation. I’m a millennial sarcastically wearing the costume of the greatest generation. I’m enjoying the sun set in what I fear to be the twilight of an empire I didn’t build and my children won’t inherit. I’m a mannequin, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I’m dabbling in the witchcraft of branding, struggling to stay on message even as the muse begins to scream like a siren and flash like a warning sign. I’m celebrating the conquest even while another enemy bangs at the gates.
AH: What’s next for you?
TT: I’m spending most of my time recording other bands in North Carolina and hope to find more people looking to record this style of music, a genre I’m either calling “lit jam” or “cinematic songwriter.” Hopefully joining up with some engineers in the area to buy a studio space and move out of my basement studio. There’s a great thing going here in Greensboro and I love feeling like my band is versatile enough to have cut tracks for almost 12 albums other than our own. I want to attract some more regional folks here to come record and soak in the scene.
As for Farewell Friend, our next record will hopefully be co-produced by our guitar player Mark Byerly and myself. (He is about to have twins.) So even as it’s likely he’ll be sitting out a few shows this year I want to see his style have more influence on the recorded versions of our music. I want to take a break from producing my own songs and let Mark work some of his magic. I have a pandemic album demoed out and ready to begin scratch recording next month. Mark just moved to the mountains so we’re going to collaborate more remotely
Here is a pre- order link: https://farewellfriendband.bandcamp.com/album/samson
Find more music coverage here: Key to the Highway: Dan Baird