Michael Ferrier

Interview: Michael Ferrier of Fathom Lane on “In the Driftless”


Michael Ferrier of the band Fathom Lane photo by Darin Back

Michael Ferrier is the leader of the Minnesota band Fathom Lane, who just released a sweet, melodious and meaningful new album called In the Driftless. Americana Highways had a chance to sit down with Michael Ferrier and chat about the recent release and more.

Fathom Lane

Americana Highways: Can you tell us more about your new album In the Driftless? What do you want people to take away from it?

Michael Ferrier: Hopefully this record can be a kind of companion through the rough patches. And in better times, it can remind them that redemption happens.

In the Driftless starts with a song about pining for a distant lover, “How It Begins,” which is also about missing a half of yourself. It occurred to me that I knew the beginnings of relationships so well, but that I wasn’t very great about how they end. Also, someone had pointed out to me that even the most long-term and loving relationships ultimately end tragically. I thought about that for a long time and wrote that song with those ideas in my head. Then the last tune, “You and Me,” a Tom Petty cover, depicts two lovers who see the human flaws in themselves and each other, but still promise to be together “wherever that wind might blow.” It’s a forgiving and hopeful song, so I hope that people take that away from the whole journey. Forgiveness and redemption happens and it needs to start with ourselves.

AH: What does your album title, In the Driftless, mean to you?

MF: My family comes from the Driftless Area, our family farm is located in southeast Minnesota. It stretches into Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. It was never covered over by glaciers, so it is absent of the drift that the glaciers left in their wake and has a very unique topography for the Midwest. You drive into the area, and it’s so striking seeing the bluffs and treelined ridges, and the canyon-like river valleys. Even the plants are different than what you find elsewhere in the Midwest. I took that title because of all of the time I was spending (and Fathom Lane was performing) in the Driftless Area. I also thought it had a touch of mystery to it, the thought of being in something unmoved. We’ve shot three of our videos in the Driftless Area, too, the videos for “Sugardown” (from our second album), “Eye Oh Way,” and “Surviving.” I’m really drawn to that part of the country.

AH:  I feel like this is a significant album for you.  It sounds like you have been through some big changes. Can you elaborate on this? How has this affected the recording of your new album?

MF: Hey, we’ve all been through a lot over the last few years, so I don’t need to elaborate much on that part. But personally, on top of that I was separated and went through a divorce. So that naturally made the recording of the record a bit more disjointed and fraught. It also isolated me in a way I had never experienced, with nothing to stand in the way of me facing down some hard truths about choices I had made, and where I had ended up in life. I couldn’t hang with friends, or go hear music, see close family, there was nothing. I couldn’t see my bandmates or do any recording in the studio, or play shows, which has been so good for my soul over the years. I moved twice during that time, and ultimately moved from the city I had lived in for decades. So all of that delayed and disjointed things. That’s why it’s been so gratifying to share the music finally with other people! For me, it’s been finished for about 3 years, and I had kind of lost all perspective on it.

AH: How is this album different from your others? Do you feel you took some new chances in the studio and if so what were those?

MF: I think Matt Patrick (producer, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist) really comes into his own as our guitarist on this record. He’s just so incredibly talented, and you get to hear so many different aspects of his guitar playing on this album. He goes from ripping your face off with a solo on “The Lookout,” to complex melodic and harmonic grooves on “Eye Oh Way.” And then all the ambient gorgeousness he layers in, he can get so many awesome tones and vibes. And I’m not even bringing up everything else he brought to the album in the Producer role. I also think that we really explore the country and Cosmic American Music part of our oeuvre on this album, it has less of an indie rock vibe.

AH: You and Ashleigh Still have an amazing vocal connection. I hear fantastic harmonies between the two of you. How did you come to make music together and what do each of you bring to the studio?

MF: Well, I can tell you that we knew it right off the bat, from the first song we sang together. It was Tom Petty’s “Hope You Never,” and when we finished singing it Ashleigh said “oh wow, I love how we sing together.” And that’s what it is: we sing TOGETHER. Not with each other, simply harmonizing. We try and sing as one voice, matching breathing and phrasing. Never singing “at” each other or over each other but creating space. It’s truly a joy, and Ashleigh is so adept at hearing me and hearing my phrasing and coloring in the sound around me. Originally, I thought I was just going to hire Ashleigh to sing “backups” on a couple of songs, but once we discovered the magical way that our voices work together, we knew we had something special and she had to be in the band. In fact, when we sang together it really sparked what the band became.

AH: I enjoyed your two covers, Tom Petty’s (“You & Me”), and Minnesota transplant country rocker Mary Cutrufello’s (“Sad Songs & Waltzes Revisited”). Can you share why you covered those artists and songs?

MF: Well, like I mentioned above, Tom Petty has always been important to this band. That song that Ashleigh and I first sang together became our first single and the first track on our debut album. He really taught me to think more simply about creating music and writing songs. Why use six chords when two will do just fine? Why play ALL of the notes when one is good? That was something that was very liberating for me, having been classically trained as a performer. So when I heard “You and Me” which is from his under-appreciated album The Last DJ, I knew we had to adapt it to a duet between two characters to close the record with feelings of hope and redemption.

With the Mary Cutrufello song, that was one I discovered when I met her at a songwriters showcase. She played it, and I thought THIS SONG IS ABOUT ME! So, I asked her if we could cover it on our next record and she was excited. The line that she wrote: “I’m gonna buy me a pickup, and pick up my pieces” really resonated with me and where I was at when I heard it. It was so simple, but so empowering.

AH: You have some visually striking and beautiful music videos. Was it hard translating the songs into videos or easier than expected? How much fun was it making your music videos?

MF: Each video was really its own little nightmare to make! Just kidding. Making each of them was a blast, but truly such a unique adventure! I think our overall sound has a cinematic vibe, so that part of the process wasn’t hard. The difficulty came in deciding how literal each of the settings for the songs would be. So they range from trying to tell a larger narrative story, like “Eye Oh Way”, to simply setting a certain visual mood that fits the song, such as the video for “Laurelee.” I’ve been blessed to work with some really talented filmmakers, Josh Becker and Nathaniel Nelson, who take my crazy ideas and help craft them into something that works visually and never tell me I’m crazy. At least not to my face!

AH: Should people listen to your album from start to finish, or is there one particular song that you recommend they start with as an earworm?

MF: Picking a favorite song is like trying to pick a favorite child, it simply can’t be done! All kidding aside, I’d love for listeners to listen to the album as a whole, if possible. The artform of the long-playing album still is so relevant to me, and that’s how the album was really conceived. I understand that modern listening habits are so different than that aesthetic, but I still really try to find time to listen to albums from start to finish. If I had to pick just one tune, maybe start with “Surviving” because I think it really grabs listeners immediately

AH: What is next for Fathom Lane?

MF: Because it took so long for this album to get its release, I’m ready to start making another one right away! This album has been done for about three years, waiting for the right time. I want the next one to be out there much more quickly.

Thanks for chatting with us Michael Ferrier!  The new album by Fathom Lane is full of forgiveness and redemption, love and both vocal and musical harmonic grooves.   Find more information and tour dates for Fathom Lane here: https://www.fathomlane.com

Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Fathom Lane “In the Driftless”

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