Our last Luce Unplugged of the summer arrives next Thursday, August 6th at 6 p.m. Our featured band will be Fellow Creatures and will be co-sponsored with local music site D.C. Music Download. The show will be the second Luce Unplugged performance for the band's frontman Sam McCormally, formerly of Ugly Purple Sweater, and he took time talk about what has and hasn't changed for him since his last show here.
Eye Level: Luce Unplugged regulars know each show's "opening act" is an art talk by staff on a work chosen by the band. Sam, when you played here before, you went above and beyond by writing a song about the SAAM artwork you picked, and I hear you're doing the same for this show. What can you tell us about it?
Sam McCormally: The song is inspired by The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation's Millennium General Assembly. The artwork is a shrine of sorts Hampton created in a rented garage out of aluminum and gold foil and a bunch of other stuff. The song is still coming together, but ultimately I think it's about the ecstatic possibilities of artistic creation.
EL: Sonically or otherwise, what did you bring with you from Ugly Purple Sweater to Fellow Creatures and what did you leave behind? How do you balance innovation with foundation?
SM: When my last band Ugly Purple Sweater ended, it seemed like an opportunity to try to head off in a new direction. And we changed a lot; I set down my acoustic guitar for a variety of keyboards and gizmos. Most importantly, in Fellow Creatures, songwriting and singing duties are shared with fastidious equality between myself and Will McKindley-Ward. But recently Will and I have been reflecting that perhaps we didn't change as much as we thought we would; I think there's a core of my songwriting and performing style that operates on intuition and that I don't really seem to have a ton of say over. It just is what it is.
EL: What can we expect from the new album? Have you prioritized recording or doing shows?
SM: The new album is completely tracked, which is very, very exciting. We enlisted the help of fellow DC musician and producer Louis Weeks (a former Luce Unplugged performer), who contributed various percussion and textures to the album and encouraged us to do the same. I think the most concrete thing I can say about the album is that it is a really carefully constructed thing; we played a lot with layer vocals and unusual guitar sounds. This year, we tried to do a lot of everything we did a couple of short tours this summer in between finishing up the album. Some people might point out that this is an inefficient way of working, and I agree.
EL: "Indie rock" has become a catchall that doesn't seem to capture the nuance of Fellow Creatures' unique sound. How would you describe the band?
SM: Well, yes, indie rock seems like a tricky term, doesn't it? What bands lumped together under the indie banner have in common seems to be about a certain musical sensibility. I think, we more or less, embody the omnivorous zeitgeist: we're a rock and roll band that traffics in electronic music, like a lot of bands these days. And we also dip into the choral thing that seems to be in vogue. As far as influences, the people who we end up talking about at rehearsal include St. Vincent, Grizzly Bear, Tom Waits, and TV on the Radio.
EL: I'm a big fan of your art direction and especially love the pearler bead portraits by Jocelyn Mackenzie. Tell me more about your visual presence and how it relates to Fellow Creatures' sound and mission.
SM: Jocelyn Mackenzie is in the band Pearl and the Beard, whose last show is in November. Jocelyn has been a musician friend of mine for many years and she told me she was starting to do art direction and design for bands and other organizations. She's a graphic designer/fashion stylist/creative weirdo par excellence, and we asked her to help us do some visual art for the band. One of the things she did was create pearler bead portraits of Will and I. And if it's not too silly, I think I'd argue they represent our band kinda perfectly: they are recognizable as faces, and also are reminiscent of childhood arts and crafts. But the color palette is unusual, and looking at them up close, it's not 100% clear why it is they register as faces: they're really pretty abstract looking.
Catch Sam and Fellow Creatures play in the Luce Foundation Center next Thursday, August 6th at 6 p.m. following a staff-led art talk on a work selected by the band.