UCR Interview- Debra Fotheringham of The Lower Lights

debfoThis week I caught up with local solo artist, Debra Fotheringham. Along with her solo work, she sings with the Blue Heart Revue and The Lower Lights.  

Beginning December 5, the highly acclaimed The Lower Lights Christmas returns for the seventh year, with a six-show residency at Kingsbury Hall.  I really enjoyed speaking with Debra.  

Utah Concert Review: How did you get into Music?

Debra Fotheringham: I got into music when I was around 14. I had always loved music from a young age watching live shows, that it was something that I knew I wanted to do.  My dad was a musician at one point so I grew up listening to a lot of music. So it was part genetic, and part I just gravitated towards it at a young age.

UCR: How did The Lower Lights come together?  

DF: The central figure in the whole thing is Scott Wiley.  He owns June Audio recording studios.  And most of us know him from different projects and records he’s worked on. He was the central figure that called people and had people come in.  He and a few others had the idea to do a Hymns record with some of their friends.  And so they finally made it happen and Scott invited me to come and be a part of it, and then it
morphed into The Lower Lights.  It was supposed to just be an album we were recording, but then we started playing live shows and it turned into a thing.

lower-lights

UCR: So was it a love of the holidays or holiday music that started these concerts?  Because it seems like this has become the real focal point of the band.  Am I off on saying that, or does this seem to be the case?  

DF: No, I’d say that’s a fair assessment.  I can’t remember exactly how it started, but I think we were releasing an album around Christmas time and we just decided to make it a Christmas show.  I can’t remember if that’s how it started but at some point, we decided we should do a Christmas show because we had people asking us if we were going to do one.  We had a surprising turnout at the first one, so we just started doing it every year because it was so enjoyable.

Another reason it became a thing with the band is due to the fact that there are so many people in the band that it can kind of be a logistical puzzle to get us all together and so when we have a set show like this, we’ll all be able to show up for it.  And the Christmas shows just happened to be what it turned into.

UCR: Did I hear that there were thirty or so members of this band?!

DF: (Laughs)  Yeah!  It changes depending on who shows up for each show.  It’s a pretty flexible lineup.  

UCR: So what is your role within this enormous band?  

DF: Within the band, I’m mostly just a singer.  I have arranged a couple tunes that we’ve done  but mostly it’s fun for me to just show up and sing, which is pressure off from doing my own stuff where I have to promote it all myself and write everything.  So it’s relaxing and fun to be part of a project where I just show up and sing and make music with friends.  

UCR:  So, what might people who have never see this show before, be in store for?

DF: Well, (laughing) there will be a lot of people on stage.  It’s a “get on your feet and clap” kind of thing.  There are parts of the show that are more rockin’ and parts of the show that are more contemplative.  We try to have something in it for everyone.  We make it non-denominational so everyone will feel welcome.  We just try to have a good time and celebrate the season.

UCR: This might be a difficult question, but, what is your favorite part of doing these concerts?  

DF: That is a hard question.  I think my favorite part is just being on stage with these people that I’m friends with who I love so much.  Getting to make music with them and sharing it with people that I’ve never met who are touched by it.  I’ve had some of the coolest experiences and heard some of the coolest experiences from people that share how they’ve been touched by the music.  That’s really made it special.  So that’s probably my favorite part, just the connection I get to make because of these shows.  

UCR:  Being a local artist, what is your favorite venue to play here in Utah?

DF:  That’s a difficult question.  I really liked playing the State Room.  I think my favorite venues are house concerts, to be honest.  Just playing at people’s houses for maybe fifty people.  I like it because they are there specifically to listen to you so it’s a special experience.  They’re not there to socialize but to listen to music.  Venues like that where that is the emphasis are my favorite.  Kingsbury Hall is like that.  People are there to come listen to music rather than socialize.  Of course, there is a place for that, but for me specifically, those are the venues are my favorite for me to play.    

UCR: What has been your favorite concert that you’ve attended?  

DF:  I just went to Americana Fest in Nashville.  I went to so many good concerts there that the whole experience was my favorite.  It was all day long, good show after good show.  It was sort of mind blowing.

UCR: Yeah I bet that was amazing.  Well, on a personal note, I’ve been wanting to see The Lower Lights Christmas shows for years and for one reason or another not been able to attend.  So I am very much looking forward to it this year.  

DF: Awesome.  I’m glad you can go. Hopefully, it’s a good time.

Debra is currently writing her next solo album that he anticipates being released sometime next year. You can find her previous solo work here www.debrafotheringham.com

You can also hear Debra with the band The Blue Heart Revue.  They recently released an album that Debra described as “Americana Covers”.  (Personal Note: Since this interview I have purchased this album, and have been listening to it on repeat.  I highly recommend it.)  To learn more about The Blue Heart Revue or to buy their album, click here.  

The  7th Annual Lower Lights Christmas concerts begin December 5th, with shows on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and two shows on Saturday.  Tickets are going fast and these shows are known to sell out, so be sure to get yours soon. Click here for tickets.  

Utah Concert Review will be attending the opening show on December 5th.  Look for our review of the show the following day.  

Interview: Cary Judd of the Vacationist

CJ_TVACUtah Concert Review recently caught up with Cary Judd, frontman of the Boise-based band The Vacationist. We discussed what got him into songwriting, technology, and The Vacationist.

Kevin Rolfe (Editor in Chief):
You have a lot of exciting things going on right now. But first, let’s rewind a little. When did you first begin writing songs and why?

Cary Judd:
I don’t think I ever really completed a song on my own till I was 16-17, but I wrote with bands I was in in high school as a guitarist and occasionally lyricist, though I was terrified to sing in front of anyone. I have vague memories of melodies and lyrics I would string together when I was 5 or 6 years old, though.

I think hearing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” caused some sort of neural connection, however old I was when that came out, that really made me start to think about writing.

KR:
Do you remember your first time singing in front of an audience?

CJ:
Yeah, it was at a coffee shop with my band Moz Eizley. We were a trio at the time and I had been writing a lot of songs. Our plan was to find an actual singer to be the singer. My endearingly spaced-out drummer decided to book us a show before that happened. I had been singing in practices so I was the default singer.

KR:
Those familiar with your music know you primarily as a solo artist. How would you describe The Vacationist? How is it different from your solo work?

CJ:
I would say it’s an extension of my solo work. I’m at the center of the songwriting, or at least the lyrics.

I think after a certain amount of time though you become bored with yourself and you have to rattle your own cage. After the first three albums, I started drifting towards pleasing people rather than making music I would actually listen too (i.e. the Trillions EP) and I very quickly found that I wasn’t really pleasing anyone.

I had bounced ideas off myself for about 10 years and was ready to bounce ideas off of someone who knew and understood things differently than me. I wanted to put as much into every note and sound wave as I had always put into lyrics and amplify the live presentation as well as create a visual experience.

KR:
Tell me about the other members of The Vacationist, Conor, and Sunnie. What is their contribution to the band?

CJ:
The dynamic of the band is something like this. I write and demo new songs whenever I’m at the studio and have free time. I show them to Conor and Sunnie and know immediately by their reactions if they’re making the cut. Conor comes in and does a lot with sound design as well as arranging and rearranging my initial demos. He also comes in with pieces of music that are laid out into verses, choruses, or other sections and plays them for me. I’ll get excited about certain pieces and start maniacally typing lyrics in reaction to his compositions. Then of course, there’s the other way I described above. The two of us get on the desk and start what is essentially a modern sound design/producer’s jam session.

I’ve learned so much in my collaborations with Conor. There are a lot of points on the new record where I designed sounds and played parts that were based on things he had taught me, or me asking myself, “what would Conor do here?”.

I need to learn new things to keep it fresh and collaborating with someone like him who understands sound waves on an elemental level blew the creative doors wide open again.

The sonic magic happens when the two of us are in a room together. The sonic landscape is the dividing point between “Cary Judd” and The Vacationist. It really doesn’t matter who plays what or designs a certain sound because I think there’s a certain respect between the two of us that we have faith in the other to fill in any blanks.

Several of the songs I had written and demoed out on my own and then when Conor and I had time together, he put the last few pieces in the puzzle.

A few of the songs, we created in a very stream of conscious way where we were both at the desk, one of us turning knobs to dial in a sound while the other was searching for a melody, then I go and sit behind him on the couch filling pages with words. The opening track, “The Sound”, to me is the quintessential Vacationist song in that it was created this way.

Introducing Sunnie’s input makes for a really cool wildcard. Her main function is to produce the live show with light design, but she was present in a lot of the sessions and though she’s not a veteran musician, she would find these little melodic movements that had this really cool naivety to them which to me is another theme of The Vacationist, finding wonder in a sound or line of words the way I did when I was a little kid and wanted so badly to understand what a song was “about”.

I think there are moments where some people think of it as, “Conor’s band” or as “Sunnie’s band”, depending on how they came to discover us. But when we perform live, I don’t think anyone in the room thinks of it as anything other than “a band”.

KR:
What can someone expect from one of The Vacationist’s live shows?

CJ:
My hope is that they will expect to be in some way amused, surprised, and changed. With the first album and on into the new album, there’s a certain air of innocent thinking. A lot of the message in the music is a sort of joyful view of the world that I hope will untangle the complexities that we as humans weave into a giant mess over the course of our lives.

It’s not some hippie-new-age rant, but more of a spirit of zooming out and looking at our world and existence with awe of what we know and wonder for what we don’t. Like a magic show might be for a young child.

“whoa, how’d you do that?!”

“magic…”

“…and a lot of computers.”

KR:
I’m a huge fan of Electronics and Technology in music. However, there are those out there that claim that Electronic music is not really music. TVAC uses quite a bit of both. What do you have to say in regards to the use of technology in your music?

CJ:
I don’t think the role technology plays in this band can be overstated. I know it’s common for some people to think of technology as a “cheat”.

The Beatles took criticism for multitrack recording. They weren’t all in the same room playing their songs at the same time, but rather overdubbing and layering piece by piece.

This is now the standard.

Then in the last 20 years, you hear people that don’t really know what they’re talking about, criticize synthetic instruments or “auto tuning”. These are tools to create new layers in my opinion. For me, and I’ve talked at length with Conor and Sunnie about this, if it’s a sound, it’s music.

So much of what we do is definitely dependent on the technology we have access to. I don’t have the slightest bit of remorse or shame in saying that. I have made a lot of samples we use in TVAC by recording sounds I hear when I’m out & about with my iPhone. Conor and I have even set blocks of “recording time” aside to walk around with microphones or handheld recorders, just looking for a literal pattern in the chaos that we can manipulate and make a sound we’ve never heard. A lot of the synths we make from vocal samples of the three of us talking, humming, screaming etc and I think that gives us our sound.

I don’t think people realize that technology is the one thing that makes us human. To interpret our world around us, scramble it into something new, and then simulate a future in our imaginations is its own miracle.

Imagine if Mozart was born before the invention of the instruments he composed on and for, what amazing and wonderful things would humanity have never seen?
I guarantee you if he were alive now, he’d be composing on a seaboard surrounded by computers and modern instruments.

Human’s cheated the first time a cave man figured out he could eat better if he sharpened a rock and put it on the end of a stick he could hunt with. Imagine the first tribe that actually cooked the meat they hunted by making a spark and starting a fire, huge cheaters.

Technology is the most human thing we possess.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_aNMjbieWk&feature=youtu.be

KR:
You’re about to release your 2nd album “Prime Colours/ Bright Numbers”. When do we get to hear it and what can you tell us about it?

CJ:
it’s a very happy album

KR:
So you’re not only in TVAC, you’re also running your own studio. I want to call it a recording studio, but it’s much more than that. Isn’t it?

CJ:
Anymore it’s a multimedia studio. We aren’t experts in everything, but we are fanatically curious, so we’re learning new ways to manipulate sight/sound/photography/video every day. We’ve all worked together on photo and video projects on our own and together and have learned a lot. We have at least 4 music videos in the works to coincide with songs on the new album, possibly more.

KR:
It is unknown to many outside the region, that there is a really strong music scene here along the Rocky Mountains. Why do you think that is?

CJ:
The part of the Rockies I’m familiar with is mostly Boise and Utah. I would attribute the growing scene in Boise to Eric Guilbert of Finn Riggins. He started up Treefort four or five years ago and I think that’s been the seedling that’s grown into a bustling scene here. As for Utah, I think Corry Fox, his venue, The Velour as well as events that have spun off from there. Both those guys are incredibly talented. In both cases you have an individual who saw a lack, set a goal and started taking steps that grew into amazing scenes in both places.

In Boise, there’s been a great scene for a long time. When I was living in Wyoming and would come through while on tour I always felt very welcomed, which is part of why I ended up here. Back then I was an outsider, so it’s hard to say where it was pre-Treefort (Music Festival in Boise), but every year Treefort seems to get better. I’m sure there was a learning curve the first year or two, but as a musician and observer, it seems to have this really beautiful combination of bringing in outside/national talent and weaving the local artists into the fabric of the festival. It’s exposed a lot of locals to great artists that live here.

My favorite thing that I’ve heard every time I’ve played Treefort in different bands is, “what, you guys are from Boise? I had no idea!”.

KR:
You have some very devoted fans in this state. Can the great people of Utah expect to see TVAC performing here live soon?

CJ:
Yes, we will come down to do a show when the album comes out. Utah Valley, specifically Velour has been my default home venue even though I’ve never lived there. I wouldn’t miss the chance to play these songs for the amazing people that have supported me for so long!

To hear music, see videos, and to receive updates on The Vacationist tour dates as well as the release of “Prime Colours/ Bright Numbers”, click here!