Thursday, November 16, 2006
When Vetiver released their self-titled debut in 2004, the CD was heralded as a major work in a new indie music scene that was unfortunately labeled as “freak folk.” The other artists lumped into this new movement included harpist Joanna Newsom, slow-burning country folk group Brightblack Morning Light and frequent Vetiver bandmember and contributor Devendra Banhart, an eclectic singer/songwriter known for his warbly voice and intriguing childlike lyrics.
Vetiver starts off with the superb “Oh Papa,” a number with a foghorn-sounding cello and some banjo picking under lyrics about a teenager taking the family car. The album also includes “Amour Fou,” a jaunty love song co-written by Banhart, and the lovely “Angel’s Share,” which features the hazy backing vocals of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval.
Recently, new albums by “freak folk” artists have gone in interesting new directions. Brightblack’s self-titled latest found the band incorporating horns, organ, funky guitar and gospel singers into their still slow-burning sound. Meanwhile, Banhart spread out by adding psychedelic rockers like “Long Haired Child” alongside folk songs like “Queen Bee” to his sprawling Cripple Crow.
Likewise, Vetiver proves they are more than just a folk outfit with this year’s To Find Me Gone. Sure, the CD still has airy folk numbers like “No One Word.” But that song sits between the stellar space rock stomp of “You May Be Blue” and the pop psychedelia of “Idle Ties,” which floats on ukulele strums. Later on, with lyrics about gambling and fugitives, “I Know No Pardon” recalls the hippie cowboy rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Vetiver is basically musician Andy Cabic and a rotating cast of collaborators. Before moving to San Francisco in 1998, Cabic was a member of North Carolina’s Raymond Brake. “We were part of what was going on in the East Coast indie scene,” Cabic says from a tour stop in Eugene, Oregon with Vetiver. “A lot of my influences were bands like Sonic Youth and Pylon.”
After the band dissolved, Cabic moved west, where he met Banhart through a mutual friend. The two started going to movies and writing songs together. “We kind of disarm each other,” Cabic says of his musical relationship with Banhart. “He’s a really good lyricist, and I’m a pretty good arranger.”
The two have performed on one another’s albums and co-written “freak folk” staples like “At the Hop” on Banhart’s Rejoicing in the Hands and the aforementioned “Amour Fou” on Vetiver’s debut. Cabic and Banhart are also collaborating on a new project: a record label named Gnomosong. Gnomosong has already released a handful of albums, including folk collective Feather’s critically-acclaimed debut, and are preparing to put out CDs by San Francisco’s Paper Cuts and Brooklyn’s Rio en Medio.
Between Vetiver tours, Cabic is working with Banhart on the eclectic artist’s next album. “I kind of do whatever he needs me to do,” Cabic says.
Meanwhile, Cabic says his own band’s evolution from folk to spacey rock was just a matter of arranging his songs differently. He says that at Saturday’s Big Sur performance tracks from Vetiver’s debut will be re-worked to sound like they could be off of To Find Me Gone.
Cabic admits that he is drawn to the folk and rock acts of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Recently, he has been listening to a lot of folksinger Michael Hurley’s releases along with Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 album Back Home Again. Greenbaum is known for the ‘60s hit “Spirit in the Sky.”
Cabic’s Vetiver is one of 14 acts playing a two-day festival at Fernwood titled Two Days of Autumn. On Friday, the festival includes performances by electro rockers the Rubies, ‘70s-influenced songwriter Bart Davenport and San Francisco alt country group The Court & Spark.
Saturday’s nine-and-a-half-hour concert features performances by nine acts including Vetiver. The day starts with a show by Pacific Grove native and fingerstyle guitarist Matthew Baldwin. Later Saturday, alt country crooner Paula Frazer will play with her backing band Tarnation. Tarnation includes former members of Sister Double Happiness and Oranger. Closing the show will be a performance by psych-folk outfit Women and Children.
TWO DAYS OF AUTUMN takes place from Friday 8:30pm to 12:30am and Saturday from 2:30 to 11:50pm at Fernwood Bar, 24 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, Big Sur. $12.50/Friday only; $22.50/Saturday only; $32/Friday and Saturday. 667-2422. For a complete schedule, go to fernwoodbigsur.com.