This is a piece I wrote as a guest blogger for PRX Radio Show ‘In Search of a Song’ with Jason Wilbur.
The interesting thing to me about the hour I spent getting to know Lindsay Lou and her backing band, the Flatbellys, was that I ended up feeling out of touch.
Lindsay, her songs, and the entire story of her musical upbringing almost made me feel like I was listening to an artist interview that someone locked in a trunk and forgot in an attic. I didn’t know artists really learned this way, and I didn’t know bands were still formed this way. The cynic in me wants to think the band discussed in detail to not mention “craigslist” or a terrible and embarrassing Eminem phase in 10th grade. The story is literally void of anything one might consider wholly modern, and instead favors personal, and almost dated happenstance that helped create music so free of clutter and nonsense, it ends up sounding exciting.
Lindsay mentions learning to arrange and perform harmony, which proves to be a cornerstone of the Flatbellys sound, by watching her elder family members sing Beatles songs in the round at family reunions. I didn’t know any family like this, and I certainly didn’t come from one. But, I always wanted to, but I only thought that kind of upbringing existed in film, or in parts of Appalachia. Dad putting headphones on you as a baby, older sibling teaching you a song from the radio to sing at a barbecue, meeting your musical soulmate at the open mic; It’s all here. I couldn’t believe it. But I want to believe it, and by the time I got to the 3rd musical selection from the show, I did believe it. I believed every word of it.
The easy thing to say is that Lindsay is tapping into those distant chapters of American music currently being made new again by a group like Mumford and Sons or even She and Him. That would be the lazy descriptor, but one that isn’t false, per se. A closer nod might be Nickel Creek, but without all the virtuoso noodling and scale exercises. The most accurate comparison would probably be Pokey Lafarge, but in all reality, Lindsay is occupying her own piece of real estate. The songs tend to go a bit further into the “old America” cannon, and they keep the recordings absolutely clean and free of any modern trappings, which makes me think of Pokey far more than Zooey Deschanel. It’s not rehashed history for ironies sake, and it isn’t soaking with faux heartbreak or steady kick drums. It literally feels like you are sitting in someones kitchen waiting on the beans to finish in the crock over a fire. I have no reason to assume everyone who listens to this episode is going to feel like this; I just did.
I always assumed there were artists out there who just made the cognizant decision to keep their formative years simple, and thus let it inform the art. In hindsight, it seems like a really wonderful idea. But, to have the foresight to actually make that decision at say, 14, and then keep it together and end up with the kind of band you always envisioned is an accomplishment in and of itself. Now whether or not Lindsay Lou and her band really had this sort of vintage, quaint process or not, I will never know. No one will except Lindsay and the members of the Flatbellys’. But, that’s what once made this style of music, and really music in general, so much more exciting; You met people organically, you wrote songs that kind of sounded like the things you were brought up on. You bumped along town to town picking and grinning and winning over an audience with your art, not your twitter account. Novel idea? I am to believe, and this isn’t stated in the interview, that the simplicity and purity of the way the band was formed played a big hand in how the band ended up sounding. It seems Lindsay had the most pure intentions when she began, and the music she now makes exudes that same purity; it’s just… nice.
Like I said, I ended up feeling out of touch at the end of the hour; not because I don’t get out of my house enough, but because Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys’ made me think I am probably doing things all wrong. Making my life complicated as I take steps to make it as uncomplicated as possible. Lindsay presents a more quaint life, and thus, uncomplicated songs about simple things and with hummable melody, near-constant evocative harmony, and just enough flashpoint mandolin and dobro work to appeal to someone who loves noodley bluegrass, but within arrangements and with hooks I would absolutely consider “pop”. It’s a beautiful marriage, and by spending the hour with host Jason Wilber and the band, you can get inside the music, and understand that it doesn’t always have to be so complicated. Sometimes, it can be very, very easy.