When most people hear home recording they think lofi, or something less than studio quality. Over the last 10 years the gap in quality has nearly disappeared, and with John Fahr’s new album Go North it’s not something you would notice as a listener. In fact it’s quite the opposite.
On Go North Fahr arranges beautiful soundscapes, much of which he created himself. Other than John Pinkerton on drums and Samuel Johnson contributing on cello, Fahr recorded everything else himself. Fahr’s passion for recording and arrangement was sparked with his contributions to Andy Lehman’s most recent album Badlands. He has been playing guitar with Lehman for the last 4 years.
We caught up with Fahr with some questions about the new album, and some of the stories behind it.
1) Tell me a little bit about ‘Go North’ and the story behind it.
Well I’ve been playing different roles in a few bands for the past several years in the Greenville area. During that time I had accumulated a lot of random musical ideas that were just swirling around in my head taking up space. I sort of found a grand unifying theme in “growing up, and the fear thereof” and used space travel and sea exploration as metaphors for exploring the unknown.
In that way it’s sort of a loose concept/story album, but I wanted each song to make sense on its own as well. “Go North young man” is a take off of Horace Greeley’s quote “Go west young man” regarding westward expansion in the US. “North” in this context basically refers to space: the final frontier (I was admittedly watching a ton of Star Trek while working on the album). I always kept it in the back of my mind that each song reflects a different, somewhat unrelated episode in the protagonist’s arch (so basically like an old sci-fi serial). I do realize it’s a very nerdy way to write an album.
2) Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
The Beatles, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens… what I appreciate the most is when music is emotion incarnate, but presented in a very musical way. I can academically appreciate something with a lot of movement, modulations, odd time changes, AND I can appreciate something that’s very simple and heart-felt, but my favorite artists are the ones who can weave those two concepts gracefully and earnestly.
3) What are some of your favorite parts about the music scene that you come out of? What are some things that you wish you could change about the music scene?
One thing I love about the upstate music scene is the attitude of artists around me. I have yet to play with anyone who seems overly arrogant, catty, competitive, or rude. There’s an implied camaraderie in living in an area where the music scene is still an uphill battle. Therein lies my least favorite part about the scene: the seeming lack of show attendance and excitement for new bands/artists (at least compared to nearby cities in NC and GA).
4) How did your band get started with music and producing?
Well the “band” as you hear it on Go North is basically me. My friend John Pinkerton played drums, and my friend Samuel Johnson played cello on tracks 1, 3, and 9. Everything else is me. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 14, and have picked up several other instruments along the way. I started really getting into producing while working on Andy Lehman’s last album “Badlands.” From working on the arrangement and production in studio, it flourished into a passion and ultimately gave me the confidence to record Go North in my apartment and mix it myself.
5) If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
Actually I’m pretty happy with the direction the music industry seems to be taking in terms of production. The current environment and home-recording technology make it potentially possible for a dude in his house to make something that (given enough grass-roots support) can end up on top 40 radio. Of course I would love it if top 40 radio took a few more chances on more original music.
6) Who are some of your favorite South Carolina or Regional bands to play with? What band do you think your fans should check out?
I guess the obvious answer is Andy Lehman, whom I’ve been playing with for 4 years now. I appreciate that he’s not afraid to write big pop songs completely devoid of pretension. I’ve also been working in a production capacity with a newer Greenville band called Friendship, who make the kind of fun, mind-bending pop music that it would do a lot of people good to listen to. I’ve also played quite a few shows with Sequoyah Prep School back in their active days, and I still keep in touch with West (great guy).
7) What is your Spirit Animal?
I would have to say my spirit animal is the domestic house cat–unremarkable and quiet but pretty intriguing if you’re paying attention. I actually always grew up without pets, but since moving out I have accumulated 3 cats with my girlfriend Lindsay (there are numerous lyrical mentions of both her and the cats on the album). She and our maine coon cat Wiley are actually featured on the cover (as per the idea of my brilliant artwork designer Chris Bradley).