Well. Again. OK, then. In the midst of all this South By Southwest stuff – as well as an open mic we are holding at 200 East on Friday – the Americana Fest is set to go down this weekend at the Weinberg Center. And we, believe it or not, have actually talked to pretty much all the artists set to perform (yet not Keller Williams; he’s simply too good). This week, then, we’ll be running Q’s & A’s with the ones we were lucky enough to speak with. Today, we have Chris Freeman of alt/folk Massachusetts act Parsonsfield. Among the things we discussed were the band’s name change, what we can expect from their set at the Weinberg, and what the word “Americana” means to him. They’re set to take the stage on Friday. So come play a few songs at 200 East and then walk down the street to check them out. Deal? Deal.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you guys come together and what first inspired you to start playing this kind of music?
We started in college, where we were in a folk music club. It was just an informal weekly jam session where we played old time and bluegrass music. It was mistaken as a band and we were offered to open for a friend’s band. Rather than correcting them, we took the gig and then hundreds more.
You went through a name-change, I see, and you are currently named after a town in Maine. I understand it occurred as you recorded a couple records there – do you guys get back to Parsonsfield much? Does it still hold a special place in you guys and why?
We get to go back every so often. There’s an old farmhouse up there that provides a great place to get away from everything and focus exclusively on the music we’re making. We just finished a record which we recorded partly there and partly in an abandoned Axe factory in Connecticut. It will always be a special place for us. Sometimes when I hear one of our songs, it transports me to the place and time when we recorded it. So in that sense, we get to visit quite often.
You guys are playing the festival on Friday night with the Steel Wheels and Tall Heights – are you fans of those acts as well? Are there any you’re looking forward to checking out the most?
Yes! We’re very excited to be sharing a stage with two bands that we go way back with. The second show we ever played was opening for the Steel Wheels back in 2011. We haven’t seen them since, but we have been looking forward to meeting back up with them after all these years. Tall Heights are also great friends of ours. They have a beautiful new EP that came out this past fall which has amazing textures and vocals.
Who are some of your major influences and why?
The earliest influences on our band come from the songs we played in folk music club. That’s old time Americana, like the Carter Family, Seeger and Woody. But I fell in love with that music through some of the bands that carried on that tradition and meshed it with more modern styles: The Band, Dylan, Springsteen. Levon’s grooves and the great songwriting are what I admire most about them. Finally Ray Lamontagne, The Avett Brothers, and The Low Anthem. The Avett Brothers have a radiating frenetic energy and deep emotion that I always try to harness in our performances. The Low Anthem and Ray Lamontagne create such perfect texture, which I really admire.
What does the word “Americana” mean to you?
I look at Americana as being a label that is about accessibility. As Americans, we hear the sound of a banjo and think of it as our own, although it actually comes from Africa. But that’s really what America and Americana music is – it’s a blending of all different musical traditions. You’ve got jazz, blues, Irish and Appalachian music, and bluegrass, all coming together and being presented in a way that we think of as part of our own American heritage.
Who are some of your dream collaborators and why? Conversely, has there been an artist or producer you guys have already worked with who sticks out as one of the most memorable?
Sam Kassirer has produced all of our albums thus far. He plays in Josh Ritter’s band and has produced a few Ritter albums as well as records by Lake Street Dive, Elephant Revival and more. He has shaped our sound from the traditional string band sound we began with to a much more thoughtful and experimental sound without really changing the instrumentation or our writing process. He has helped us evolve in a very organic way. I have always wanted to work with Gregory Alan Isakov. I love his albums and he seems to have great sense of subtle rhythms, which makes his quiet music shine.
Who are you listening to the most right now? Are there some names of artists we might not already know that we should know about?
There’s so much great new music out right now. I love The Barr Brothers’ new album, “Sleeping Operator.” I’m also really looking forward to a new album by Parker Milsap.
Where are some of your favorite places to play around the country and why?
I love playing out west mostly because I love the drives from venue to venue. Colorado, Montana and Wyoming are places we don’t get to often but always look forward to it.
Have you guys been to Frederick or the area (Baltimore, D.C.) before? If not, are there things you’re looking forward to checking out the most?
We played the Weinberg Center in Frederick in 2014 and are stoked about coming back!
And finally, what can we expect from your set at the Americana Fest here in Frederick?
We’re really excited about the show we have these days. It features a lot of songs from our last albums, but also a bunch from a new one that will be out this fall!