| Ian McFeron’s sixth album is titled “Summer Nights” and chronicles a summer of late-night soul searching. Courtesy photo
Ian McFeron’s lyrics have been said to strike a balance between mellow and edgy. What I hear when listening to his multi-faceted voice declare, “If it’s true that what don’t kill you makes you stronger, I’m gonna be a rock before too long,” is a guy who needs a good, long hug.
The Seattle singer and songwriter’s prose is often compared to that of Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams and David Gray; his original music has been described as a weave of roots-American traditions. His sixth album, “Summer Nights,” is definitely one for those who count themselves among the ever been broken hearted. He has said the album chronicles a summer of late-night soul searching by a restless individual.
McFeron takes the stage at the Sun Valley Brewery in Hailey on Sunday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. He will be joined by long-time musical partner and accompanist Alisa Milner, a Texas-style fiddler, cellist and harmony vocalist. McFeron’s responses to the emailed interview came just past presstime, but he assures he is lucky in love.
How’s the year been?
This year has been great. For the “Summer Nights” release we did our first tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland late last year, and followed that up with a two month loop of the U.S. and a bunch of summer shows and outdoor concerts in the Northwest this year. Press response to the album has been good, and that has helped us to connect with a bunch of new listeners and fans.
We try to average between 150 and 200 shows a year, so we've been on the road pretty heavy for the last several years. I feel like with all that has changed and continues to change about the music business, the live show is the one thing that has stayed constant. You set up instruments in front of a group of people, and play the music that you write for folks that want to listen. To me, there is a lot of comfort in the fact that live music is as ancient as music itself, and regardless of what new technology we have for communicating with each other or what new system is created to distribute recorded music people still have a desire to watch music happen in the flesh, and to connect with other people through music. I like that there isn't a digital replacement for that.
How’s “Summer Nights” being received?
We've had great response in the press, especially in Europe where we got the most radio play and written reviews. We were excited to get a 4-star review in the UK’s Maverick Magazine which is the UK's big Americana publication. Stateside we had a song called "I'll Come Knockin'" in rotation on a Sirius XM station called the Coffee House for most of 2011 in addition to radio play on a number of AAA and Americana stations. A couple of weeks ago we did a live performance in a radio station called KINK in Portland, OR and the webcast got picked up by a national music blog called Ear To the Ground which was exciting. We're totally independent so we're still constantly connecting with new people and letting people in the press and in the audience know about what we do, but we find that if we just keep touring, keep recording, and keep connecting sincerely and honestly with people the response has always been positive and encouraging.
Where do you access the sentiments in your latest lyrics? Have you been unlucky in love?
I don't know that I've necessarily been unlucky in love, and I consider myself a feminist and am a supporter of equal rights for all genders across the board. I guess as a songwriter I process through things in lyrical and musical form, though, and in relationships I have always loved very deeply. I guess sometimes people find themselves loving the wrong person, though, and the relationship strains and rifts. I was always trying to mend and bridge, maybe too much and eventually, if it's not right, things fall apart in a way that is intended and good.
Everyone goes through that, I guess I just took some of those abstract emotions that come with
the disappointment of some early relationships and made them more tangible by putting them into songs. I feel like I understand things better through writing, and by playing the songs for others people have said things like it was helpful for them to get inside the song and understand their own feelings better. Some of the songs that people think are relationship songs were actually written more in the midst of spiritual grappling, and some of them intentionally conflate spirituality and personal relationships. I feel like we are relationship beings both bodily and spiritually and relationships are complicated for all of us. As a songwriter I understand them through words and music and for someone that doesn't write, maybe they understand them better through someone else's writing. All that being said, I feel like “Summer Nights” was an album about letting go of some old memories—sort of a way of clearing space for what is new and unknown and intended. Sometimes the writing process brings things to light that I didn't know were still down there. Sort of like cleaning out old boxes in the basement. Sometimes you need to get rid of things to make space for new people and that's what “Summer Nights” was for me. And now I feel lucky in love!
Does all the introspection make you a good boyfriend or is that a downfall?
I don't know. I have always experienced the world strongly through intuition and emotion and sometimes trying to pack those experiences into logic and reason leaves pieces spilling outside of the box. I guess that's what attracted me to music and metaphor—they were boxes that could fit the things I sensed and felt about life into. I don't think introspection is a downfall, in that I think it's just who I am and I'm not self loathing about it. I do think that people need to find the person that is the best fit for who they really are, and sometimes that means finding a person that is quite different from you. I had relationships with people in the past that were fiery and passionate and emotional and sometimes we ended up just burning each other out. The person I'm with now is very calm and tranquil and she gets me but also knows how to communicate with me when I'm taking the turn too fast and coming off the rails a bit. And I feel like I encourage her to take more risks and not play it so safe. I think for the long term to work out, people need to work better as a couple than they do as individuals and sometimes that takes some trial and error to figure out.
Will Alisa Milner, Norman Baker and Mark Bateman be with you in your Sun Valley show?
Alisa Milner will be with me, but the other fellows will be back home. Alisa and I have been going out on the long tours—the ones that go on for months on end—as a duo and it's been a great way to spread out further, blaze new trails and get to more and more distant places. And it's fun to play the songs acoustically too. I feel like the music does different things in the duo band than with the 4-piece band. The duo is more dynamic, more song centered, and more flexible to find its shape in the moment relative to the specific audience we're playing for. That being said, it seems like right about the time I'm missing the band we're making our way home to play a season of shows with them!
Describe the type of music fan that would enjoy your show?
I've noticed that bands, speaking very generally, do tend to attract a certain type of listener. For us I've noticed that the listeners I've had a chance to get to know better are very thoughtful, often educated people that make their way through the world as much through their mind as through their heart. That being said, I've noticed that our listeners span a wide range of ages and backgrounds. I've often felt sort of honored when I get to know our listeners better because so many of them have interesting stories and have traveled and taken risks in life and done and experienced a lot of unique things. But some of these listeners are 16 years old and some are 85. I like that, though. That the things that people connect with in the music don't really have anything to do with a specific age or season of life or a "target market."
I feel like what we share with our listeners is more of an interest in allowing yourself to be moved and affected by life while staying rooted in a core identity. Allowing life to force your roots deeper rather than trying to stay sheltered from it. I guess a listener that likes words and melodies and that wants to connect with themselves and each other through song would hopefully enjoy the show. That's what I hope happens anyway.