The Farewell Drifters have been called “the best of what’s next” by Paste Magazine and possessing of an “exuberant musical intelligence” by No Depression. On their Compass Records debut, TOMORROW FOREVER, t... more
With their acoustic instrumentation and the anthemic thrust of their songwriting, the Farewell Drifters find themselves in the midst of what’s bound to go down in the annals of popular music history as an era-defining, youthful folk-rock boom. Although they share significant common ground with their folk-rock brethren the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, the Drifters aren’t content simply to stomp, strum and sing with gusto. They bring a unique Brian Wilson-like sensibility to the movement, with intricately arranged harmonies and atmospheric, string-swathed studio shading that is newly showcased on Tomorrow Forever, the Nashville-based quartet’s fourth album and their first for their new label Compass Records.
When Zach Bevill, brothers Joshua and Clayton Britt and Dean Marold started making music together eight years ago, they aimed for the sweet spot between bluegrass and the Beach Boys’ artfully crafted, ‘60s studio pop. Their crisp, sophisticated arrangements and formidable instrumental prowess quickly made the band a crowd pleaser at multi-generational folk festivals and earned them a presence on Americana radio and Billboard’s bluegrass albums chart; their 2010 release Yellow Tag Mondays debuted at #10 and 2011’s Echo Boom debuted at #6.
But, with the release of Tomorrow Forever, the Drifters have delivered their most accomplished and fully developed album to date. The twelve songs demonstrate the band's belief in the value of pop craftsmanship, and that couldn’t be further from the rustic, Depression-era musical styles that drove the Mumfords and Avetts of the world to pick up acoustic instruments. Instead, the authenticity that matters the most to the Drifters has nothing to do with eschewing finesse or escaping technology and everything to do with being true to themselves and their musical sensibilities.
“I’ve never felt like a very raw musician, personally,” explains Zach, the band’s formally trained lead singer and rhythm guitarist. “That’s just not who I am. I think my challenge has been figuring out how to let go a little bit; how to do that creative, intricate thing that I love, while at the same time being able to let go more vocally.” Together with band mates Joshua (mandolin and harmony vocals), Clayton (lead guitar) and Dean (jazz-schooled upright bass) the new album reflects the Drifters' devotion to growth and possibility.
Collaborating with roots pop producer Neilson Hubbard (Matthew Perryman Jones, The Apache Relay, the Drifters’ 2011 Echo Boom) helped solidify the band’s sound, elevating their crystalline harmonies and acoustic foundation with gutsy electric guitar and orchestral-style drums. Clayton contributes Telecaster licks and 12-string acoustic runs, and the lion’s share of the tracks feature a standing approach to playing drum kit that studio ace Evan Hutchings developed in order to compliment the band’s intricate textures. Organ and piano parts played by Neilson and Zach help to fill out the sound, as do the ambient swells of Kris Donegan’s lap steel.
Describing the recording process Zach explains: “We allowed the studio to be more of a creative space than we ever have before, in terms of the way we view arrangements and the value we’ve always placed on them. So, instead of doing all that ahead of time, we thought we could come up with cooler stuff once we were in the studio when we had way more options. That was my favorite part of making the record. After we had cut the main tracks as a band, we took our time figuring out what else the songs needed.”
“I feel like a lot of modern albums have noise just for the sake of noise,” Josh adds. “Ours always had a point.”
Tomorrow Forever launches into that pointedness with stately, tolling chimes, a choir of unison voices and guest violinist Eamon McLoughlin’s handsome string parts amplifying the noble intentions expressed in the album-opening “Modern Age.” During “Bring ‘Em Back Around,” agitated guitar figures and a slow-building wave of distortion stoke the ferventness of the song’s plea to shake off complacency. The opening harmonies of “Brother” are both powerful and lush, and bring to mind modern indie folk bands like Fleet Foxes. The dynamics of “Neighborhoods Apart” lend both nuance and pathos to a saga of severed friendship. And album closer “Starting Over” boasts an arrangement after Brian Wilson’s own heart; the self-doubting early passages are cocooned in delicate harmonies; later a robust sing-along and sweeping strings add considerable heft to the song’s prophetic ending.
Even as they’ve upped the meticulousness of their music-making, The Drifters have reached the point in their lyric-writing where their chief aim is to translate personal struggle into anthems of communal uplift, to speak beyond the particularity of their experience and give voice to universal hopes, dreams and fears. “As we’ve written and learned over the past few years,” reflects Zach, “the parts of the songs that move us the most and seem the most true and honest, those are usually the parts that resonate with other people the most too.”
Song after song, they strive to acknowledge their coming-of-age disappointment and the specter of failure without allowing themselves to be paralyzed by it. “We’re sort of restless people,” Zach offers. “Maybe everybody’s restless. We’re always aspiring to something. We’re always in pursuit of something. If we don’t believe that whatever that is, is good and true, then we’ve got nothing.”
Josh, a self-described extreme introvert, concurs, “Without hope, I would give up. I would not be in relationships, because they’re hard. I would not go out; I would just stay home. There’s a pursuit of something there that’s powerful enough for me to keep putting myself out there.”
And when you get right down to it, putting themselves out there is exactly how the Farewell Drifters and their earnest kindred spirits throughout the folk-rock scene harness music’s power to unite fans around common desires. The Drifters also have something singular to offer: a sound that’s as richly layered as the emotional landscape it portrays, and catchy besides.
“I feel like we’re on the same trajectory we’ve always been on,” says Zach, “but now it feels like there’s a much larger audience out there that digs the kind of music that we’re making. And that gives me a lot of hope for this album.”