Discover This: Stark Folk Band

From their home right in the heart of Ohio, buddies Brady Lee Burkett (vocals and guitar) and Ryan Shaffer (guitar) have been honing home-recorded music for more than two decades.

Their latest effort, with the assistance of fellow band members Davey Jurcsisn (bass) and Jeremy Malchow (drums), sees the duo launch a sound they have termed “garage opera,” which offers a nod to the rock opera of the 1970s.

Adding further intrigue is the fact that their new album, When Odysseus Wept, was recorded in a ‘one-car garage’ in Yellow Springs, a tiny town outside of Deyton – and it’s out now on Bandcamp.

The band sent us They’re Watching Us to get a taster for the album. The track, which is all about big data, opens up with swooping guitars, then drawn out trippy guitar sounds and vocals before dropping into repeated cries of “They’re watching us” as the track picks up pace. Dreamy psych-sounding rock kicks in with more repeats of “They’re watching us.” The big echoey vocals continue with a funky little guitar lick in the background behind more repeating vocals to bring the track to an energetic ending.

This song follows on from the album’s lead single People Drive Too Fast, which opens up with the sound of a slowing down train, then upbeat bluesy rock guitars and a jaunty little lick. That feeds into an opening verse of ” I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, When I get behind the wheel of a car, I turn the radio on and there’s nothing going on, And I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.”

A second verse is followed by a chorus of the drawn-out vocals “And people drive too fast for me, It’s like they’re racing on a track on TV, I just want to make it home safely.” A lively guitar solo takes over and drops into a cool verse that feeds into another brief guitar solo then another laid-back chorus. Give it a listen below:

We had a chat with Brady and Ryan to find out more. Read on below…

GR: What’s the backstory behind Stark Folk Band?

Ryan: “Brady and I connected around 1996, during our early 20s, over a mutual love of classic rock and home-town band Guided By Voices. Inspired by GBV and other home-recorders of the time like Sebadoh, Daniel Johnston, and the Bevis Frond we bought a used Tascam 4-track recorder and begin writing and recording songs in our living rooms and basements. We called the project A Landscape Yesterday and the material was eventually compiled onto a CDR compilation that we handed out to friends and a few college radio stations before moving on our separate ways.

“It was around 2007 that Stark Folk was devised. Brady sent me a tape of some rootsy-country type songs that we eventually dressed up and printed onto a hundred vinyl run. After another release in 2010 (on Old 3C Records) we added the word ‘Band’ to the name and recruited a drummer and bassist for live performances.

“The next five or so years were spent playing regionally and basically learning how to be a live band. In 2017 we began work on When Odysseus Wept, which is FINALLY scheduled to be released (vinyl + digital) in September. We’re calling it a ‘garage opera’ because it was recorded in a garage and was devised to be a classic ten-song rock album, like those of the 1970s which takes the listener on a journey. We are hoping to perform the record in its entirety sometime later in the year.”

GR: You just released People Drive Too Fast. What should people be expecting from the song?

Brady: “People can expect to hear a song that attempts to capture the growing phenomenon of surveillance and other forms of monitoring devices being used and carried out by those, whether it’s the governmentt or private companies like Facebook, that find the business of your life relevant to their mission whatever ends those may be. What does it mean to live in a ‘connected world’ yet still feel disconnected as you try to find out who you are within this so-called connection of the ‘global village?’ The internet as a place for all this to play out has been both a blessing and a curse.

“I think it’s also part of learning to understand its power and influence as a medium which is something I can proudly admit dealing with myself. The process of self-discovery, personal growth is complex and being ‘watched’ all of the time seems to clash with that massive influence that technology has reaped upon us and so quickly in many ways of peoples lives. So the song tries to take a look at those somewhat awkward experiences.

“Additionally, ideas around whether or not people even care about their privacy began to emerge and, whether or not ‘real’ privacy even exists anymore or ever did for that matter also comes out of that when I think more about it the song.”

GR: How would you describe your sound to people that haven’t listened to you yet?

Brady: “I like to hear people tell me what they think it sounds like because those answers are always different as well! But to satisfy your question, I will tell you a brief story that may give some insight into it. I had a reporter ask me this very question a while ago and my first reply was Neil Young Crazy Horse stuff to which the interviewer replied with ‘every band I interview says that Neil Young is an influence on them!’

“Ha, I thought! While that is the case there are several others which come to mind, but I would like to think that SFB sounds, or is starting to sound, like SFB as this musical adventure for us has been evolving over a couple of decades.”

GR: What influences you to write music? Any key themes or topics that you write about?

Brady: “Our inspiration comes from a multitude of influences/sources and not just music. Inspiration works in mysterious ways. Film, literature, relationships, media and of course music are always trying to work its way into the songs. Life gives you so much to sing about anyways so the trick is capturing it in whatever medium one chooses when they are inspired.

“We choose writing songs at the moment and I believe it worked with this latest effort and collaboration and I’m extremely proud of that. It takes a lot of commitment to follow through on a creative project like this so that in itself becomes part of the process and all the rest.

“You’re always having to adapt and learn about yourself in the process. Part of it is learning to pay attention to the themes that do emerge along the way and making changes by learning how to manage the ambiguities and stresses that no doubt come along with the process.”

GR: Which bands/musicians are/have been your strongest musical influences?

Both: “More than we can list here, but here are a few: Love, Spirit, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Lennon, Kinks, Jack Logan, Early GBV, Bob Dylan, Hopkins, Mike Rep, Nuggets, the Paisley Underground, early Punk, Sabbath, Floyd, Cedar, the Basement Tapes, Spindrift, Creeper Ohio, Early
Waterboys, 13th Floor Elevators, The Byrds, Country, Clark, Parsons, etc. etc..”

GR: What have you got coming up through the rest of 2019?

Brady: “2019 is rapidly coming to a close. Other than getting the record out I would like to begin working on some new material with everybody as I have a batch of new songs that need to see the light and breathe some air.”

You can follow the Stark Folk Band on Facebook, and check out their music on Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

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