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Celebratory Melancholy With Fearing & White

They may have celebratory melancholy, but they're happy guys.
They may have celebratory melancholy, but they're happy guys.
Courtesy of Pigeon Row Records

Fearing & White, though sounding like a major intersection somewhere in a Metropolis’ forbidding core, is actually an intersection of a different kind. The combined ironies of it’s mashup are too lengthy to describe here: suffice to say that two guys from opposite sides of the Atlantic spent large portions of their youth less than 100 miles apart in Ireland, and are now writing music together from their homes in, you guessed it, Australia and Canada.

You were going to say that, right?

I’m the White of Fearing & White, and I play bass, 12 string and acoustic guitars.. . . . Lyrically, I think (Stephen Fearing & I) stretch each other in very interesting ways. If you’re a singer/songwriter, you’re instinctively confessional, in a way. When you have to share your experiences, and make the meaning of the song real to someone else, and not be talking about specifically your own experiences all of the time, you’ve got to find common ground between you.

“I started off (musically) when there was an acoustic revival, when The Pogues started (in the 70’s-80’s), . . . when you could play folk instruments with the attitude of punk musicians. (As kids,) Stephen was in Dublin and I was in Belfast growing up at exactly the same time, and listening to the same music. So, I think I bring a European British-pop thing to what we do, and I’ve always loved roots music.” Which is Stephen’s territory.

I interrogate the interesting fact that this is an album of two adult males singing harmony about relationships, which is fairly unusual in present music circles. Oh, sure, there a few minor players in the past, like the Beatles and the Everly Brothers (!), but currently, nobody’s really doing music this way. And both of the performers’ personal lives have undergone major upheavals since their previous album together, so they’re now experiencing life from the other side of significant personal changes. Reflecting on this, one could say it’s an album for adults.

“Pop music,” Andy (White) says, “is about teenagers falling in love, but when your whole life changes, and you’re actually living the life you were singing about when you were teenagers, (you end up with a) celebratory melancholy.”

Stephen weighs in on the subject:

“I think the idea that melancholy is often associated with loss is (too) bad. If you break it down to simple components, it’s a downer. I remember people talking about Leonard Cohen’s music, and saying ‘it’s music to slit your writs by.’ People don’t talk about him that way anymore. I think that, as the listeners have become more sophisticated (and caught up with the depth of his writing), people have realized that there’s many shades: it’s not just happy = pop = fast drum beats; that you can have a sad song that’s actually kind of happy.

“The bittersweet part is a vein that I think we really go after. And (Cohen) manages to talk about a relationship with somebody that he may have felt wasn’t necessarily good for him, but he’s able to celebrate the person he’s singing about; their follies, their blindspots (and his own), and wrap it all up. Those songs are beautiful. They’re sad but they’re not.”

Ah, these guys must be musicians! ‘They’re sad but they’re not’? Who else could say that with a straight face. Given that I’m speaking to them via speakerphone in their van, as they sit next to a coffeeshop on Glenmore Trail (following a dog’s breakfast of the obstacles that befall a travelling musician in the 21st century), I have no way of knowing the state of his face. But it sounds friendly.

We wander through a conversation about God and spirituality, and its changing roles in our lives and our music, and while both Andy and Stephen have opinions regarding these changing roles, we move onto the more pragmatic issues of collaborative music composition.

“We didn’t show up,” Stephen says, “with an agenda of ‘I’ve got an idea for a song: it’s about this, and these are the elements I want to be in it.’ Often they start with a guitar part.. . . . and (when you write 7 songs in 4 days), there’s a point where are your ideas are used up, intellectually, and you’re going straight on sounds and gut. And the sounds of words, consonants, vowel sounds. You’re trying to find a song in those sounds. And that’s when the subconscious really comes to the fore, and starts throwing things out, and you really have to get out of the way. It’s hard for 2 people to get out of the way at the same time. That’s when all these years of songwriting together really came to bear.”

Which ends up producing something like “Eighth Wonder Of The World”, which they both admit means more as a document of experiences had, than of meanings explained. Hear them try to explain it at Fish Creek Concerts, 10690 Elbow Dr., SW, April 4th. Call 403-668-4145 for details.