Updated: May 16, 2020
Today we’re diving into a whole new world with Driftwood Soldier. You know, I thought I was “hip” to the folk scene, but Driftwood Soldier’s latest album release, Stay Ahead of the Wolf, showed me a completely different (and probably more accurate) side to the genre. This incredible album has a beautiful and authentic sound and feel. We were able to talk more in depth with Owen Lyman-Schmidt, vocalist and mandolin player for the band and an INCREDIBLY patient man who put up with our hectic schedules <3.
Now look, don’t do what I did with this album and listen to it while you’re at work trying to pretend you’re somewhere else. I know we all have busy schedules and Oprah has convinced us all that multi-tasking is a sign of genius...oh that’s just me? Well anyway, this album deserves much more attention than that and I wish my first listening experience could have been a more focused one. Give this album the attention it deserves. As I learned from Owen, folk music is very much about story-telling, so undivided attention is key. “That emphasis on storytelling is something we associate with many folk traditions, even if our actual musical style is harder to put in a single genre box. As the songwriter, I always say my job is to tell the story, and Bobby (Szafranski’s) job (on bass) is to make people care about it.”
“That emphasis on storytelling is something we associate with many folk traditions, even if our actual musical style is harder to put in a single genre box."
Stay Ahead of the Wolf is, as Owen puts it, “a whole mess of influences and overall unusual instrumentation.” While the foundation of the project is vocals, bass and mandolin (along with junk percussion at their feet), collaboration was key to creating this distinct and unique sound. “ On Stay Ahead of the Wolf we got to explore the full unpredictable range of that sound thanks to some incredible Philly musicians who sat in on a few tracks, including Katy Otto on drums, Eric Sherman on trumpet, Jacob Brunner on piano, and Caitlin Quigley on backing vocals. Matt Heckler also contributed some long distance fiddle and banjo. But we were careful not to lose sight of the fact that this music ultimately rests on the relationship between those two central voices, the one singing the words and Bobby's lyrical bass.”
"I see social commentary and introspection as built in by-products of telling true stories. True doesn't mean non-fiction, it just means accurate to our understanding of the world."
So, I’m sure you’re wondering: What stories are they telling? The subject of each song varies from social commentary about corporate greed and systemic racism, to more introspective and personal songs. Owen tells us, “I see social commentary and introspection as built in by-products of telling true stories. True doesn't mean non-fiction, it just means accurate to our understanding of the world. For example, I wrote a song called 'John Henry' that's on the album. There are plenty of other songs about John Henry, but most of them ignore the racist corporate greed underlying the basic premise of the story: that a black person's worth is dependent on their productivity as a worker. If I'm going to tell the story of John Henry, it's gonna reflect my understanding of the truth, which is that this economic system treats poor people of color as disposable. Likewise, there are introspective songs on this record that explore love, anger, grief, ambivalence, and irony, all reflecting my own complicated experience through various narrators and situations.
"A song resonates when you see something of your own truth in someone else's experience."
Listen to the stories yourself, then listen to them again… and then listen to them AGAIN. This album is truly a beautiful experience. It is personal but also makes you feel like you’re part of the bigger picture (for better or for worse). Owen puts it best when he tells us, “One of the reasons music is so important is because it can present something as huge and indescribable as love, or injustice in a way that's specific without being exclusive. A song resonates when you see something of your own truth in someone else's experience.”
Driftwood Soldier spent the better part of the past two years working on this album, and they’re ready for the world to hear it. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE ALBUM. And follow them on Instagram and Facebook to hear about upcoming shows!
by Kristen Levine