"Unfruitful" from Everything Is Saved
Making "Unfruitful" was one of the most fulfilling recording experiences I've ever had. Working on this song with Sam Kassirer at Great North Sound Society felt like living out the fantasy I had about making records when I first fell in love with recorded music. It felt like we were building a world. And now, when I listen back, I hear this beautiful cacophony of styles that somehow feels like it has its own unique DWM stamp on it.
I have a sentimental relationship to the song, in part because if there was one "breakout" moment in our career, it was the unplugged performance of 'Unfruitful" at Newport Folk Festival in 2010 (https://vimeo.com/15790261). But I really appreciated how Sam encouraged us to get away from the more conventional bluesy folk rock vibe of the live version and let the song transform into something wholly different and fresh. The recorded version sounds like we were channeling Tom Waits through a Mexo-Yiddish filter.
Here's what jumps out at me as I listen now:
-Michael Robert's Mongolian horsehead fiddle howling through the beginning of the song. Before going into the studio, we had been listening obsessively to Michael's own Nearly Lost Stars (Wooden Dinosaur) and felt fortunate to be able to incorporate so many of things we loved about his solo work into our collaboration. The wild sound of his fiddle returns on the instrumental section, sizzling over three layers of chord organ. Michael Roberts carried a lot of weight on this song, playing upright bass and electric guitar, as well.
-Cousin Jordan Wax's Klezmer-inspired piano playing and the quasi-Yiddish group singalong at the end, harkening back to his People's Republic of Klezmerica days. We recorded it all together in the kitchen at Great North Sound Society, hollering at the top of our lungs and as we joyously stomped the floor, invoking our ancestors from an old farmhouse in rural Maine.
-The Mexican elements used in an unexpected way: the jarana chugging along in a straightforward rhythm. The only percussion being Suz's jawbone, which Sam made sound like it was electrified.
-Suz and Jordan recording their double fiddle part live and together. It made the hair stick up on the back of my neck. I love when they walk down together at 2:56 and then it ends with an eerie strum of electric guitar.
-This was the first time Suz and I sang a whole song in harmony all the way through, and it felt like a revelation.
Lyrically, I was trying to create a sense of propulsion through the verses. The last line of each verse introduces a new rhyming sound, which I used to start the next couple's rhyme. I still derive a lot of pleasure from this when we sing it because it helps sustain the mood and momentum of one verse into the next.
At a fence two horses, one dappled
Came to us as to a chapel
Against your outreached hand, the grey one nuzzled
I thought of all the gas we’d guzzled
And the love that we’d kept muzzled
To reach these horses in their brown and trampled plot
Like two tightly wound knots
We watched the clouds like dark inkblots
Begin to soak their way across the sky
Sun a blackening eye
Rain churning the field into a pigsty
Car slowly filling up with shame