I first met Andrew Brennan at Hickey Fest back in May, after watching his band Farallons play a Friday night set, the first show I caught all weekend and one of the most memorable. During the short 25-minute performance, the band offered a seasoned sound that was sometimes gentle, but not delicate, and often tough but not menacing. It was charming, with male-female vocals interplaying, but never cheeky. It set the tone for the festival.
The San Francisco-based band, only months old and on the brink of releasing its first record, played its fifth show ever that weekend with veteran ease and more chemistry than many couples share on fifth dates. If there wasn’t history behind this band, I figured there must be a story, or just some wicked talent. Turns out, there’s a combination of both behind Farallons.
Around this time last year, Andrew began recording what would be Farallons’ first EP, Outer Sun Sets, though he hadn’t assembled a band quite yet. “Besides the co-producer, Blake (Henderson), I went into the recording process alone,” he describes. “I did not yet have a band. In fact, one of the main reasons for recording the EP in the first place was so that I could form a band; it would provide the parts and sounds for the band to play.”
The first person he brought aboard was vocalist Aubrey Trinnaman. “We were buds beforehand. I had been writing tunes for years and loved Aubrey and her voice. I heard her singing with 2 excellent local bands, TaughtMe and Magic Leaves, and so I simply asked her if she’d like to sing some songs with me.” The partnership proved to be sonically lucrative, as the two artists have honed in on a sound that exists between the realms of sleepy surf rock–dreamy but not lazy–and whimsical folk, all driven by vocal parts that offer as much power on their own, in almost whispered or soaring segments, as they do harmonizing together. “We clicked right away and have been singing together ever since.”
With the help of Aubrey, his good friend Blake Henderson, who he describes as “a wizard of an engineer/producer,” and a handful of other friends and musicians, namely Nick Aives on bass, Ezra Lipp on drums and Jeremy Harris on keys and “just about every other known instrument,” Andrew molded his own demos into fully realized tracks, including “Yile Nile / Sea Urchin,” the opening track of Outer Sun Sets that we are proud to premiere on The Bay Bridged before the record is officially released tomorrow, July 3rd.
“I had been writing songs for years,” he explains, “I made demos and used those as blueprints, often coming up with new arrangements and parts as we recorded. I asked some friends, who are amongst my favorite musicians anywhere, to lend their talents where I thought they could contribute something beyond my own capabilities–which was often–and we would collaborate in the studio to come up with their parts…they enriched the album immeasurably.”
While he crafted Farallons’ sound, the outfit itself slowly came together. “As the recording took shape, I began to ask other friends to join the band. Besides Aubrey, the first was Scott Fetzer on guitar and vocals, then Sean Jones on Bass and vocals, and finally Justin Wiener on drums, which was in November 2012.”
With a solidified lineup, the band got down to practicing at Andrew’s apartment out in the Outer Sunset, a setting that became so much a part of the band’s identity that it inspired its name as well as the title of its debut record. He paints a clear picture: “I live right on the ocean, at Rivera and the Great Highway. On a clear day the crosswalk and its concrete dividers perfectly frame the Farallon Islands, so they are on my mind a lot. My band was practicing at my apartment and we often walked out to see them during rehearsals. It was an obvious choice for that reason alone.”
At face value, the connection between Farallons and the Farralon Islands is fitting enough, though as Andrew dives deeper into the name, the duality behind his band’s music begins to come into focus. “The name and place evokes for me something greater,” he offers, “I have been out to the islands, and they are simultaneously desolate and full of life, beautiful and terrifying, a hub for both white sharks and grey whales. I find these dualities, these patterns, throughout life, and am interested in that intersection. I find myself noticing it often and writing about it through my music.”
A third layer of the name Farallons is anchored to the coast. The name is also a derivative of the Spanish word for “sea cliffs,” Farallones. Though Andrew is not a West Coast native, his move from New York to California six years ago had a significant impact on the music he creates. He describes, “The spirit of the place, the community of friends, and the exposure to new art has all been integral to my own creative output, and is reflected in the sounds and words within the album.”
Farallons’ music is painted in shades of California, though not in the sunny, beach rock way often associated with the state. Its warm but dark–darker than it initially seems, darker even so with every listen. It takes its time, moving forward at its own pace, only after each electric guitar reverberation has properly rung out, and every acoustic riff has been distinguished. Its stripped back, but also layered. It holds in it the power of what makes California so attractive–its beautiful, and theres a certain ease to it–but in a more realistic way than say, The Beach Boys ever did. Its less about “Fun. Fun. Fun.” and more concerned with modern disconnects, though the fun is still there (See: “With Our Friends.”) The band still has some “Ooo-Ooo” sing-a-long moments, but it gets real where a lot of surf bands fail to.
Farallons revels in these dualities, the lightness and darkness, and highlights them in all aspects of its craft. “The artwork,” Andrew describes, “by one of my favorite artists on the planet–Nathaniel Russell–also references this idea, and for me represents the duality of patterns and the change and newness that is inherent within each new incarnation of those patterns. Of course,” he adds, “there are surf connotations as well.”
Genres in music at this point in time are somewhat of a necessary evil (the necessary part is flexible), in the sense that they can be thrown around carelessly, making the music they’re describing sound too simple (alternative rock) or other wise arbitrary (Intelligent Dance Music). While Andrew doesn’t have an issue with labeling different types of music, he, like many of his contemporaries, can’t find the right one for his band.
“I have trouble finding the label that encompasses my own band. We do have ‘surfy’ aspects to our sound–guitar tones, harmonies, occasional subject matter–and certainly folk aspects as well. So no, I do not mind being labeled any one thing; I think that those who have to write about and describe music have a hard job to do. Ultimately it would be nice to have music described more fully than in a single word or genre, and actually, that quite often happens if you care to do some research on the music that you are interested in.”
Instead he illustrates another picture for us that captures the spirit of Farallons’ music: “Certain imagery comes to mind: when you emerge from a forest to find yourself overlooking the ocean. Sometimes it is a Redwood forest that you’ve emerged from, and others a tropical rainforest. The weather might be windy and rainy, or sunny with blue skies.”
As for what listeners can expect from Outer Sun Sets, Andrew offers, “Thematically speaking, vulnerability and loss, both in terms of relationships to people and to the natural world, is present throughout the EP and much of my work.” He also gives a go and describing the sound: “Harmonies, tropical guitars, polyrhythms,” before again recalling the duality of it all: “Occasionally direct, often abstract. Mostly dark. Simple. Yeah, dichotomous. Neil Young goes highlife? My Morning Jacket hangs with Sun Kil Moon and Lord Huron?” though ultimately resigns, “I dunno. Like I said, its hard to describe music–especially your own.”
Farallons plays it record release show for Outer Sun Sets, tomorrow, July 3rd at the Rickshaw Stop along with Kacey Johansing and Assateague.
Kacey Johansing, Farallons (record release), Assateague
July 3, 2013