Two weekends ago on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we recorded the very first Fuel/Friends Chapel Sessions in an empty stone church sanctuary, something I have been wanting to do for years now and never had the help I needed to make it happen. The Head and The Heart and Kelli Schaefer filled those colossal stone halls with a sound that was so huge that I kept feeling like I was drowning.
The Saturday afternoon before the house show, I rousted Jon, Josiah and Charity from my couch and coaxed them over to the historic Romanesque halls of the Shove Chapel on the campus of the college where I work, and they rewarded us with a profusely vivid, simple, stunning time of musical inspiration. Thanks to my wonderful friends at local Blank Tape Records, the recording gear was running.
After multiple takes of whatever felt right, three of the four songs we ended up with here are not recorded or released anywhere else, and the fourth (“Rivers and Roads”) is reinvented with the richly profound resonance of the piano instead of the fiercely-strummed acoustic guitar that we’ve previously heard. I could not be more pleased with how these turned out. Growing from the fertile feeling of comfort that filled that space, it felt more like a private songwriting session than a concert.
It was a session permeated, for me, by a flooding sense of luckiness. There were only three of us non-participants sitting in that sanctuary watching the three of them play, their instruments and voices reverberating off the old stones and the stained glass. You can hear it on these recordings, the dusty space in the air as the light streamed in. I have a strong intuition that this band is going to be significant to a much larger audience, as they have been to me and so many of you. The three of us sitting in the pews kept just looking at each other across the room; we couldn’t believe how heady it felt when the moment resonated and the chords struck and the harmonies fit like keys and locks, or fingers interlaced, or an embrace.
After the session when I hugged each of them, they were sweaty and elated — clearly electrified from the moment we all felt hanging in the air all around that Saturday. Listen.
THE HEAD AND THE HEART ::
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSIONS
In The Summertime
In its purest essence, this is a song about the certainty of love, and the undeniable beauty when you just know. Some things you just know. Josiah wrote this song in the green room in Memphis before their show with Dr. Dog last month. At the beginning of our session while we were setting up mics and cords, and the band was exploring the gorgeous setting we found ourselves in, Josiah sat down at the massive black piano that was on the stage, and started to pound out these chords, then launched into the words, “Lord, give me to the one that makes me whole…“ There is a traditional structure here that made me first think it was an old gospel or hippie-church song, but I soon realized it was all his.
It was one of the first times he had played it for his bandmates, and Jon walked over with his guitar and started feeling out the strum of the chords alongside Josiah, gauging the building ferocity as Josiah’s voice strengthened and cracked, smiling at Josiah so that his eyes crinkled. As I stood there, I could almost see the bluish-purple energy crackling between the two of them when things hit just right. Then the sad sweet song of Charity’s violin pierced across the stage as she felt out the parts where it wound and fit into this new song that they created there. When they recorded it a bit later in the session, her last notes sound like a deep cold river and make it hard to breathe.
Chasing A Ghost
This is a new song that readers first started emailing me about just in the last few weeks; the band closed the Chicago show encore with this one, a heady and molasses-sweet song with Jon on lead and the duetting “oooooh”s sweetly shading in the colors. The song has the flickering warm campfire glow of an old country lovesong, ballasted with Jon’s raspy warmth that commands notice. The lyrics detail the struggle to not fall in love with someone you’ve already kinda fallen in love with, the jumping without a rope to catch you.
There’s a point at 2:30 where everything else cuts out and Jon belts “and I am falling, falling for you…” and it shot chills up my neck, both when we recorded it and again now each time I listen to this.
From what I understand of this song, it’s an older one, based on words penned by an old friend of Josiah’s. This is the same one I have been calling “Attic Ladder” or “The Seat Beside Me” for several months now since I first heard it; I love the weight of classicism and the delicateness woven throughout it. It feels very ancient somehow, timeless. As they played this song, Jon slid behind the piano and started feeling out those little piano fills you hear in between the guitar picking, for the first time. This weekend as we listened to it, my friend Michelle pointed out that the piano cadence that Jon made up sounds like the ladder referenced in the song, the up and down.
There’s a direct contrast between “you are in the seat beside me” (I picture driving in a car, knee close enough to touch) and “you are in my dreams at night.” It is a wonderful thing when the actual aligns with the nighttime meanderings of our dreams.
There is also so much resonance in me with the line about how this is “not the last time, we are learning who we are, and what we were.” Oh, we all are. This is a song for that.
Rivers and Roads
There was a Daytrotter session once with The Tallest Man on Earth where he sang his song “I Won’t Be Found” completely on piano. The first time I heard it I literally stopped dead in my tracks, riveted. That also happened with the pendulous sadness that “For Emma” absorbs when Bon Iver plays it on piano, and it’s the same way I feel about hearing this song reinvented with Josiah on piano, and Jon and Charity crowded in closely behind him, over the building chords.
It’s an undeniably great song either way but, wow, this version has my number and stole my heart; I think the piano is my favorite instrument. The tinkly top notes on the piano towards the end (after the “rivers ’til I reach you” lyric) come from Jon leaning in over Josiah’s shoulder to plink out those shiny accents. And inbetween the tapping of toes, those harmonies on the last line of this song create one of the most chill-inducing moments of the entire session — you can hear the echo and feel, truly, like you are at church. A benediction and a blessing, a hope of paths that will continue to cross. Oh, and Charity also completely knocks it out of the park on her verse here. She leaned back and opened her chest to the heavens.
Everything was opened.
[stay tuned for the next Fuel/Friends Chapel Session, with Kelli Schaefer, sometime later next week!]