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Destined: Feathers

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Casey Rea flies along with Brattleboro, Vermont-area folkies Feathers.

Destined: Feathers

I'm on a first name basis with Feathers, which is to say none of the group provided me with surnames. This is wholly in keeping with the band's enigmatic nature; the eight-member, Montague, Massachusetts-based collective are charmingly cryptic wunderkinds whose shambolic, trance inducing ragas brim with childlike innocence and subversive pop sensibility.

Formed two years ago by the duo Kurt and Kyle – a partnership forged during mutual record store employment – Feathers soon expanded to include an equal ratio of male and female singers and instrumentalists. A variety of noisemakers, from traditional to exotic, are employed to achieve Feathers unique tonalities. Acoustic guitars, electric bass, autoharp, "pixiephone" mountain dulcimer, toy piano, sitar, Indian banjo, recorder, violin, birdcall, hooves, "hair drum" and "shoe on stick" comprise only a partial list of Feathers' aural arsenal. The resulting sound is far less cacophonous than you might expect; the group's patient arrangements and thematic evolutions betray a deliberateness not commonly found among their neo-folk peers.

Feather's single recording to date, the fabulously textural Gnomezoic Live, was captured on 4-track during band practice. Existing primarily as a calling card for a gig in the Big Apple, the three-song CD nonetheless showcases the group's charmingly skewed and seemingly mystical approach to songcraft. "I'm constantly influenced by the environment and the nature that I live in," said Kyle, who sings and plays strings. "Music is possibly one of the last magickal things left in the world."

But don't write them off as new-age meanderers searching for some beatific unifying theory. While members of the band are unafraid to experiment musically, they're pretty well grounded philosophically. "As far as myth and mysticism go, I think both of those terms reflect an older idea of spirituality – one that is more rooted in poetry and storytelling than in any particular religion," said Jordan, who splits time on bass, percussion and guitarist. "I think that all of us in Feathers regard music as some sort of spiritual endeavor, and I imagine that would come across in the songs."

Guitarist/vocalist/bassist Asa concurs: "I live on a cold mountaintop and heat my house with a woodstove. This lifestyle must influence my music, but I have no deliberate mystical intentions. I'm just being poetically sincere."

My copy of Gnomezoic Live came in a simple sleeve embossed with a botanical sketch, prominently featuring some type of mushrooms. 1960s recidivism and some recent articles on psilocybin and other psychedelics in underground cultural journals may lead one to conclude that Feathers are merely a new generation of tripped-out tunesmiths. Band members are quick to point out that this is not the case. "I had a strange upbringing," guitarist/harpist/violinist Meara said. "My parents previously worked in alternative consciousness and non-verbal communication, and it gave me a sense of psychedelia without having any desire to actually do the drugs. I personally don't desire to have my consciousness and perceptions altered – they're pretty exciting to me as is." Kyle is somewhat pragmatic regarding the issue. "Drugs are not usually part of my writing process, but if I got a good idea while I was fucked up, yeah, I would totally use it."

Although ideas may be bountiful in an eight-person band, their implementation might potentially prove daunting. In order to avoid musical pile-ups, Feathers' material is fairly structured, with individual members bringing more or less complete arrangements to the group. Serendipity still plays a role, however, as does re-invention. "I think we all write in different ways and try to change these ways frequently to get different results, or any results at all," Kurt said.

This approach has a tendency to fluctuate in accordance to the particular needs of each tune, as instrumental voicings are chosen and parts solidified among band members. "The structures of the songs are pretty much fixed," says percussionist/violinist/clarinetist Ruth. "The instrumentation is more of a trial and error process. You'd think with eight members this would be a chaotic way to proceed, but the songs are so well-conceived they seem to arrange themselves sometimes."

Even a cursory listen to Gnomezoic Live reveals a remarkable level of interplay; a sophisticated dynamic that belies the group's relative short time together. If this level of coaction exists on what is ostensibly a demo, what kind of sonic exchange might be on deck? "Everything is new! Everything is different!" exclaims Kurt. "We even use synthesizers now!"

"Gnomezoic was a live recording, so it was pretty different from what we're doing now," Asa explains. "Also that was recorded at Kurt and Shayna's house, and now we're recording at Kyle's. With a blacklight."

Even without a full-length release, Feathers have already enjoyed accolades from prominent people in the underground. A recent conferment from freak-folk poster boy Devendra Banhart is pretty encouraging, even if band members haven’t noticed. "I don't follow the current scenes and am pretty much unaware of what is even popular in underground music right now," says Greg.

Kurt believes the independent spirit is thriving, no matter how many records you've sold. "It feels pretty good from here," he explains. "I think the state of our world continues to fuel a powerful counterculture with music at its center. People who hate war are singing more now."

So where will these Feathers blow? "In terms of exposure, I guess more would be great," says Shayna. "Especially if it meant touring South America. I really want to go to Machu Picchu."

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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