We spoke with Carter King from Psychedelic Country band Futurebirds from Athens, Georgia. These guys will be all over the country on their current tour, and their next stop is here at Garcia’s this Friday, July 22nd. We cover everything from their biggest influences to what kind of birds they think they are. Grab a ticket and come experience a genre that you’ve probably never heard!
1. We read on your Facebook that “psychedelic country” is the genre that identifies Futurebirds. How did experimentation with this unique genre first occur? Was it accidental or was it something you were completely going for?
We’ve just been kind of going for it since the beginning, worrying more about keeping ourselves excited about the music, rather than what people are going to call it. Experimentation was, and still is, a huge part of that. It’s in the discovery of new places — sonically, mentally, tonally, geographically — that you keep that excitement alive. Someone else threw out the ‘Psychedelic Country’ tag and it sounded good to us! That doesn’t wrap up everything we do, but we don’t want to do anything really that is easily summed up in two words.
2. This is the first time that you will be playing The Capitol Theatre’s lobby bar Garcia’s. Are you aware of the legendary history of this venue? Is the Grateful Dead of any influence to you?
The Grateful Dead is a huge influence on us. In fact, a few of us even have a Dead cover band called ‘Bobby’s Shorts’ that we play in with a rotating cast of other musicians that have the shared love of the Dead. It’s unbelievable fun too. My older sister was a big Deadhead and gave me a copy of ‘From the Mars Hotel’ when I was pretty young. Once I was hooked, she reveled in fueling the fire, probably mostly to piss off my mom, gifting me the bootleg cassette tapes she had worn out. I kept them in a red Fisher-Price tape bag! Later when I started to learn guitar, I’d spend countless hours playing along to live bootlegs in my room. It was how I learned to jam, really. On top of all that, the Garcia/Hunter combo is easily in my top 3 favorite songwriters list. AND, we’re playing Bob Weir’s venue, Sweetwater, later in the tour in Mill Valley, CA. We better work up some Dead covers, huh?
3. The name Futurebirds is an interesting one. What is the significance behind it? If each of you had to choose a specific type of bird that describes your personal style, what would it be?
I actually got that from a poultry evaluation class I was taking at the University of Georgia. The professor was telling a story of how Roman armies used chickens’ eating patterns to foretell the outcome of battle. As it turns out, chickens are always hungry and the Romans were a pretty unstoppable force in their prime…
The menagerie of birds in this band is vast and ever-changing really depending on lots of different factors, time of day, hours of sleep, hunger levels, how deep into a particular tour we are, etc. At any give time, you might spot a Dove, a Red-Tailed Hawk, a Blue Heron, a Condor, a cute sleeping gaggle of ducklings, an Emperor Swan doing an intricate dance of love, but after a certain point in the evening, we mostly just become stray Pigeons pecking around in a street gutter.
4. We read on Facebook that you spent the early half of June in an old church called “The Portico” recording a new record. What was your favorite part about recording in such a unique setting? Can we expect to hear any of these new songs at Garcia’s?
You bet! We can’t wait to start playing these tunes live! Some of that experimentation that you mentioned earlier comes in the form of experimenting with the environment and recording process itself to see how it affects the sound of the band. We love the energy of a new setting with it’s unique character, and own set of possible restrictions and challenges. But while it may have been more restrictive than a professional studio in sonic or instrumental capabilities, The Portico went above and beyond on good creative energy — and for lack of a less heady word, vibes: family vibes, ghostly vibes, country vibes, river vibes. The church, built in the late 1800’s, was surrounded by a really old graveyard, and sat on 60-acres of land with a meandering river, an armada of canoes, trails, shoals, etc. It was the perfect place to record really. Our most relaxing project to date, and I think that shows. We ended up hosting a friends-and-family show and grilled a bunch of food. It was fantastic. We weren’t even sure what we were going to end up with, if anything at all, and it ended up being an extremely fruitful recording session all around. Now we’ve just got to figure out how we’re going to get it all out into the world!
5. Your cover of “Midnight” by Ray Charles is really well done. Is Ray one of your biggest influences? Who else is on your list of inspiration?
You can’t be from Georgia and not love Ray, right? That was a really fun project from Oxford American that let us explore some new territory with the horn parts, and jazz in general. Not our forte, as you can imagine, but I like to think we made it our own.
The lists of influences goes on and on and on, and would be different for each member of the band. All the Giants you’d expect are in there: Neil Young, the Dead, the Stones, Beatles, Flying Burrito Brothers, but the list forks in tons of directions, genres, and decades. Our Spotify playlists we listen to in the van are pretty schizophrenic. We all come from different musical backgrounds and upbringings and we think it all shows up somewhere in the tunes.
6. You guys are hitting the road from now until the end of August touring from the east coast to the west coast. Is there a specific venue anywhere in the US that you are always eager to play?
We’ve got some really cool venue stops with great history that will be new for us, The Cap, the Henry Miller Library, Sweetwater. There are places that are old stops for us, where we are treated (and fed) like family: Brooklyn Bowl, Town Square Tavern in Jackson, WY, a house show we have repeatedly played in Reno, NV because it’s so much damn fun. There are places with jaw-dropping beauty lined up: Lake Tahoe, San Diego, the beaches of Rowayton, NY. Festivals with killer line-ups: Denver for UMS, Pickathon outside of Portland. Lots of these places fall into multiple categories as well. There’s really not a stop we aren’t looking forward to which is rare for a tour if we’re being honest.
7. Your music consists of some four-part harmonies, an element that not many groups are capable of handling. How do you decide who gets to sing each part when trying to write these complicated melodies?
We kind of have a natural feel for where our voices need to fit in each others songs. If someone is feeling a harmony part while we’re writing or recording, they start singing it, if that is working, someone else will fill in the gaps. Then as we record, we fine tune the arrangement of it all. At first, it’s really just a free-for-all though.
8. You guys are no strangers to the studio, now having three studio albums, 2 EPs, and a live album out. What does your writing process usually consist of? Do you write as a group or does one person bring an idea to the table?
Writing starts off as a solo experience for everyone. We live pretty spread out right now, but as the songs get their legs a little, demos start getting passed around, we might mess around with them, or trade ideas on tour, then eventually we carve out time to get together to really start the recording process. Songs are in various stages of completion, some need more help and input than others. We start running though everything, changing up arrangements, switching instruments, and see where it all goes from there. Usually there’s so much material on the table that the promising tracks keep people excited, keep them moving forward, then again, some are like pulling teeth, but the end result is totally worth the battle, some end up hanging back in the shop to get some more work done. I guess it’s kind of a running theme here that we really have no formula underneath it all. We just have a knack for helping the music figure itself out.
9. You have shared the stage with bands like Widespread Panic, Drive-By Truckers, and Blitzen Trapper, who played Garcia’s a month ago. What have you drawn from these bands that improved Futurebirds as a group?
Getting to share a stage with bands that you were a fan of first is a huge honor, and you try to soak up as much knowledge and information as you can — how to put on a great live show, hold an audience, how to keep it fresh and interesting night after night, run a business, keep yourself healthy. The list goes on. People are surprisingly willing to share wisdom with you, and there are a lot of mistakes those before you have made that you can avoid yourself, or simple tricks that took someone else years to figure out. I think that spreads far beyond music though.
10. Being a group out of Athens, Georgia, the country genre is most-likely something you all have grown up loving. Is there anything different that you find from playing in your hometown compared to somewhere on the opposite side of the country? How will you bring the southern vibe to New York?
Unfortunately, we have no choice! That vibe follows us everywhere we go! Cities are little microcosms of audiences for us really no matter where in the country we are. You’ve got drinking towns, reserved towns, shameless towns, listening towns, chatty towns. We have a wide enough array of songs we play live now that we can match the energy of a crowd, which is what we try to do every night. That band-to-crowd relationship is way more of a two-way street than people realize, at least for us. One night, it’s, “You guys are here to party?!? Then let’s party!” The next, it’s: “You guys are here for some lush harmonies and heart-breaking melodies? We can take a stab at that too.” We have an idea of the set we are going to play, but we take cues from the audience and let it go elsewhere if it needs to. It’s just another way of improvising, and letting the audience be a part of the performance. That’s what a live show is all about, right? It’s everyone’s experience, everyone’s night, we’re just curating the music, providing some of the entertainment.