BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Water Walker, the second set of songs served up by Magnolia, TX-based Folk Family Revival, could be viewed as the foursome’s sonic second coming. Following the literal band of brothers’ – Mason, Barrett and Lincoln Lankford, plus family friend Caleb Pace – initial offering, 2011’s Unfolding, the group has been resolute about not being pigeonholed in one musical box or another, opting instead to widen the already vast scope of sounds and styles found in their music.
“We want that sound where one bar of the song is gonna be a totally different time signature than the last one, but it’s still like everything is right on you,” lead singer and main songwriter Mason Lankford said during our exhaustive conversation surrounding the April 7 release of Water Walker. “We knew that was the groove we wanted…and then we would layer on some [Austin, TX bred 60s band] The 13th Floor Elevators and Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters…and we were like, if can just throw all this into our music and still have folk influenced songs with this sound, we felt like we could get a really original sounding record out of it.”
Mission accomplished. On Water Walker, Folk Family Revival’s sound shifts from song to song, not unlike so many of the finest albums recorded by some of Lankford’s musical heroes, many of whom critics and consumers (and record stores) still wrestle with trying to categorize.
On this week’s episode of my weekly Current Classics podcast I’m playing [the Water Walker track] “Drunk Again” into Eric Church’s “Drink In My Hand” because it’s our 21st episode, so we’re turning 21 and doing a little drinking. So in my back announce I quoted from your press release that says: “Folk Family Revival make music for rock clubs and rodeos, dive bars and honky-tonks, or campfires and cantinas.” Would you say your band is a sonic stepchild of bands like The Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, CCR, etc, etc?
Yeah, I think so, man. I think you’re hitting the nail on the head for sure. I don’t know what kind of genre to call it, but it’s got a lot of that psychedelic blues rock and roll groove in it most of the time; it feels like.
Speaking of some of these bands that I mentioned, and the sonic ties that bind; did you have a musical big bang? Looking back now, was there a moment where a song came on the radio, or you heard of a band, or maybe heard an album or went to a show, perhaps, where you can say that was the moment you knew you wanted to make music for a living?
Ah, yeah, maybe. I don’t know if it took anything major like that to set it off for me. I can remember being real young when I lived in Oklahoma, riding around and trying to put lyrics to songs that had already been written because I felt like all the songs had already been written. It was just kind of child logic or something. So I guess I can remember trying to write songs back then, so it was something that always had me by the soul, or whatever. By the time I was old enough that I was starting to drive and had a girlfriend or whatever, that’s when I figured out I could go to parties and play guitar and people would want to listen, and that just kind of started it for me.
Can you remember a particular song that you wanted to tweak and change the lyrics to?
Ah, yeah, “Johnny B. Goode” was the first song that I ever learned enough lyrics to that I could sing it. My brother Barrett and I would sit out beside our car at a supermarket and try to sing “Johnny B. Goode” for people. We didn’t know all the lyrics, so we would make up our own lyrics. We were raised in church and stuff so we would do like “Highway To Hell” but we would do like “Highway To Heaven” (laughs). But, yeah, we’d do like “Johnny B. Goode” and old Beatles songs and stuff like that.
I guess if you’re gonna start somewhere, you might as well start with, arguably, I always say, the King of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry; with all due respect to Elvis Presley, of course. But if it wasn’t for Chuck, and as Bob Seger sings, “We’re all Chuck’s children.”
Oh, yeah. Yeah. That’s so true, man.
Let’s dive into this new album. Your second studio album is called Water Walker and it comes out on April 7 and it begins with “If It Don’t Kill You” which makes reference to the “father,” “son” and “holy spirit.” The album ends with a song called “I Found God.” You make no effort to hide bringing up God and religious references across the album. Tell everybody why you’re comfortable doing that.
It’s one of those things where I feel like we’re in a season right now as humanity where all over the place the whole idea of, well, like, well like we just came out of a season where, at least in America, faith and religion was this real strong power and everybody knew that that’s what America was about. I don’t know if everybody’s losing touch with that or if we’re going into a season that’s better or worse of whatever, but either way, it’s kind of being forgotten about. A lot more things are being accepted, which I’m totally cool with; I don’t like pigeonholing people into believing just one certain thing or whatever, but I want to keep a constant hunger or an open mind to dive into the fact that there is a higher power, a higher frequency of love and understanding and acceptance of everyone. My reason for bringing up God so much in music is because music is this connecting vibration between that intimate love between that higher power.
I know you’re a big Bob Dylan fan and as you and many of his fans know well, in the late 70s he became a Born Again Christian and only sang religious-themed songs. In a 2010 interview that I found online, you called him “the inventor, poet and shape shifter.” Which era of Dylan’s music are you drawn to the most?
I just love the presence that Dylan is. I like everything he’s ever done. I can’t pinpoint one specific era. I’m really into his late 60s, early 70s rock and roll stuff, especially when he had The Paul Butterfield Blues Band playing with him because I just love The Paul Butterfield Blues Band; that was just a badass band. I like that, and I like when The Band played with him because I love The Band. And then Dylan and The Dead. He’s just one of those dudes that could move around to these different groups and change his style and change their style and collaborate. My friend…gave me a Dylan record he’d picked up at Starbucks and it was just called Dylan; it was like a compilation record and the first song on it was “Blowin’ in the Wind” and as soon as I heard that I was like, this song says everything that every song is trying to say. The next song plays and it’s [“Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35”] and it’s like “everybody must get stoned” and I’m like, how did this silly song about drugs or being high and stuff come out of this same prophet. And that’s when I realized he never stayed the same guy, he was always changing but something about him – he just had this ongoing personality – that never changed. I just thought that was cool. If you get tired of a Dylan record you put on another one and it’s a totally different dude.
He’s one of those ultimate sonic chameleons.
Yeah, exactly; I like that.
Let’s talk about a couple of tracks on the new album. To me, “Sunshine” has a bit of a Chris Isaak “Wicked Game” vibe to it. Where and when did that song first see the light of day?
We wrote that song right after we dropped Unfolding. At the time it was this really bass drum heavy, fast jam song, and everybody freaked out because it sounded so different than everything we were doing. We tried to record it in the studio about four times and we could just never get it like that. We were gonna scratch it from the record entirely and then [producer] Jeffrey [Armstreet] said, ‘Let’s try to turn this into a kind of acoustic slow jam or something,’ and we did and it got real creepy and ghostly and it worked out. That’s the way we do it live now.
In addition to sharing a title with one of my all-time favorite, go-to albums by the great band Seven Mary Three – their first album was called American Standard – I’m referring now to the track that’s on your album, “American Standard.” Describe the difficulty of scribing a song that’s only 2:40 long.
I don’t know, it’s weird, the song just feels so much longer. We have this jam we do on the end of it live and we wanted to save that surprise for a live feel to give people something extra for coming out to the show. But like you said it’s a short song, but honestly I didn’t even know that it was that short; it just feels longer to me.
I mentioned that band Seven Mary Three and I very rarely do this, Mason, but if you’ve not heard of them, let me recommend them to you. And I only do that because I think based on your record, your music and your vibe, you might discover something cool.
Right on, yeah, I’ll definitely check them out.
Now as I said earlier, I’m playing “Drunk Again” on the current episode of my podcast. Is this song autobiographical?
Yes, yes it is. It’s all but true; it’s a true story but you throw in little tasty things there that might not completely be true but feel true to make the story move along. I was 19 years old…it was one of the first shindigs we’d thrown and we bought a bunch of beer…we bought way too much and a whole bunch of people came over, and brought their own beer and liquor. I was 19, and shouldn’t have been drinking anyway, but we ended up having a three-day binge party. So I wrote this song and I started it with “I feel like s**t, I should probably be sleeping but I’m gonna write a song instead” and then from there it just fell out; it was effortless. And I felt like this could either be like a stupid, throw your beer in the air, throw your arm around your friends and scream the lyrics kind of song, or I could make it a little more heartfelt; the whole experience wasn’t just this go wild kind of thing, it was also like trying to find what this is all about and what the people you are with and the alcohol can sometimes help dictate.
It can be a cautionary tale.
So “Trash” I believe is the most Dylanesque track on the record. Let me quote a lyric here: “I can’t live until I’m dead/I can’t die until I’m sacrificed and empty of regret.” [In another part of that song] some might say you take God’s name in vein a couple of times [twice the lyric includes the phrase “God damn.”]. First of all, why did you name it “Trash,” and what’s the message you’re trying to convey in that tune?
I named it “Trash” because…it ends with “My body will be glorified/I’ll understand the great design/I’ll be recycled as a perfect piece of trash.” The whole song is a push and pull, like a tug-of-war between heaven and hell. I don’t know the answers so what the song is is basically a bunch of questions.
I think most good songs hopefully ask more questions than they give answers.
Totally! I think the problem with people on a microphone is they feel like…this is your time to tell everybody how it’s gonna be. Oh, and ah, I can’t remember the first half of your question was.
Oh that was it. I wanted to know why you named it “Trash” and the message, and I think you covered it. I wanna ask you about one more song…
Oh, oh, the taking of the Lord’s name in vein part; I actually wanted to talk about that.
Oh yeah, please.
I get a lot of crap for that one. I know there’s a lot of kids that listen to our music and I don’t wanna be insensitive to them or to my parents or grandparents for that matter. My grandparents are hardcore Southern Baptists, and I totally respect them. I’m not trying to use the Lord’s name in vein. I’ve told people for years my favorite songwriters are David from the Bible and Bob Dylan. I’m not actually using it in the sense of like, “Oh god dammit, I stubbed my toe.” The word “damn,” at least in the English dictionary, means to send something to hell; like actually praying directly to the Father, like, to hell with this life.
Oh, okay, cool. So, damnation!
Thanks for that clarification, and thanks for coming back to that. I want to ask you about one more song, and if pressed to answer, I’d have to say “Everyone Loves Everyone” is my favorite track. It melds music and message seamlessly; it’s hauntingly beautiful with a great sound. Talk to me about that one.
Cool, thanks for giving me that lead up (laughs). Ah, it’s like a dangerous thing. [For example] John Lennon is all about peace and love and unity and all that, but he had a past that he openly spoke about of like being abusive towards women; he even says it in some songs, like, “I used to be an angry young man…” I feel like it’s a dangerous business trying to take your music to that level of a Lennon or Marley where you’re trying to spread this big message of unity and peace and love because people will start to try to dig up dirt on your personal life and they can find something to talk s**t about. And I’m obviously not a perfect person.
I think that’s called being human.
Yeah, totally, it is. But that song started out as a love song [for his fiancé] and what I realized was the more I play these songs [live], the more I would like to see happen if for them [the audience] to share that same amount of love and respect for one another. And then when we’re in a bar, or at a venue or festival, I’d like to see that radiate out to the rest of the people that are there. I’d like to use that platform, if for nothing else, to spread love and peace and unity and try to get people to come together. We’re all on this planet together; we might as well try to figure out how to be better humans and stop acting like animals all the time.
Final question for you, Mason, and you’ll pardon the pun: how would you describe how the band’s sound has continued to unfold since the release of your 2011 debut, Unfolding?
That was a very tasteful pun. It’s a weird thing taking two and a half years in between records. I remember when we tracked Unfolding we ended it with “Chasing a Rabbit” and “Ye of Little Faith.” And those two songs kind of transitioned into this psychedelic rock and roll groove and we knew we wanted to go there with the next record, but I feel like if we would have done it right after Unfolding, it would have felt forced or not right. It took us that amount of time to evolve into that sound; it took a lot of playing the songs live and trying different textures and teaching ourselves how to make sounds like that. We started tracking the record and then we went on tour to Steamboat, CO; I broke my arm there and two ribs and then we had to keep touring through California and came home and listened to the record again and we weren’t happy with it. So we scratched everything and started fresh, and then that happened one more time, and after a while we were like, man, we’ve been at this for a while, and then right when we felt we had the record done, we signed with Rock Ridge Music and started promoting the record…and all this stuff had happened. But what we realized was good about it was it gave us enough time to reshape our sound and then it also gave our fans enough time to be able to process that shift in sound.
This was great. Again, the record is called Water Walker and it’s gonna be out on April 7. Thanks again, Mason. It’s been great talking to you.
Thanks for talking with me, man, I appreciate it. It was awesome.
**To hear more audio of my extensive conversation with Mason Lankford of Folk Family Revival, please “LIKE” Facebook.com/CurrentClassics and look for a link to an upcoming episode of my weekly Current Classics podcast. Listen HERE.