Raven and the Wren
“If it’s all for nothing, why even try?” It’s a hard question. It’s the kind of question you might be afraid to ask out loud or even consider silently as you lay down at night. This kind of question can lead you down a road you might not want to travel. It might be best to play it safe, to take it easy, to just drift off into sleep and try to ignore those kinds of thoughts…but that just doesn’t work for some people.
Friend of Failure, the debut album by Raven and the Wren, isn’t afraid to ask and answer with breath taking beauty. Recorded in a cabin-in-the-woods type setting, the band took a simple approach to documenting their music, opting to record live, raw, with bleeding mics, and hearts on their sleeve. Influenced by the songwriting of artists like Lucinda Williams and Townes Van Zandt, Friend of Failure offers a modern take on the themes and sound of classic American roots music.
Natty Lou Race, singer and guitarist in the band, wrote the songs, many of which explore dark places. “I write what I know,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m a sad person. I think shame, guilt, death, uncertainty of faith – these are all part of the human experience. I think death is the last thing we should worry about. It’s the only thing we all know for certain is going to happen to us. I don’t understand why there’s such a fear around it.”
Raven and the Wren formed amid a struggling but vibrant original music scene in early 2015, in a place nicknamed Happy Valley, where cloudy days and rainfall rival Seattle. While honing her vocal and songwriting skills in local basement pubs, Natty Lou also began putting the band together, gradually bringing in the rest of Raven and the Wren, week by week, to her regular Tuesday night gig. Jason “Junior” Tutwiler and Chris Rattie had landed back in town after touring the US for a few years and working with producer Don Was in their former band, The Rustlanders. Bob Hart moved to central PA from Brooklyn, where he continues to be part of the Indie and Jazz scenes, playing with artists such as Clare and The Reasons, Kat Edmonson, and Van Dyke Parks. The buzz was almost immediate after their first show together and those otherwise quiet Tuesday nights started to become something not to be missed. Talk of making a record began on the band’s set break while they shared a cigarette. They had been playing together for about an hour, but the chemistry was obvious.
Work on what would become Friend of Failure started just a few weeks later. Though Race wrote the basic forms of the songs, the final album is the product of collaboration, and the recording itself mirrored the band’s organic vibe. Many of the arrangements were worked out just moments before recording. “It’s a pretty live record,” said guitarist Tutwiler. “We wanted to record what the band was doing at that time and be true to the live show. I believe we did that.”
The songs on Friend Of Failure have a confessional quality, which Race says is intentional. “I think throughout every genre of music there’s ‘woe is me, he or she broke my heart, daddy left me, no one loves me,’ but I tend to steer away from that,” she said. “The songs on this album are more about how I messed up, how I broke someone’s heart, how I have shame or guilt or was unfaithful. I’m not afraid to go there. I’ll be the first to admit my mistakes. People are very quick to talk about the wrong done unto them, but they don’t want to talk about the wrongdoing they’ve done unto others.”
It’s this uncompromising commitment to truth, to reality, that lies at the heart of Raven and the Wren. The band is the creation of four people who live and breathe music, who are honest about their passions, and who have carved from that honesty an album that will stand the test of time. Make no mistake, though the songs may be aphotic and pensive, this is no shoe-gazer band. Self pity has no place here. Raven and the Wren bring beauty and joy, looking into the unlit corners and staring down the darkness.