I recently sat down for a drink with Stephen Artemis of The Falling Birds. A band that has fired off the first in what seems to be a series of incoming warning shots alarming the press world to the return of raw rock n roll to New York City. While we uncoded his band name over Jeffersons whiskey, poured over ice with a toothpick, Artemis reflected on how he once saw himself as a bird in freefall. It wasn’t easy to strike up a buzz in the big city but with the release of their acclaimed EP Native America (out June 17th) Artemis humbly acknowledges that The Falling Birds have cought a gust of wind and may have a destination in mind.
How do you see The Falling Birds music fitting into the current musical landscape with the increasing reliance on digital instruments and computers?
Stephen: What’s interesting is that I actually think it helps us stand out musically. I think that the use of computers and digital sound will continue to grow and bleed into genres that have traditionally not used them before, but musical trends also tend to have a pendulum effect where there is this over-saturation of one style of music or sound and then the trend swings away again. So with that in mind, and especially since we’re in Brooklyn where electro-rock is so huge, I think that our organic style of sound helps us stand out among the bands that are out there – if you like that sort of thing of course.
Was it difficult breaking into the NY rock scene? What was your approach to performing in such a saturated market?
Stephen: Yes, I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t a challenge to break into the scene. There are really two main challenges here in NYC. The first is that there are SO many great song writers and musicians that the musicianship is very competitive. The second is that there are just so many acts locally as well as the touring acts that come, so music fans have a lot of options and there is a lot of competition. I think that our approach was just to recognize the challenge and to take it head on. It forced us to be very critical of our music and to write better songs and to focus on all the little things. I think the challenge that New York presents just made us want to be better, but on the flip side it probably took us longer to get going. Everything here is a fight.
Your sound has been referred to as ‘music for the workingman’ with a soft focus on the little pleasures life provides like hitting the town with your girl. How has seeing the economic decline of Upstate New York influenced your songwriting and outlook on life as a whole?
Stephen: When I first moved to New York from Albany I had the same impressions that a lot of people do of this city. I moved here because I felt there wasn’t any opportunity for me back home and I thought in a place like New York I would be able to get a job, rent an apartment in a nice neighborhood and play music. But then after a few years of living paycheck to paycheck and having zero time for music, I realized that life was passing me by. So I really appreciated the simple things and those precious few hours that we have to spend time with the people and things we love. I was pretty green when I moved to New York. But I realized that it wasn’t just my hometown that had these kinds of challenges it was a broader issue that faces a lot more people than just me and my family and my circle of friends. My outlook on life changed a lot and I told myself that I would either start living or I would walk away from New York all together. So I started playing out as a solo act and to my surprise my friends came along to stay and hang out and all of a sudden my life started going in a different direction all together. Some of the songs on the EP are remnants of those solo days.
I can definitely see ties to the lineage of Mellencamp and Springsteen as far as the locally concentrated songwriting reflecting bigger, universal themes. How do you see your music evolving in the future?
Stephen: We are in the process right now of recording our second EP. We’ve got 3 or 4 tracks completed for this next one. It is a much more punchy electric album where we’re really reveling in our 3 piece rock sound. We’re not abandoning the softer “folksy” stuff by any means – it’s more like a break. We really wanted to create a more congruent record for the next one and we’ve got some really fun rockin songs to share so we decided to put them down. I think this next EP will accomplish what we wanted it to do while preserving the lyrical quality too – that was a big focus of mine. So the next EP will evolve our sound intro more of a rawkus electric blues / grunge feel. But that material is completed and I’m currently writing new stuff for a 3rd EP which again will have another dynamic shift – you’ll have to stay tuned for that. We like to stick to our core principals of songwriting but change feel and dynamics.
Can you identify a certain kind of person/people as The Falling Bird’s tribe?
Stephen: Haha! Umm is that in reference to the logo?
Stephen: That’s a good question. Yeah the tribe likes all kinds of music and genres. I’d say the tribe likes to talk about serious issues when necessary but you don’t have to ask them twice to break out the drums and dance around the campfire. The tribe is good people.
Can you expand a little on the name of the band and how it came to be?
Stephen: Yeah sure, It goes back to the time when I had moved to New York and I wasn’t playing music. I had been in bands my whole life growing up in Albany. Back home it was pretty convenient to be in a band, every musician back home has a friend or two with a basement or a garage to play in. When I moved to New York, my circle of friends got a lot smaller and the existence of garages and basements outfitted with musical gear basically evaporated. So not only was it tough to find spare time to play, but there just wasn’t anywhere to jam out. I eventually made the decision to reject the notion that I wouldn’t be able to play music. I really felt soulless without it – I had lost my creative outlet. So I started doing it on my own as a solo act. I met a drummer through a friend and we began jamming and playing the stuff I had written. We started playing as a two piece. What was crazy was that we practiced in his studio apartment (a full drum kit and me with my Fender Pro Junior) just ripping it up on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Not surprisingly my drummer got evicted shortly after, but not before we booked our first gig. So it was a few days before the gig and we still hadn’t come up with a name. We were hanging out and kicking around ideas at this little hole in the wall place called The Tuck Shop in the East Village (one of my favorite spots in the world). It just so happens that like 2 weeks before our gig all these blackbirds had fallen out of the sky somewhere in Arkansas and I was like “holy shit that’s one hell of an omen, it’s perfect!” So I started thinking about The Falling Birds as a name and I liked it because I felt it was a good metaphor for what it was like without music in my life. I felt like I was supposed to do something but I wasn’t doing it. It felt very unnatural. And so I decided to name the band The Falling Birds as a kind of acknowledgement, and as promise to this new direction that I was going.