Melanie Hodges

Firekid Finds Inspiration in Their Own Backyard on 'Muscle Shoals Metaphysical'

Appalachian duo Firekid (Dillon Hodges and Heidi Feek) find homegrown inspiration on new album Muscle Shoals Metaphysical, an eight-song collection of experimental bluegrass and folk produced by Jay Joyce.

Feek says the album was born out of working on and caring for the land where they've made their home.

"We moved from Nashville to Florence, Alabama, Dillon's home town, about four years ago. We have three and a half acres here of property and neither of us have really had our own kind of property to work on," Feek tells Wide Open Country. "So we've been spending so much time outside and really just learning a lot — learning a lot of that new hobbies. I haven't done gardening at all really my whole life...I think a lot of the inspiration behind the album was just being kind of open to new experiences and learning new skills."

Feek says her love of gardening and the act of tending to the land to create something beautiful was a major inspiration for their new album, which was six years in the making.

"I've been gardening seriously for only like two or three years. As I've gotten older, I tried my hand a little bit at growing things," Feek says. "I took an online gardening course and that gave me all of the basic information that I didn't know I didn't know and kind of set me up for success and that was three years ago....I've been trying new types of plants every year and kind of broadening what I like to grow, but I haven't really been around gardeners. I've been around farmers most of my life,  growing up in Tennessee, but never really gardeners. So that whole entire world of creating a garden just for the love of it is a totally different perspective than I was ever around before."

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Hodges says the act of creating something just for the love of it was reflected in making Muscle Shoals Metaphysical.

"Farming is something people do to make money. Gardening is specifically for the love," Hodges says. "[For] us, working on this project, it was a big transition from the last record we released six years ago — doing it as part of like the industry and trying to go for the brass ring, so to speak, and then moving here to Alabama and slowing things down and doing music just because we loved it.... the reason we made another record is because we had some stuff that we liked and we had a producer who told us we should make another record. So it was different...This was just purely fun and what we believed in."

A true labor of love for the duo, the album showcases Feek and Hodges' trippy evolution of bluegrass, country and folk, which they both grew up listening to. Hodges is the second youngest person ever to win the National Flatpicking Championship and Feek was raised around the traditional country and folk songs performed by her father, country singer-songwriter Rory Feek.

The album, which seamlessly blends Old Time Music and electronica, also provided an opportunity to achieve a longterm goal for the duo: working with celebrated producer Jay Joyce.

The cosmic meeting came about after Joyce caught the duo's show at the Basement in Nashville, which led to a meeting at Joyce's Neon Cross recording studio, located in an abandoned Southern Baptist church in East Nashville. The meeting involved a lengthy conversation about Ancient Aliens, but, surprisingly, no music.

"We'd been talking for probably two hours. And [Joyce] looked at his watch....He was like 'I didn't get to hear any of [your music]. Can you play me something real quick?' And I said 'no,'" Hodges says. "He was visibly shocked that I turned down the opportunity to play him something, but I didn't want it to be rushed and I thought it wasn't gonna happen anyway."

Hodges' response ended up paying off.

"He looked at me, shocked, and he sat down a little bit deeper in his chair and says, 'Do you guys want to sign to my publishing company?' [Laughs] So after that we were good friends. He was instrumental in so many ways in helping us develop our sound and get us to the point where we had a finished product."

Feek says getting to work with Joyce, who's produced records for Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, Patty Griffin and more, was a bit of a full circle moment.

"I remember when I was in school driving in the car with my dad, listening to Flaming Red and just thinking like, 'how did he do this to Patty Griffin? It sounds so good,'" Feek says. "I just always thought he was amazing. So the opportunity to work with him when I got older, I still kind of pinch myself about it."