Former No River City member Drew de Man and his bandmate and spouse Brianna Blackbird combine their musical influences to create jangly yet complex roots-pop, which is self-described as “hobo folk.” De Man grew up in Georgia listening to punk rock and the Grateful Dead. Blackbird, the daughter of a music teacher, was raised in Oregon around classical and Celtic-folk music. Ever since the couple met in Portland while du Man was there for music therapy classes, those reference points have combined with a shared interest in social movements and even a stint living in Bolivia to inform the sound and message of their songs.
Per de Man, the vintage organ accompaniment and gorgeous harmonies of “Sparrow to The Moon” mirror the feeling of new love as informed by his personal experiences.
“‘Sparrow to the Moon’ is about falling for someone at first sight — someone stunningly beautiful, with amazing talent, who just radiates magic to you,” he says. “This was inspired by someone I met at a festival years ago. You spend several hours of bliss and adventure, visiting campsites together in the night with a guitar, singing songs and everything’s gloriously hazy and brilliant, and you know it’s going to last a weekend at the most. Somebody gave me some curious chocolate… And in the morning, you wake up alone in a tent and it all might well have been, you know, a dream, but you don’t think so. When you go home, everything seems… supernormal. Even the bright yellow birds that were nesting there have moved on. That was the one time that happened to me!”
In addition, the song captures de Man’s creative transition from prior projects to the sort of roots music he makes with his wife, dating back to their EPs and album as Pretend Sweethearts.
“I wanted to learn to tell stories with colors, sounds, images, feelings – all the dreamy, mystical stuff,” he says. “I got this one going and when I would run dry, I’d just lie on a mattress on the floor in this bare house until I was almost asleep, letting the images and words drift and mingle until they sort of learned to swim on their own.”
The song’s creation reveals another element that pushes the boundaries of country music on the new album — pre-production. “When we began mixing it, Peter Case (the producer) figured the organ needed to get a special treatment, so the engineer Chris Mara ran a patch through this old MuTron phaser pedal and I twiddled the knobs while he messed with the tape speed until we came up with something we liked,” du Man says. “I looked over at Peter and he was making this trippy, circular gesture with one arm, sort of evoking the spiraling psychedelia of it as the song goes swooping around toward the moon, stirring it all around. Studio magic.”