Life experiences can inform the creative output of artists in unusual ways — as can the circumstances under which a recording is made. Take the chamber folk of Samara Jade’s Nov. 15 release Zero, for example. Though some of the songs were written when Jade was living in Asheville (she’s currently based in the Pacific Northwest), the recording was completed on the West Coast, during a two-month quarantine that included a three-day fast. And while there’s a meditative and solitary quality to the songs on Zero, the album’s overall character is one that celebrates connection with the larger world.
The leadoff single from Zero, “Night” was indeed written in the evening, at the end of a fast in Washington state. “I had spent the three days reckoning with a lot of my personal shadows, demons and whatnot,” Jade says. “But it’s also a beautiful process.” The experience helped her realize something: “The more that I expand my heart into being able to feel grief, the more expanded my capacity is to feel joy and to feel love.” And that duality is reflected in her music.
“As a writer, I’m also very influenced by place,” Jade says. “But that doesn’t always come out in the traditional ways.” By way of example, she notes that while “Winged Nut” has “an Appalachian, old-timey feel,” it was written in California.
“For the most part, I do most of my writing in nature and in natural places,” she explains. “That’s generally where I feel the most connected to source and tuned into my soul.” Jade likes to think of the songs on Zero as “a collaboration between myself, my soul and the land of wherever I am.”
The album’s title is a reference to tarot. “The card for zero in the traditional tarot decks is The Fool,” Jade says, noting that the card’s significance is often misunderstood. “People think of a fool as a negative thing: ‘You’re being foolish.’ It does have that meaning and that connotation, but on the flip side, The Fool [represents] the energy of spring. It’s the stepping-off, the quantum leap into the unknown.” And that embracing of the unknown — and sometimes the unknowable — is at the heart of Zero.
Jade recorded much of the album’s basic tracks in Asheville, prior to the pandemic. But when it came time to overdub instruments to finish the project, she was fortunate to be self-quarantined at what she calls a “sanctuary” in Arcata, Calif. “Two of the people I was quarantined with happened to play,” she says. “One was a trombone player, and the other played lap steel guitar. I couldn’t have made that up. It was just so perfect, so magical.” samarajademusic.com
The concept of family can be a fluid one: Beyond genetic connections, it often represents a circle of people with a common set of concerns, goals or values. In the case of the Awen Family Band, it represents a shared focus on musical expression, most recently with the acoustic EP, Back to the Source (released Nov. 12).
The group is a musical collective built around the core of Jackson Weldon, formerly of Dr. Bacon, and former Freeway Revival guitarist Tim Husk. The rest of the group’s lineup is ever-changing.
That informal approach is carried through in the group’s music. According to Husk, the Awen Family Band “started out with the idea of going to festivals and just hooking up with other people there to play late night,” then turned its attention to “[building] a songbook.” He adds that the like-minded musicians are “just vessels for the muse,” and that the shared goal is to allow “the inspiration to flow through us and to not take it so seriously.”
Standing in contrast to the Awen Family Band’s easygoing vibe is the fact that in the space of only 18 months, the group has produced no fewer than a dozen releases. “The reason for so much of it is because there’s just so much different music that happens,” Husk says. All of the group’s releases are live recordings, made either in front of an audience or from single takes live in a studio.
That sense of immediacy is key to the Awen Family Band’s aesthetic. “We’re trying to honor the sound that comes out of the moment,” Husk says. As such, extemporaneous sessions make use of “found” instruments alongside more conventional ones. These days, the group often plays in backyards with only a small gathering of listeners, but that was the concept even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“That’s where this idea spawned from,” Husk says. “Sitting around the kitchen table, people beating on the table, grabbing pots and pans, playing random instruments to create music right there.” And Back to the Source captures that spirit. “It just feels like a bunch of folks hanging out in the backyard,” Husk says.
The rootsy feel of the music also reflects the shared philosophy of the musicians involved. “I like the idea of ‘from the beginning, to the beyond,’” Husk says. “When we’re playing, we have to reach all the way back to the beginning for all that inspiration. And then we’re pushing it all the way forward.” In turn, he believes that the music is meant to convey the idea that “we’re right in the middle of that, and we’re all connected in a way” and hopes that the Awen Family Band can help “allow the space for people’s hearts and minds to get there, too, if they’re not there already.” awenfamily.bandcamp.com