by Kirsten O’Brien
For some musicians, making music is a journey. It’s a venue to document one’s past, contemplate the present and envision the future. As with many wayfaring journeys, sometimes it’s easy to see exactly where you’re headed, but other times the path is not so clear. For the members of Br’er Rabbit, the road was at times ambiguous but the destination has always been the same: to make music with folk roots and a storytelling soul.
In many ways the band was formed at the intersection of their journeys. Three of the band’s members, brothers Nathan and Zach Hamer and Miranda Zickler, spent their entire lives in Mount Vernon but never met until a serendipitous rendezvous in a New York City diner. Similarly, Zickler and Jillian Walker, the band’s cellist, had gone to elementary school together but didn’t connect until Walker attended a Br’er Rabbit show.
After the release of their EP in 2012, the band had a breakout performance at the 2013 Northwest Folklife Festival, recorded a session at taste maker studio Daytrotter, and won Cascadia Weekly’s “Best Band of 2013” award. There seems to be no better time for them to release their first full-length album, The Wild North. Packed with 11 songs and featuring an array of established local musicians, the album will be released on March 14.
“It’s something we’re all so proud of,” Nathan Hamer said. “It summarizes everything we’ve been working on, and we truly made the best thing we possibly could have.”
Prior to the The Wild North, the band had only released a seven song self-titled EP. Haphazardly recorded in a small studio underneath Arlis’s Restaurant on Cornwall, the EP was just a small taste of the true potential of the band.
“The EP was us in a room playing instruments,” Zach said. “We wanted to bring something that was not only on a whole different level, but really exemplified the music we felt within us.”
“Our EP is definitely a part of us—and we’re proud of it—but with the album we wanted to do something that really showed what we were capable of,” Zickler added.
After Nathan returned from college in New York in January 2013, the band began vigorously working on the new album. When it came time to decide where to record, the choice was obvious: the legendary Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville.
“I looked into a lot of studios and there was no where else in the world I would have rather recorded,” Zickler said. “It was just so perfect for what we wanted to do.”
The studio boasts an impressive pedigree of artists. Fleet Foxes, The Lumineers and Sera Cahoone have all worked at Bear Creek. Given the studio’s reputation for producing top-notch folk albums, the studio seemed ideal for Br’er Rabbit’s folk-Americana sound. The band wholly embraced the project, recording for up to 12 hours at a time over 19 days. With professional equipment at their finger tips and the help of seasoned sound engineers, the band pulled out all the stops.
“We brought in our favorite musicians from around Bellingham [and the Northwest] to play with us. And since we had spent so much time preparing to go into the studio, once we were in the studio we were able to make the album we had in our mind a reality,” Nathan said.
“With (sound engineer and studio manger Jerry Streeter)’s help, everything we had spent a year planning came to fruition.”
Whereas the band’s first EP was heavily influenced by country music and written exclusively by Nathan and Zach, the new album reflects a broad range of influences.
“The new album includes all of our influences and all our guest musicians too,” Zickler said. “Our drummer Drew Shreve plays in a rock band in Seattle so he brought that influence. John Rentschler is a Celtic fiddler, and our upright bassist is a jazz player, so we had all these different influences coming together and I think it really turned into something cool.”
Zickler herself cites African choral singing, Regina Spektor melodies and the song writing of The Decemberists as inspiration. Zach names Bob Dylan and Hank Williams as influences, while Nathan’s influences range from Beirut to Lead Belly. All cite Paul Simon as hugely influential.
“How I think about it in my head is we all have very different voices, but when we sing harmonies, people tell us they love it,” Nathan said. “I think it’s the same thing in the songs on the album. We each have very different styles, and then you put them together and they all blend.”
All of the band members are full-time musicians, and Walker even left school (Western) to pursue music with Br’er Rabbit full-time. With making music and telling their story being their sole focus, the band doesn’t care if they play shows to 10 people or 10,000 people. Simply sharing their music with the world is enough.
“We might play a show to 10 people, but as long as there is one person who said it made their night we’re happy,” Nathan said. “As long as we affect one person it’s worth it.”
For more information about Br’er Rabbit, see brerrabbitmusic.com.