Feather Trade – Lucky 7
LUCKY 7 is the feature where we ask artists to name their 6 favourite songs by others, and a lucky 7th song of their own…
Feather Trade describe themselves as a sound project with visual concentration and collaboration. Boasting a dark and beautiful atmosphere, created by guitars that float over the unforgiving landscape of bass and percussion. Feather Trade assert that vocals provide the human reactionary element to the surroundings and situation. Heightened dynamics in sound. Intense emotion. Lyrical imagery of terror and beauty. Self preservation. Feather Trade are not a rock and roll band.
Feather Trade are like seeing Bauhaus playing a set of Pixies covers – total energy, total darkness, total volume. Today band leader Chisolm Thompson sits down with Velvet Sheep so we can get under their skin and scratch away at their DNA. Over to Chisolm with one of the most intelligent and insightful Lucky 7’s we’ve ever had…
1. DAVID BOWIE & PAT METHENY GROUP – ‘This is Not America’
Things aren’t looking great in the States lately and the world is watching. I was once growing up in a place that the world called the “Land of Opportunity”. Now the more likely sentiment is that America is more the land that worries about what will happen tomorrow. The embarrassment of it all finds us often wanting to tell people around the world, “Hey, don’t look at us right now, it’s a particularly bad time for us; this isn’t who we are”.
‘This is Not America’ feels like the anthem of shame and worry for those of us with the sense to have it. A few years ago, this track wasn’t on my top of the list of Bowie songs; in fact, I’m not sure I was even aware of it until about 7 or so years ago. Until the early 2000s, Bowie basically never played it live. I suppose with the heightened paranoia following the 09/11 attacks, he felt we were entering an era relevant to the song’s meaning when it was written. Now, in the last two years with such uncertain times in US politics and media, truth is becoming something for philosophers and fact doesn’t seem to be something that is even recognized.
“Blossom fails to bloom this season / Promise not to stare too long.”
The unfortunate thing is that is we like to think our country represents our better set of values, but we currently aren’t featuring those as often. Wanting to claim “This is not America” is ironic in itself as, unfortunately, what happens in America IS America. Spikes in racism and bigotry, weekly mass shootings, unfocused leadership, lack of compassion from the highest levels of society. We are not what we tell the world we are. We are what we show the world we are. The denial is a part of being in denial. It’s a particularly dark time to be an American, perhaps a Westerner in general. It’s hard to talk about and I know some Americans won’t agree. Regardless, I’ve found deep resonance with this track in the last two years for what I feel are obvious reasons no matter where you’re from, and I think admitting there’s a problem is the first step toward finding a solution.
2. DUBSEX – ‘Swerve’
“Search for the right words / Search for missing words.”
The challenge in creativity or in the general human experience is understanding and being understood. Being articulate in any facet can make or break the outcome of any given situation. As a songwriter, these chorus lyrics immediately struck me. If I’m being honest, i stumbled across Dub Sex on Feather Trade’s first UK tour while on YouTube, listening to Manchester bands. I loved the minimal aspect of video, and the production on the drums in the intro originally grabbed my attention. Then as soon as the vocals came in with the lyrics “Get This! Both our telepathy works!” I thought to myself, I have to see where the singer is going with this.
I couldn’t be more thankful I was as grabbed by the urgency of the chorus as I have been. It’s been a recurring source of inspiration and motivation. What a mantra. The singer, Mark Hoyle’s guitar has a sticker that simply says “work harder.” It’s a stern reminder and kick in the pants that in any situation; writing a song, navigating the heated socio-political atmosphere of a world on edge, or even writing about why words and music are important to you, being articulate, searching for what’s your truth and what’s the best move in the moment are a must, no matter the difficulty. Being articulate could save your life.
“Search for right words / Search for missing words / Swerve.”
3. MEN WITHOUT HATS – ‘I Like’
I’ve always liked the politically subversive quality of the 1982 album Rhythm of Youth by Canadian new wave group Men Without Hats. On the surface, this song seems like a fun pop track about going to parties and likable clothes etc, and the video seems like a standard ‘band-on-stage performance video’. But, underneath, the video is a scathing criticism of the West’s duplicitous nature during the Cold War. The United States, in the height of economic prosperity, was pushing the look and language of western culture forward with one friendly hand, while with the other was exerting a more dangerous and deadly influence. While civilian youth had MTV, behind the cameras of other networks was a more dubiously mirrored imperialist agenda enforced by nuclear arms. The track always made me wonder if the media’s driven proliferation of America’s rock and roll culture was a hollow facade to cover our true nature to our allies in the cold war, while simultaneously keeping the youth of the western world from rallying against it? Or was it something subversive that galvanized a movement in opposition? We hear lyrics that reference the uncertain and dual nature of the times and a population’s willingness to accept without question.
“Isn’t it funny, isn’t it sad? / You come up empty thinking about the good times that you had.”
“But I like when they talk real loud, try to tell you what they know / I like when it blows really hard and it doesn’t even show.”
The performance in the video is a distraction of spectacle for the youth, dancing to pop performance while closely guarded by riot police and monitored by clergy. The singer and voice to the population, safely distanced from them by barricades and barbed wire, on the side, checks in on the performance of weapons of mass destruction as he directs his attention toward speak of military occupation and how it is propagandized to a population
“It makes you wonder about the things they say / We are never gonna leave / We are never gonna stay.’”
“They talk for nothing, they talk for free / They talk behind your back and, to your face, they’re really sweet.”
Ultimately, I feel like I could go on for pages about this song and video, but the point always hit me as a kid when I saw this. Just because you like the look of a thing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question what you are really seeing. Just because you like the sound of something, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question what you are really hearing.
4. NEW FAST AUTOMATIC DAFFODILS – ‘It’s Not What You Know’
I found my first NEW FADS album in a discount bin for $0.99 in the mall. I never had the money to spend on new records, and I found most of what I love, and what has influenced me, inside a bargain bin. I was instantly floored with the intensity of the vocals and the amazing guitar tone. I actually found the guitarist’s Jaguar on something like gumtree a few months ago, and nearly died from wishing I could’ve bought it. I think it’s the same one from the video for this song. I’ve always loved It’s Not What You Know as a powerfully sarcastic acknowledgement of the artist as a product, and the triviality of trend. Similarly, the sense of certainty of purpose was always galvanizing to me. I’ve always resented the concept of ‘jobs’; I’ve had my incessant share of them, and they always fade away and end like a bad relationship or a terrible cultural trend. The only thing that ever stuck around was a sense of purpose of what I really wanted to do with my life and the frustration of trying to find out how.
“And I could get a good job if I tried.”
There have been times when I’ve seen the obvious advantage of the wealthy in all businesses and in the arts. The rich kids’ bands seem to go farther than the poor kids’ bands, and like in any business, the sentiment is the same ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. But I started thinking, what if the skills you learn to earn a living (what you know) are the passing and fading trend? What if having the sharpened understanding of who you are (who you know) is the key to real success?
“Make mine the last one, and we’ll have big fun / Avoid the humdrum, and pull a fast one / It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
5. FOUR EYES – ‘Our Insides’
Written by a friend and fellow musician from Athens GA, Our Insides has always hit devastatingly close to the bone for me. As song about being a young adult and wanting better in your life. A song about the existential risks of being honest with others. The risk to your mental health for following your dreams. The music, while cheerful and hopeful, is contrasted by lyrics illustrating the struggle to maintain happiness, let alone a decent quality of life in the music town from which we both hail. Struggling to make ends meet while maintaining a level of belief in one’s self is a common enough problem. But the backdrop of being a service industry worker in this context, while begrudgingly getting through daily life is a stark reality for many artists and musicians.
Among the socio-economic and socio-political implications of the song and video are that artists will suffer and toil, and artists are expected to serve the populace in one form or another. The artist is often heralded for suffering for his or her art, when in fact it seems we may suffer more for the comfort and leisure of others. In the end Erin (Four Eyes) commands in regards to this type of life,
“It will eat away our insides if we let it / But we won’t let it.”
I could never tell if it was a message of hope or representational of the things we tell ourselves every day in the mirror. I used to sit and listen to this song after work and just cry.
6. FOUR TOPS – ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’
I love Soul music from this era and find the theme runs deep, and think it was more than music, but a weapon against other messages of hate and division at the time. America was tearing itself apart over the Vietnam War, and people were struggling to be included as a part of humanity in the heat of the civil rights movement. Motown and Soul artists were brave enough to acknowledge the day to day struggle to keep your head up, while simultaneously broadcasting reminders that trust and love still existed. Never a better time than now for such reminders.
I love this track not only for the brilliant chord structure and elegant composition, but for its visceral drums and vocals. There are these hints at spaghetti western music, a hero galloping in to fight. The minor chords of doom modulating into major chords of hope. The drums march forward, pounding out a steady walking beat while the vocals are urgent, nearly shouting a message for the downtrodden to reach out for someone to lean on. This is the sort of song I’d love to be able to write someday.
Lucky 7. FEATHER TRADE – ‘Just Like Film’
The video was shot in a day at a warehouse space in Atlanta Georgia, on a shoe string budget. We wanted to keep it minimal, playing with light and shadow the way film does as a medium itself. We felt it worked with the meaning of the song, playing with idea of contrasts and contradictions of life. Starts on major chords, goes to minor, circles back to do the same again and again. The dark realities of living are often only given meaning or purpose by the positive, brighter moments. As such, our lives are just like film, however different they may be from the dreams we wish for in the movies.
I wrote this track while dealing with being diagnosed with cancer and was dealing with some crushing feelings of abandonment at the time, and the need for catharsis. Friends were unsure how to talk to me, and I was more bitter toward anyone in my life who I’d felt had done wrong to me. I felt betrayed by the town I was living in. I’d moved to Athens, GA to be a part of an arts and music scene, giving up all that I had in exchange for the hopes of collaboration and support. Instead I felt i was rewarded with a bleak and unhopeful diagnosis and not much to show for my efforts. The feeling at the time was to abandon all of it, learn to leave the expectations of life behind, as well as the hurt. I’ve since recovered, and the sentiment doesn’t run as hot as it once did. When dealing with such intense times, the emotions are equally as intensified. At the time, it was as real as ever, and I’ll never forget that feeling. I think I learned through writing the track, in the end, a healthy view of the light and dark sides in life, but also how to enforce an appropriate distance from each.