Futurebirds has come a long way since their 2010 release, Hampton’s Lullaby. The Georgia-born rock band adopted a reputation for wildly energetic live shows and has enjoyed subtle success touring with bands like Widespread Panic and Blitzen Trapper, but they’ve also been struck by adversity.
After countless live shows one of the members quit to pursue a career outside of music and the band’s sophomore release Baba Yaga spiraled into a extended process that took over two years to finish with constant touring to fund the album. Complicating the situation, after the album was completed, it sat on the shelf another seven months until a label was found to release it.
Despite the low points, Futurebirds are peaking with their album accumulating great press and a headlining nationwide tour. We caught up with guitarist Thomas Johnson to talk about Baba Yaga, the future of Futurebirds in 2014 and the Super Bowl.
Futurebirds headline at the Independent on January 30th.
You have six members in the band, and five of you write songs. How do you put your egos aside to let his happen?
I think, for the most part, it’s something we don’t think about too much. No one in the band has too much of an unhealthy ego so it’s always worked itself out. People bring songs to the table and we play through them as a band. If we feel it works then we do it and others chime in. I guess you could say it’s somewhat democratic. We just bring what we can to the song, and then if it feels strong we move forward, and if not we either wait for it develop or don’t use it. It’s pretty natural for us and we feel it out relatively quickly.
It’s almost kind of rare these days for bands to exist with multiple songwriters. The music scene seems more generated towards pop stars and singer/songwriters.
It’s not as prevalent as it used to be. I don’t know if this is part of it or not, but I know that’s it’s a lot harder for bands these days. There’s a lot less money and I think that could be part of it. People are kind of reigning in and not wanting to share the wealth. The model has changed, especially on the business side of things. It’s a weird atmosphere.
You had a member quit to pursue a different career. Are you currently playing as a five piece or a six piece?
Our original drummer quit back in 2012, after we recorded Baba Yaga and had already done the tracking. We’re always a six-piece band live, we never change that. We had a rotating cast of drummers up until April 2013, and we found a guy, Johnny, that seems to be a permanent fix.
That was a low point in the band because it was in the midst of recording and we had about 50 shows leading up to that and our initial label talks started to break down. Then our manager quit and the record was in limbo. We felt like if anyone were to jump ship that would be the time. But the new drummer has been great and he’s started to record with us, and we’re working on getting him into the brotherhood.
I don’t think people realize how hard it is to replace a band member. So many things have to mesh, musically and personally.
We thought it would be easier. We worked with a lot of great drummers that weren’t the right fit musically or personality wise. I knew that we were kind of a delicate situation, too. We’ve been together for five years and were friends before that, so having a group of people that have been together for so long creates a lot of dynamics that might not be apparent for new people coming in. That part is underappreciated too. It’s hard to be the new guy. The drummer is especially difficult because you can’t fake it. If the drums aren’t right, it’s gonna be right up in your face.
What was the most significant difference between Hampton’s Lullaby and Baba Yaga?
I think, for the most part, the music we released through the first record and up until the recent record had been written while we were in college and when we were younger. We hadn’t really gotten an honest portion of the burden of life. So with this album there was more urgency, and a certain weight the other stuff might not have had.
You definitely went through a lot of hardships and relentless touring throughout recording this record. Do you think it helped you mature as a band and as musicians?
I think it makes the songs better, and certainly us growing and being a better band helped. I think these songs came from a more genuine place than the past. It’s a shared experience and it’s unique to us, and everyone has their own perspective and take on that experience, but it’s something that helps identify a band, dealing with the same hardships things come together musically a lot better from a vibe standpoint.
You switched from Autumn Tone Records to Fat Possum. Did something happen with your previous record label?
Nothing happened with Autumn Tone. I guess the goal when we signed was that they wanted to put out records they liked by bands they liked. With us, they wanted us to sign with a better label, not that it’s a bad label. Now they’re kind of changing their model and feel capable of helping bands past the first record, and they’re starting to realize that putting in the work to help develop the band and not being able to take part in the success is not the best model. So it wasn’t us, or them, it was a mutual acknowledgement and felt we’d be better off with someone who had more to invest. They have a small operation, but if we had known the process was so difficult it might have changed our minds.
Baba Yaga seems to have a very live feel to it. Do you think it was because you were touring in between the long recording process?
I think it was all related, since we didn’t have a label to push it to get it done there was no urgency. We realized signing a contract we’d have a deadline, and recording an album takes longer than you think. We learned a lot, and this time we’re going about making our record and proceeding with the idea that we’ll have a label to put it out. The nature of the process is that it takes a long time.
Thirty songs were recorded. Are any of these songs going on the next album or being played on your current tour?
We’ve already started recording our new album in December, so we have a fresh batch of songs. A handful of them are songs that were unfinished, and a bunch of new stuff, too. We’re excited about playing the new stuff. We’ve played some brand new ones recently, but I think we’re gonna try to keep a lot of them closed in. I like the idea of having a bunch of songs that people haven’t heard on a new record.
Yeah, we’re still booking a lot of them and in the process of negotiating. We’re playing Wanee Festival in Florida. It’s a jammy thing in an awesome space, I think on a river—one of the more rootsy festivals in the southeast. We probably won’t be able to play Bonaroo again. They don’t like to book the same bands multiple years in a row, unless you’re someone big.
Any predictions for the Super Bowl?
It’s hard to say, the Seahawks didn’t play that great last weekend. Aside from the Patriots I feel like nobody played that great. I want Payton to win a ring and at least beat Brady. I think the NFL struck gold with these matchups, they’re the best matchups you’d want. I think Seattle will pull it out though, unfortunately for San Francisco. Their defense is so good, it’s really going to come down to how the quarterbacks play. In my gut, I feel like Seattle has the best odds to win it all.
Well, I hope you’re wrong, haha.
Futurebirds perform at the Independent on January 30. Tickets are $13 in advance and the show starts at 8pm.