Field Guides | The Family Interviews
Meet Field Guides
Grab a compass and some maps, I’d like to introduce you to Field Guides. This Brooklyn-based project serves up some of the lushest, dreamiest, jingly-jingliest indie pop you’ll have the pleasure of hearing, but does so with an environmental bend.
Intrigued? Like birds? Confused about humanity? Give this one a go.
Preferably in the woods. Maybe next to a pond. In Massachusetts.
We called the band up to pick their collective brain, fresh off their latest release, This Is Just A Place. Below, we discuss swans v. scorpions (the age old debate), the best venues in the Big Apple, and “Dad socks.”
Give it a read and a listen below. Go eat an apple and compost it.
Bull fighting: A Mad Lib By Field Guides
Bullfighting is a DEWY sport which is very popular in ISTANBUL. A bullfighter is called a matador, and his equipment consists of a long, sharp BOWL called a AXOLOTL, and a bright red JORTS. He waves his JORTS at the bull, which makes MERLE-HAGGARD-ESQUE angry and causes him to charge. The matador then goes through a series of BULLISH maneuvers to avoid getting caught on the bull's FEMUR. If the matador kills the bull, the spectators yell, "TAHINI!" and throw their FUNGI into the ring. If the bull wins, they yell "RRRRRRRATATOUILLEEEEE!" and call for another matador. Bullfighting is a very HAGGARD sport, but it will never be popular to America because Americans don't believe in cruelty to SHEEP.
Would You Rather…
Would you rather be trapped in a dark closet with a swan or a scorpion?
Julian: Swan vs. scorpion is a difficult call. Depends on how they're behaving, right?
Benedict: True, it depends which swan or scorpion we're talking about. I've met very friendly and docile scorpions and I was once chased by a terribly belligerent goose, which is close enough to a swan to make me think that some swans would be quite unpleasant if trapped in a closet. However, I know scorpions are nocturnal, and might therefore be problematically active in a dark closet, whereas a swan might settle in and make a nest out of the clothes I presume are in this hypothetical closet and just rest calmly. Do swans snore?
Some Questions with Field Guides
Where is your favorite venue in NYC to see a show?
Benedict: I love seeing all the amazing jazz and African and soul music at Bar Lunàtico. I also had the good fortune of seeing Aldous Harding’s first US show there; it was so special to see one of my favorite contemporary artists in such an intimate setting. I always love the programming at Issue Project Room, and the space itself is spectacular. I just saw Joanna Newsom at the Teatro del Museo Barrio and that space is incredible. BAM is such a local treasure, of course…
Alena: Sunny’s in Red Hook is always a blast. It really feels like you’ve stepped into a time capsule and the vibe is always super warm and relaxed.
Where is your favorite venue In NYC to play a show?
Alena: The Owl Music Parlor in Prospect Lefferts Garden is a really special place. It’s intimate and there’s a beautiful grand piano.
Benedict: That’s a tough question, because so many of our favorite places no longer exist: Zebulon, Silent Barn, Palisades, and on and on… But we always love playing at our neighborhood spot, C’mon Everybody, which fosters a strong and vibrant community. And Union Pool always makes for a cozy show with great sound (shout-out to Doug!).
Has there been any change to the dynamic of your band between the seven years you have been together?
Benedict: Absolutely. This has been such an amorphous project and it’s been through so many permutations over its lifespan. I first recorded something as Field Guides back in 2012 and since then people have come and gone; it’s a big family affair with an open-door policy. The current lineup is pretty special, though: Taylor Bergren-Chrisman on bass, Julian Cubillos on guitar, Rachel Housle on drums, Aaron Rourk on reeds and woodwinds, and Alena Spanger on keyboards and singing…
If you were offered a free tattoo what would you get?
Alena: I have no idea! This is why I don’t have any tattoos.
Benedict: I’d get a design by my friend Brooke Herr, who happens to be an incredible tattoo artist (http://www.brookeherr.com/tattoo).
What is the all-time best-ever cure for a hangover?
Julian: I don’t have a hangover cure but if anyone knows one I could sure use one today.
Alena: Drinking a disgusting amount of water.
Benedict: I heard something somewhere about licking a dog. But I’ve never tried it.
What would you say is the relationship between nature and your music?
Benedict: All of our songs are about nature and love. Nature—as I think of it—is the only thing that exists without us (and might be better off without us) that makes life worthwhile; love and art are the only things we bring into the world that makes life worthwhile.
I also think often about how I don’t necessarily need or want to add more clutter to the world; our (very capitalistic) conception of creativity as synonymous with productivity feels deeply flawed to me. I’d prefer to find ways to make art that more organically focuses a collective gaze at all the wild and beautiful and mysterious stuff already around us…
There’s a great quote from the artist Isamu Noguchi that sums it up for me:
“You can look at nature as chaos; that is where everything comes from. However, man is now producing his own kind of chaos, chaos that springs out of super productivity. It’s as if nature had gone wild. That is to say, an exuberance of creativity. Creativity used in the wrong sense here. There is the thought of creativity, but the unthoughtful creativity through which man becomes an instrument of nature and its forces, is being neglected.”
What are your top three essential items for surviving NYC in the summer?
Benedict: 1) A train ticket to somewhere far from NYC, 2) a bike to ride to Fort Tilden, and 3) a bodega well-stocked with coconut popsicles.
Where is the best place to get pizza in NYC?
Benedict: Oh wow, that’s tough! For fancy pizza, we love Saraghina in Bed-Stuy. For a classic New York slice, it’s hard to beat John’s on Bleecker in the West Village. Alena and I also really like Archie’s in Bushwick.
Who are your favorite bands active in NYC right now?
Benedict: This list could go on for way too long! There is so much great music happening these days… Here’s a far-from-exhaustive list: Very Good, Julian Cubillos, WishWish, Scree, Clebs, Erica Eso, Fust, Adeline Hotel, Ben Seretan, Renata Zeiguer, Nico Hedley’s Family Band, Tigue, …
Julian: Very Good is also one of my favorite NYC bands ever…
What keeps you inspired to create more music?
Benedict: That’s tough. These are deceptively difficult questions. I’m not sure if that’s how I think about creating music or any art. When I’m feeling in need of inspiration, that’s usually when it seems too late… My experience is that when things work well—when stuff comes out that feels honest and good—I have very little say in it. I suppose another way to put it is that everything is potentially inspiring (a small gesture of kindness between strangers, a lizard on the wall, our looming apocalypse); the question is whether we’re receptive or open to it. It’s really frustratingly rare that I am. There’s usually an awful lot in the way. And I’m still trying to figure out how to more reliably clear all that away so that I can grab a hold and make something out of all the overwhelming pain and beauty in the world. (If that’s not an overwrought answer to a simple question, I don’t know what is…)
Alena: Yeah, I would say it feels more like a need than a choice.
What is a trend that needs to stop?
Benedict: Hmmmm… Our ever-increasing reliance on/addiction to certain technologies… All the trends that are accelerating our destruction of the planet (https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/)… Am I taking this question too seriously? I just Googled “worst fashion trends 2019” and I think I disagree with most of what I’m seeing: what’s wrong with “dad socks” and overalls?
What was the intention behind the abstract forms on the cover of your upcoming album This Is Just A Place?
Benedict: The album art is by a superb Spanish artist named Julia Huete (http://cargocollective.com/juliahuete/12167208). I stumbled upon her art years ago and fell in love with it. Then I somehow realized that a friend of mine is from the same town as Julia, so I got in touch. I love the way that the forms and elemental color palette elicits a sort of interpretative invitation akin to a Rorschach ink blot… There are also interesting relationships between the shapes; they make me think of precarious balancing acts, contrasts of lightness and weight, and a general organic impression that works so well alongside the music. Here’s what Julia had to say when I asked if she wanted to say anything about it: “It is a composition I made while I was listening the album! For me it’s a very intuitive process.”
Any final comments? (This is your electronic soapbox for one last answer.)
Benedict & Alena: It’s often incredibly daunting to consider all the causes deserving our attention and energy. But there are lots of people doing really noble work to combat injustice and global tumult. Here is just a short list of some organizations worthy of support:
Make the Road NY: “Make the Road New York builds the power of immigrant and working class communities to achieve dignity and justice.” (https://maketheroadny.org/)
Housing Works: “Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.” (https://www.housingworks.org)
Extinction Rebellion: “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse.” (https://rebellion.earth)
Center for Reproductive Rights: “The Center for Reproductive Rights uses the power of law to advance reproductive rights as fundamental human rights around the world.” (https://reproductiverights.org/)
Planned Parenthood: “Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of people worldwide.” (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/)
RAICES: “RAICES is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees.” (https://www.raicestexas.org)
UNHCR: “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a United Nations programme with the mandate to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.” (https://www.unhcr.org/)
Sunrise Movement: “We're building an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.” (https://www.sunrisemovement.org/)
NOW NYC: “Igniting change for the women and girls of New York through policy and activism, together we will Speak Up, Rise Up, and Act NOW.” (https://nownyc.org)
Survival International: “The global movement for tribal peoples’ rights. We’re the only organization that champions tribal peoples around the world. We help them defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures.” (https://www.survivalinternational.org)
826NYC: “Our mission is to encourage the exploration of endless possibility through the power of writing. To empower students with the skills to write their own paths forward, undefined by circumstance.” (https://826nyc.org/)