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    I think any group of 13-plus talented musicians deserves the moniker "supergroup." Austin-based band Mother Falcon boasts a lineup that sometimes swells to upwards of 20 and is currently touring behind their third full-length release, Good Luck Have Fun. They will share the Brown Theatre stage this Sunday, October 11 in a concert with Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore.

    Mother Falcon is known for its eclectic mix of symphonic music that blends elements of rock, jazz, and other pop genres — an orchestral feast for the ears. They are also committed to educating the next generation of musicians through their successful band camp, Music Lab, which teaches students everything from song composition to DIY merchandising. 

    I recently asked the band members about their new album and the feat of taking a large musical collective on the road. Andrew Fontenot (Tenor Saxophone), Diana Burgess (Cello / Vocals), Matt Puckett (Electric Guitar / Vocals), and Nick Gregg (Cello / Guitar / Vocals) fill us in on the details. About half the album is comprised by the "Starnation Suite." What can you tell me about the conception of this piece?

    Andrew Fontenot - Several years ago, we were approached by Justin Agnew, the director of an upcoming documentary entitled “Star Nation,” which is about professional Starcraft II players. He wanted to use some of our music for the movie, and eventually we decided that we should just write entirely new material for it. The Starnation Suite is essentially a medley of all the music from the documentary. It was turned into one continuous piece by our fearless leader, Nick Gregg. After performing the suite a few times, we decided that we like it enough to put it on an album. It ended up working out perfectly, because the Suite is such a good juxtaposition to the “pop” nature of the first half of the album. 

    Sometimes we like to flatter ourselves and compare it to David Bowie’s “Low” in the sense that it is two very different musical halves of the same mind. 

    LC: How is it like a traditional suite and how does it depart from it? What connects the different movements?

    Diana Burgess - Like a traditional suite, the Starnation suite is a collection of pieces intended to be played as one instrumental work. Each piece represents a different character or part of the story, but collectively contributes to the suite as a whole. A few themes reoccur throughout the suite as either complete melodies or variations, connecting the movements and helping with the flow of the composition. The suite deviates from the traditional definition in its purpose - representing the world of professional gaming, specifically Starcraft. Instead of a suite made up of dances or selections from an opera, the Starnation suite takes the listener through the successes and losses of professionals in the gaming world. 

    Nick Gregg - The StarNation suite uses the format of the suite to create the atmosphere of the fast paced gaming culture; the typical games, where one’s reputation and livelihood can be decided, last anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes. We wanted to capture this tumultuous relationship and reverence for the game. The suite makes its way through the tangles of three major thematic clusters: the themes of the two main stars of the documentary, Naniwa and WhiteRa, the themes of the Esports gaming community, from the announcer, Day9, to the game play itself, and the theme of the gaming deities, the Koreans. Themes from one cluster will appear again at the end or beginning of other themes from another cluster. The transitions between major thematic moments act as terminals where the ears can catch their breath and take in the beginnings of new rhythmic or tonal motif. This motif is then built upon with instrumental additions to form the next theme.

    LC: Mother Falcon is known for blending all sorts of genres and styles. Does this album lean more or less to one style over another? What did you discover to be the unifying or thematic factors?

    Andrew - The main thing that sets this album apart from our other albums is that I find it to be much more dual-minded, rather than being an amalgamation of many musical styles. For the first time we went in to the studio with a singular focus: Write 4-5 pop songs. I think of it this way: In the past, we have tried to kind of go straight up the middle, in the sense that we take all of our musical backgrounds and preferences, and we try to make a sound that utilizes all of those sounds, which is what ends up creating the “blended” sound that you are speaking of. Conversely, on this record, we tried to stay far away from the middle. We have always been a band who tries to mix our pop sounds with our orchestral sounds. Good Luck Have Fun shows both extremes, rather than the blend. Half of the album is pop, half of the album is classical. You might say that it is our Bi-polar manifesto.

    LC: How many members are currently in the band — is everyone on the road for this tour? As a collective, are you always adding to the band?

    Andrew - We currently tour with between 12-15 people. It is constantly shifting because it is just so hard to get 15 people in the same place at the same time, much less 31 places. The corps of the band is about 13 people. We are currently in the process of adding more string elements, since over the years that is the section which has lost the most people. On this tour, we will have the 13-member corps group. For a long time, we were adding people at a pretty astounding rate. I was the 22nd member of the band, and it got up to 24 before it began shrinking. 

    LC: How do you work out new songs with so many performers — is there a core who come up with ideas and arrangements? At what point does the whole group get together to rehearse and work out the various parts?

    Andrew - You pretty much nailed it. There is a group of 5-6 people who do most of the structural and lyrical writing. This typically comes out of one or two riffs that someone wrote. After the skeleton of the song is put together, the song is brought to the whole band. Every member of Mother Falcon writes their own parts. Writing with so many people is a blessing, because it allows each member to put more focus on their parts, without having to spend energy worrying about the song as a whole, or what other sections are doing. Once all the parts are written, we go through and take out/switch up parts that clash or are redundant.  Then the song will float around usually for at least a few months before it is ever “finished.” Even then, we are always switching songs up for different tours or recordings, so we are essentially never actually finished with a song. 

    LC: Are you still planning to do residencies in different cities? How has the Music Lab come along since it started?

    Matt Puckett - While we don't have specific plans right now for a new residency, it has been a very successful strategy for us in the past, and I could easily see us revisiting that approach in the near future. In a way, the residency model is particularly appealing to us because it reflects our collective and communal nature--when you tour through a city and are just there for a night or two, you can make an impression but it's hard to really join the city's conversation.  Spend 3 weeks there, though, and you end up playing house parties for your new friends, after school programs for kids, and even just moving rehearsal to a park for the day. That kind of engagement is so much more how we exist in Austin. Speaking of community engagement, The Music Lab — Mother Falcon's summer camp for young musicians ages 11-17 — has continued to surprise and thrill us. This last summer was our 4th year in session, and certainly our biggest one yet. From the first year with 8 campers, we've expanded to 2 weeks of 50 campers each, and we've grown the staff and curriculum to include many amazing artists from beyond the band. It's still an idea in progress, but we've got our eyes on expanding the camp to other cities in the near future, a concept which would pair really excellently with a residency. We will see!

    LC: Are there particular artists or trends in music right now that you find inspiring? What is your take on the intersection of traditional classical / symphonic music with other popular genres? 

    Andrew - As a fan of Hip-Hop. I have been very excited to see the orchestral jazz elements in that genre recently. The two most recent examples that come to mind are Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and Chance the Rapper’s “Social Experiment” Project. Having always been drawn to Hip-Hop that features live-band elements (A Tribe Called Quest, Guru’s “Jazzmatazz”) the emphasis that Kendrick and Chance put on jazz and orchestral instrumentation is really exciting to hear. It seemed for a while that rap was moving away from analog instruments, and more toward digital sampling. Especially as someone who has done tracking for Hip-Hop, I have been truly impressed with the new generation of MCs, and their focus on the more “intellectual” genres. I think if we had more Q-tips and fewer Soulja Boys, the musical world would be a better place, and I am happy to say that I have seen the genre moving in that direction. Mother Falcon has been influenced heavily by Hip-Hop and R&B for the last few years, and we can only hope to return the favor in the future. 

    Nick - I’m really excited about music that is texture heavy and melodically light. A few artists that really have shaped this fascination with texture:  (1) The use of real world textures, the clicks of soda pop cans to sea mist, in Corduroi with his lastest release, "Oceanarium." (2) The drum tones and textures of Fatima’s "Yellow Memoires" and (3) the breathing in the chordal texture of Villa Lobo’s Quartet No. 1 and 2. I fully support the intersection. The use of symphonic instruments in popular genres is necessary as it further breaks the boundaries of the classical expectation of those instruments, and more importantly, of the future music makers and instrumentalists. The combined reach of popular music with the use of symphonic instruments makes it more possible for kids to develop interest in the symphonic instruments and subsequently the worlds of music that these instruments with them. The goal is to create creators and listeners that see all music on the same plane and take inspiration from any field/type of music or even better, any sounds. 

    Tickets ($25) for Sunday's 7 p.m. show at the Brown Theatre are available through the Kentucky Center online or by calling 502-584-7777. 

    Listen to "Kid" from "Good Luck Have Fun" here:

    Photo Credit: LeAnn Mueller


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    About Selena Frye

    I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville since 1996. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.

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