A little less than a year ago, a scientist and an artist came together on stage at a neighborhood pub in Fayetteville to sing a few songs together. It kind of happened by chance, but fans of relatively new Fayetteville band Air Loom are certainly glad that it did.
As it turns out, this particular scientist and artist make some absolutely beautiful music together.
The scientist is Jackson Jennings, a faculty member in the UA’s Biology department specializing in dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) who actually met Fayetteville Underground artist Dana Louise Idlet when she was looking for cross-sections of cedar to paint on for an art exhibition in 2009.
Fast forward a few years, and the two have come together again, this time to collaborate on a musical project called Air Loom. The new band is set celebrate the release of a 7-track EP called ‘Seeds’ with a performance at 7 p.m. on Thursday night (Aug. 29) at Tanglewood Branch Beer Co. Air Loom will also perform locally at a house concert set for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Cove House Concerts (4205 Shawnee Cove) in Springdale.
We got in touch with them this week to find out a bit more on how they came to play music together, and to get some information about the new EP.
Here’s what they had to say.
What have you been listening to lately?
Dana: Lately a lot of singer-songwriters we’ve met as we’re out playing shows. Basement Brew (Fayetteville), National Park Radio (Harrison), Steve Poltz who I met at Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, Field Report, Elephant Revival, Raappana, Alela Diane. I also just inherited my grandmother’s vinyl collection, so a lot of Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Joni Mitchell, and jazz and classical greats. It’s been fun going through the collection slowly.
Jackson: I’ve been listening to a fiddle duo called 10 String Symphony, composed of Christian Sedelmyer and Rachel Baiman. Christian played with Norah Jane Struthers and the Party Line at the Fayetteville Roots Festival, who I have also been listening too. Also Elephant Revival. And I’ve also been revisiting Dylan’s Bootleg Series and the New Morning album and have been on a Little Dragon kick lately too. She’s (they’re) incredible.
How did you two come to start playing together?
Jackson: I’ll let Dana answer that. It started 4 years ago when we met through mutual friends and shared our iTunes Library and started again when I fixed her feedback problem at a solo show at Tanglewood and sat in with her on a song or two.
Dana: I had been playing music for 3 months in the Azores and kind of built up my confidence with my friend and partner that played with me. So when I moved home I set up three shows because I wanted put everything into music. Jackson showed up at Tanglewood just as I was starting the gig and helped me fix (just use) my sound equipment. One of the first songs I learned was a song of Jackson’s called “Tied to the Sea,” I asked him to sit in with me towards the end of the show, and the second he started singing harmonies with me I knew I wanted him as a band partner. We’ve been playing together since the end of February.
Tell us a bit about the new album. Where did you guys record? How was the recording process?
Dana: This is a live recording made over an afternoon out on my parents property. My dad recorded us after we talked about the sound we were looking for and ate a fancy meal, drank a lot of tea, maybe a beer or two and enjoyed ourselves. The tracks and shape of the CD came together in the studio, we had an idea of the songs we wanted to include but it really became clear after we started the process. It was hard to get over myself at the beginning, I’m still getting used to hearing my voice amplified and played back to me. It’s like when you hear your voice message and think “that can’t be me!”
Jackson: The EP was recorded just outside of Prairie Grove with Dana’s dad Ezra in his home studio. All the tracks are one-takes (except for the short dripping ukulele lead on Tied to the Sea). We wanted a semi-unpolished sound, like what you would hear if you sat and listened to us play in the living room.
You guys just performed a few sets at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. What is your impression of the festival?
Dana: I think it was both our first time to be in Fayetteville during the Roots Festival. I was blown away by the musicians they brought in, the food that was shared, the volunteers that made things run smoothly, and all the thought behind it. I love that we have something this special in Fayetteville and I was honored to be a part of it.
Jackson: It was my first Roots Fest. I really enjoyed it. I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I met lots of great music lovers and music makers. Aside from the great acts I saw (Elephant Revival, Norah Jane Struthers) that was the best part for sure. I think it’s amazing that so many different types of acts fit in together so nicely. I have not been to a music festival in years, and by the end, I felt worn out, but really satisfied. I asked myself during the late night Hayes Carll set, “Am I getting too old for this?”.
Obviously music runs in Dana’s family (Her father is Trout Fishing in America’s Ezra Idlet). What is it like to be able to connect with your Dad on a musical level?
Dana: It’s pretty amazing. The shared excitement about music has always been there, but now that I’m playing guitar it’s opened more conversations up. Sometimes he gives me way more information than I need at one time, but he’s a great teacher and always available and eager to show me new chords or brainstorm song lyrics or shapes. I feel really lucky to have MY family surrounding me, it’s a musician’s dream.
Jackson – what are some other musical project you’ve been involved in?
Jackson: around 2005-2006 I was playing music some in Fayetteville as a one-man show and also with some members of The Darksuits, who were around at the time. I’ve been home recording my own songs since probably 2000 or so and have made some demo copies to give to friends and fans. When I moved to Finland in 2009, I had a couple of projects. One was Honest Bird, with my friend Nora Niemispelto. We cut some tracks at her brother’s home studio in the woods and played some shows around Finland. Then I formed a little folk(ish) band called Things and Stuff. We made one EP called Love Stains and played a number of shows in central Finland.
You guys do a mix of originals and some interesting covers. What percentage of your set is original?
Dana: We are working in more original songs these days, and depending on how long our sets are decides how many covers we need to do. There are some covers that we like to play no matter where we are, and some places that are more receptive to original music. I guess it just depends on where we are playing to how much of our set is original. We’re really looking forward to some house shows coming up. Songwriting is so new and exciting for me, Jackson is a really good and creative partner to have in my situation, songs seem to ooze out of him.
Jackson: We started out doing about half and half, but that has shifted more towards our own stuff as we have written new songs and revisited some of my older ones. We’re writing songs together now too, which has been really enjoyable for me. I wrote some songs together with Nora in Finland, but that’s it. Eventually of course, we would like to play all original songs, but a beloved cover here or there never hurt anybody. We enjoy putting our own touch on songs we love. And Dana and I have always had similar musical taste.
How do you choose what cover songs to include in the set?
Jackson: They’re basically songs that we like to hear. Songs that hit us hard. And of course, songs that are playable. I never thought we could cover Blackstreet’s No Diggity but we figured it out and now we have that to play when the crowd seems right for it.
Dana: I feel like playing No Diggity everywhere all the time, but I guess we mostly feel the room out. If it’s a bar scene we tend to speed things up and play faster songs, we save our sweeter songs for brunches or low key events. Set lists usually happen after we set up our gear, we will sit down (if Jackson hasn’t made us late by being so calm all the time) or I haven’t made us late (by deciding whatever I was wearing is no longer comfortable) and talk about where we want the set to go, look at the flow of it.
Tell us a bit about the release party on Thursday night.
Dana: We are selling our album Seeds for $10. There is a possibility for special guests on stage or in the crowd. We just want to get as many friends, family and fans together to celebrate this project.
Jackson: There is no cover, we’ll play for three hours, and there may be a surprise, improve interpretive dance performance by three of our youngest fans. It will just be Dana and I, playing much like we played on the EP, but we will certainly have some new songs to play.
If folks miss out this week, where can they get their hands on the new album?
Jackson: Dana says it will be available on iTunes and CDBaby in time.
Dana: It will be available on iTunes and CD Baby soon. Hopefully by tonight we will have that figured out. My mom has been working her ass of to help us get all of these details taken care of and done right. So hopefully by the end of the week it will be on iTunes. The physical copies will be sold at our shows and we will look into selling them in some local record stores.