Within the giant landslide of music makers on the web and even outside of it, there are few artists who have that immediately distinguishable sound. If it happens to be an act you really like, that welcome familiarity tends to fill you with warmth, when you hear great new original tunes that you feel like you've been waiting for a long time. This was my reaction when Biography of Ferns recently put 3 new songs on their page from their brand new CD, called Pastel Gothic. These songs were entirely different from anything I've heard from them before, but upon subsequent listens, they grew on me really fast. It seems that certain songwriters write tunes that unfold over time, and that seems to be true of BoF as much as any band I've ever heard in Indieland. The arrangements are always well thought-out, and the unique voice of Justin Hamacher along with a kickin' band featuring Justin Lund and Chris Bagamery make one wonder why this band isn't all over radio and TV.
into the Legends of Indie in 2006, Biography of Ferns has had 3 number
songs on the Kayak Big 50 - Not a Magician, The Charmer, and John the
and False Candle, a song off Pastel Gothic is currently on the same
climbing fast. They also just won the Sonic Bids
Fiercelly independent, this band does the whole indie community proud
quality songs and a spirit of rock that seems destined to endure for
long haul. Recently I had a chance to ask BoF some
about their musical lives..
Scott: Ok we'll start with an easy one. How did the original members of your band get together and where did the name come from ?
Justin Hamacher: i met brett (drummer) in the cafeteria where we went to college. we hung out and ate chicken strips and pepsi on the top floor in the corner while the frat guys were flexing biceps and singing to the mainstream jukebox at the top of their lungs in the main floor.
made a big list of band names once. i like plants and when you go into
the woods or a ravine up here, one of the main things you see, all the
time, is ferns. i kind of was thinking about that, about what is one of
the oldest plants on the earth, and what would probably be around way
humans are gone. ferns. their story, biography if you will, would
way beyond ours after we have destroyed ourselves.
Scott: Songwriting is obviously a major strength for BoF, some of it sounds a bit Beatleesque. Are the Beatles a big influence, and who else do you consider important in the background of your musical upbringing ?
H: well, brett and i love the kinks. a lot of our harmonies
from there. and beatles, buzzcocks, yes for sure. we probably have all
listened to copies of revolver like 100 times each. we are all
probably came from us being disenchanted with our families while
up. the fantastical idea that things might be better somewhere else,
those songs might be taking place in a better reality, in some
unknown country and time period like england in the 70s.
Scott: Let's move on to something more involved. How do you compare the success you've had with what you expect or think you deserve ? Does it bother you that your best songs are clearly better than most mainstream hits, and if so, how do you deal with that in regards to your psyches ?
H: success. what does it mean? honestly, 10 years ago when i
picked up a guitar, i thought of success as being getting free chinese
food after a show. seattle is a big city with an international musical
presence. we didn't realize how competitive it is, and, i think if we
more socially active, as in being scenesters, we would do a lot better.
but, this band has always been full of sci fi nerds, observers and
we have written some good songs, and it is really kind of you to say
are better than much of the mainstream. to compare one's self to others
will forever leave one disatisfied. it is an endless pit of gluttony,
crave fame, and honestly, to play a show at a pub and have 2 guys come
up and offer to buy us a beer or unload our equipment, or to play an
ages venue and show some younger people that you dont have to be vain
to rock, that is our reward. it would be nice to travel to europe with
someone else's tour funding and see what is going on first hand in the
arts scene there. we would all like to do that.
Scott: Is John the Barber a real person ? Got any anecdotes in regards to this ?
H: as far as we know, john the barber is not a real person. i
once about this guy who lived below a newspaper and had wanted to be a
writer. i thought that was funny, to be constanlty plagued by your
overhead. but then i thought he could cope, if he were a barber or some
other profession where he was able to interchange stories with others.
sometimes circumstances won't let us be what our broadest dreams would,
and we find ways to fulfill those needs through other outlets. i love
stuff. fascinating. the way people try to integrate their aspirations
the daily grind.
Scott: Your bio says BoF is going to be doing an international tour I know I'd really like to hear some of those songs live. Any chance you'll do a live record and put up some live mp3s ? :)
H: we really would love to go bum around europe. if we
llive show professionally, i bet it would sound pretty dynamic. we have
tried it before with lo fi stuff, and it didn't sound good though.
Scott: Having had some correspondences with one of your members in the past, I know you have a strong independent spirit. Do you think the industry can change enough in the future to get the best music onto the streets again, or do you think corporate ownership of radio and big business practices of labels combine to make the market almost inpenetrable for talented originals ? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel, in your opinion ?
H: the market is ultimately dictated by the consumers, we
remember that. unless we can get consumers to be excited about
bands they haven't heard of before, to take the gamble of exploring
that hasn't been watered down and spoon fed to them, i don't see how
much will change. the internet is completely levelling the playing
and removing all the retail distribution blockades the big labels had
hard to fortify. they are completely pissed off about this. it is just
as easy for someone to go to itunes and download the new biography of
track as it is for them to download bloc party or the rolling stones.
is a level playing field. it is completely empowering.
Scott: My favorite song of yours musically is The Charmer. I'm not sure at all what it's about. Wish you would post your lyrics. Would you consider giving us a short synopsis of what inspired that song ?
H: that song is about a friend i had when i was younger who
of the most intelligent, dynamic people i have yet met. i have never
a young man with so much flare regarding women and an appetite for life
and experience. i was for about 5 years entirely under his spell.
with that intelligence came a lot of power and responsibility. he got
up recklessly with drugs and dishonesty and ultimately, in purely
style, flew too high and had to leave our lives.
Scott: I'm sure you guys have some ardent fans. Any good stories ? :)
H: we have some pretty hardcore fans. it is kind of amusing
when we play this song called 'ring of oaks' in seattle, if some of our
younger friends are there, they will actually start convulsing and
about on the ground, rolling on top of each other and screaming. it is
like a giant snake pit. lately we have seen new people showing up at
we haven't met before who come up and say they like us. that is super
to be able to meet people. it is what started us on the path to
musicians, the sense of feeling isolated and wanting ot be a part of
Scott: Your page says you like the Clash a lot. We have a JoeStrummer page on this site. How do you think the music of this current era compares to the direction it was seemingly taking back when the Clash and the Sex Pistols and X were all making great records ?
H: the clash, sex pistols and x were all the vanguard. it was
vital unexplored teritory, a cultural phenomena on a grand scale,
applicable to the whole of their societies. i'm not sure is would term
anything going on right now in music a 'cultural phenomena'. so, i
if you are doing punk or artschool music now, it can be very
and private. it has the quality of being a zine, or a doodle in your
which you might show to a few close friends. things seem more internal
now, especially with the advent of economical digital home studios. you
have a thought, bust it out, and it goes on the net, and somebody hears
it, and it communicates. powerful. incredible.
Scott: This is a question we ask all Spotlight artists, but I notice you're fans of science fiction. Have you ever had any UFO or other experiences of high strangeness ?
Justin H: both i and justin lund listen to art bell and coast to coast. i personally have had a few weird experiences with something appearing late at night in my room. i don't know if it was a psychic projection coming from myself, or something external. i believe in psychic cabilities, precognition and syncronicity. i have epxerienced them all, precognition at times to a really uncanny level, worthy of my getting some mentoring perhaps. justin lund our bassist is really big into orgone and conspirscy theories. the illuminati and stuff like that. he has a wealth of knowledge about secret societies, the treasury department, conspiracies. buy him a cider and he can talk your ear off for 5 hours on a friday at the pub about all this.
(at this point Justin Lund (bass player for BoF) chimes in)
Justin Lund: Well, the short answer to this question is no.
However, if you would consider fighting your way down through subterranean hordes of shape-shifting reptilians, armed only with a psionic blaster, an Orgone cleansing device, and a tin foil hat paranormal, then the answer would be yes.
see for me, it is just run-of-the-mill to have a few gluten-free beers
with the Giant humanoids that live deep within the earth after a hard
battle with their neighboring Reptoids. Really the only thing that I
consider out-of-the-ordinary is when a few traveling Sasquatch
into the midst our victory celebration. The Giants did not seem to
however, as I gather they have a long and ancient history together. I
about this Giant/Sasquatch connection but I had had too much to drink
interfered with the Sasquatch"s psychic link. I shortly became quite
and thankfully, one of the Sasquatch was nice enough to teleport me
before I passed out.
Scott: hahaha You say music can change the world. Are you that hopeful every day ? Are you still determined to change the world with your own music ?
H: music can change the world. all someone has to do is watch
u.s. versus john lennon' and you get an idea for how threatening a man
with his guitar can be to the most economically powerful country on the
planet. to some it might seem incredbily naive, but a statement like
you need is love' or 'give peace a chance' when connected to a viral
that is dangerous. all of us in the ferns hope that our music can
with individuals and hopefully recharge their batteries in some way so
that they have more energy to live a positive, socially conscious life.
it would be silly and egotistical of us to claim to have any sphere of
interest at this point that is going to shift an entire culture though.
but in our own small way, perhaps we can.