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White Ash Falls

Peering into the Reflecting Pool with White Ash Falls

Beard-master Andy Bishop talks about wilderness, ideal first dates and focusing his music on himself

By Scott Wood

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Who are these fellows? White Ash Falls is the new project from Yukon Blonde bassist Andy Bishop. They released their debut album, By The River Bend, earlier this year on Light Organ Records. For Bishop, White Ash Falls allows him to explore a style more close to his heart. He has said, “I've played in punk bands. I've done just about everything, but I've always had a thing for folk music. With other types of music, I feel like I'm writing for that genre. Whereas for White Ash Falls, I'm writing for myself, and this is what comes out.”  While White Ash Falls began as a solo project, it quickly grew to a group of collaborators, fleshing out the sound.

Scott Wood: You call White Ash Falls “a collective.” Can you talk about herding cats—getting people together for these tracks? And how the mix of players or members affected the output?

Hello folks! Scott Wood here! I'm the host of the interview show, a syndicated radio program you can find on several campus community radio stations across Canada. This year, I am doing a yearlong series for earshot online on the "hidden talents" in my local Vancouver scene. Basically, I am going to give the campus community radio readers the chance to get to know some of Vancouver's most interesting, undiscovered bands.

Andy Bishop: It was actually fairly easy to get everyone together. I had started writing music for this project as a solo artist. As the songs grew so did my need for musicians. I asked around and found a few people who wanted to play on the first set of recordings. At the time, I had never imagined White Ash Falls This month, I chat with indie- folk- alt-country collective White Ash Falls. being anything more than an outlet for some of my thoughts and needs that were not being met in the other groups I played in. Most of the original players on the album are so busy with other bands I don't think any of us had a vision any further than making the record. After By The River Bend was completed, more friends heard the songs, and were eager to play in the band. After a few lineup changes, I've found a really great group of musicians who are willing to put their time and energy into my music. It's pretty incredible feeling when that happens.

White Ash Falls

Having a mix of players definitely affects the output. Even though this started as a “solo project” I never wanted to make White Ash Falls records with me playing the majority of the instruments. I give people the freedom to add and play what they want. I think I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by such amazing and talented musicians with a similar goal in mind. I feel by calling it ‘a collective’ it allows the players to come and go when they need to. No pressure really, just a positive creative outlet for everyone.

Scott Wood: All the bands you have been involved with have a nature vibe going on with their names. (Twin River, Yukon Blonde, Red Cedar and now White Ash Falls.) Coincidence? Where did the name White Ash Falls come from?

Andy Bishop: I don't think there was ever really the intention on naming bands with a nature theme. I guess that's just how they ended up. It is kind of strange though.

There is something unique about creating music within a group. In certain ways, you're closer to your band mates than your lovers.

The name White Ash Falls came while I was touring the US with Yukon Blonde a few years back. I had already started writing songs for the record and was struggling to find a name other than using my own. We passed a sign on the highway saying something like “White Falls 20 Miles” with an arrow pointing south. After I wrote the song White Ash Falls, it seemed a fitting name for the project.

Scott Wood: Since you have been involved with so many Vancouver bands, everyone must know you! What’s one advantage and disadvantage of this?

Andy Bishop: The advantage has been having a good pool of musicians and friends to draw from both creatively and personally. As a musician, I find a great comfort in being surrounded by fellow musicians. I guess if I hadn't played with people I wouldn't have them around, or have them to be willing to play with me. I really like the concept of a community within music. If people don't contribute, it becomes dispersed and lonely quickly.

The disadvantage is not having a blank slate between projects. People are usually so quick to compare one to the next, instead of allowing them to be distinct from one another.

After a few lineup changes, I've found a really great group of musicians who are willing to put their time and energy into my music. It's pretty incredible feeling when that happens.

Scott Wood: Vancouver’s Olio Festival described White Ash Falls like this: “A handful of folk. A pinch of psych-rock. A thick layer of alt-country. First date: walk through Lighthouse Park. Second date: barn-burner near Hope.” I like the date metaphor. Are these your date suggestions? What is your ideal first date?  

Andy Bishop: Those weren't my suggestions but welcome ones. An ideal first date for me would be grabbing a couple beers and going for a ride, then heading to a park. Something really mellow without the pressure of a fancy dinner or stigma of a first date.

Scott Wood: You dissolved your ex-band Red Cedar. Can you talk about dissolving a band? (They are hard enough to get together sometimes!)

Andy Bishop: It's tough you know... Playing in a band is very much like having multiple relationships, and when you split up it's like losing that many partners all at once. There is something unique about creating music within a group. In certain ways, you're closer to your band mates than your lovers. You share and grow in different ways that you and your lover never can. In the end, time heals all and you realize why you were together in the first place. You become friends again and move on. It's essential to go through this process to learn and progress.

Scott Wood: Music blog Consequence of Sound calls you "an impressively-bearded Vancouverite." Do many male fans give you a “beard envy” vibe? How do the ladies in your life react to the beard?

Whiite Ash Falls

Andy Bishop: Never really beard envy. More dudes are stoked and give you props. Sometimes they say “oh man my girlfriend would never let me do that” and my response is usually “Then you need a new girlfriend.”

I've never had any ladies give me grief about it. I guess it's maybe the women I spend my time with. I really see it as a filter for shitty people. Keeps the bad ones away and the good ones even closer.

Scott Wood: As you answer these questions, you are on tour with Vancouver-based indie rock band Yukon Blonde. If I ever interview the guys behind Yukon Blonde, what’s one question I can ask them to mess with their heads?

Andy Bishop: You can ask them to describe our wonderful recording session in SOHO during this year’s CMJ. Brandon has a video. Maybe if you're lucky he'll show you.

Scott Wood: White Ash Falls’ debut album has two covers on it, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Hong Kong Blues” and the traditional Scottish song “Katie Cruel.” A good cover can draw a lot of attention to a band. Why did you choose these tracks to cover and what do they mean to you?

Andy Bishop: Well I've always been a fan of that Hoagy Carmichael tune. It's so catchy, yet so dark. I never felt the original version really came across as heavy as the lyrics suggest. I later heard it on a Ramblin Jack Elliot record “I Stand Alone” and started to cover it. My good friend Dusty Summers heard me play it one day while we smoked and shared songs on my porch. He convinced me to put it on the album and I'm glad he did. “Katie Cruel” was a song I fell in love with the first time I heard Karen Dalton. She and the song just totally blew my mind. I have a soft spot for traditional American and Scottish music and her version of “Katie Cruel” instantly captured my heart. I had wanted to cover that one for many years and never took the time to create my own take on it. For some reason, it really intimidated me. Finally I sat down and dove into it. I was happy enough with the results to put it on the album.

Scott Wood: Critics of the record mention that if you take away the two covers, there is only 26 minutes of White Ash Falls material here. How do you respond?

Andy Bishop: Listen to a Willie Nelson record.

I would never really call White Ash Falls a side project anymore although it started out as one. It's my primary focus and a direct reflection of myself.

Scott Wood: Will we see more of White Ash Falls in the near future? With a guy like you, who has his hands in so many bands, what would it take for this to become more than a side project? Where does your music path take you next?

Andy Bishop: You will see another White Ash Falls record in the late summer or early fall of 2013. I've already recorded half of it with Colin Stewart at The Hive in Burnaby BC. I had originally intended on releasing the material as an EP a few months from now, but after we finished the last session, I knew these songs needed to find a home on a full length album. I'm happy to say this it is the best material I've written and can't wait to share it.

I would never really call White Ash Falls a side project anymore although it started out as one. It's my primary focus and a direct reflection of myself. I've spent too much time in my life not focussing on my own needs, and now it's time to make sure that those needs are met.

Well as far as my music path goes, I'm currently writing this interview from a hotel room in NY with Yukon Blonde. I'm going to finish this tour, head home, and continue writing the second half to this new yet-to-be-titled album. I'm planning on touring White Ash Falls, in some form or another, this coming spring, then just keep doing what I'm doing I guess. I really wouldn't want to do anything different.

Listen to upcoming episodes of the interview show for a full audio chat with Andy from White Ash Falls!

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