Perhaps we should begin with a clarification. It seems that Frontier Folk Nebraska’s name has sparked some misconceptions about the band that should be addressed. Frontier Folk Nebraska does not have any particular affinity for the frontier, they are not necessarily a Folk band and … well, you can guess where this is going.
“We played in Indianapolis, and they asked if we needed a place to stay and I said we were driving home after the show, and the guy was like, ‘Holy, shit, that’s a long drive. What part of Nebraska are you from?’ ” FFN guitarist Travis Talbert says over lunch at Newport’s Pepper Pod. “We said, ‘We’re not from Nebraska.’ ”
There might be some question about their point of origin but there can be no doubt about the quartet’s present location. With their bold, brash and muscular new self-titled album, Frontier Folk Nebraska is firmly on the verge of a breakthrough. The band’s debut full-length, 2009’s Pearls, was a reflection of their largely acoustic beginnings four years previous, but the new album, for now available only in the vinyl format, finds them in loud and expansive mode.
“Pearls was more of a transition,” bassist Steven Oder says. “We were in the midst of going from an acoustic band with violin to what we are now.”
Although the two albums are relatively different in tone and volume, frontman Michael Hensley notes that the inspiration for many of the songs on Pearls and Frontier Folk Nebraska is largely the same.
“I don’t want to sound cliché, but I was in a five-year relationship, and the majority of those songs were inspired by her,” Hensley says.
“They don’t come off too pleasing. I think she knows. I did try to disguise them; I can’t be too blunt about it, but I guess I am now. But through Pearls and the self-titled album, that was our relationship and our demise. It wasn’t just about her, it was about myself, being young and dumb; I’m definitely trying to figure it out before I get old and dumb.”
Musically, the songs on FFN’s new album wouldn’t sound out of place on a playlist stacked with Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Son Volt tracks. The band’s literal amping up on this album has been Hensley’s plan from the beginning.
“It’s not just the record, I was planning on going electric since we first started,” he says. “It started out acoustic and Folk, but the new record needed to be louder and different. The ‘Folk’ in the name might throw people off; there’s still Folk there. I wrote the songs on acoustic guitar and then we all came in and filled it out.”
Although it’s not reflected in the new album, FFN’s rhythmic texture is provided by former Lions Rampant drummer Nate Wagner. Wagner had joined an early version of FFN and was replaced by Brett Tritsch, who played on Pearls and the new album before departing early last year for new opportunities. The band continued to work on the album using the parts Tritsch had already recorded.
“We couldn’t have done the album without Brett,” Hensley says. “But when we got this lineup, it felt like a real band, like we could go out to other cities and really explore. It feels complete.”
The titling of an album can be as tricky as it is important, and a self-titled album is often perceived as a work most reflecting the identity of the artist. But sometimes the answer is simpler than that.
“We forgot to do it on the first one,” Talbert says. “We judged it on the fact that it was more of a band record.”
“It kind of feels like a new beginning,” Oder says. “I didn’t feel like it needed a name, to be honest.”
While the album will ultimately wind up in downloadable form, the initial run is on vinyl only (currently available at Shake It, the band’s blog at www.frontierfolknebraska.blogspot.com and at the release show this Friday). That decision reflects the band’s purist mindset, to a certain degree.
“It seems like CDs are dead,” Hensley says. “Vinyl is coming back.”
“And it’s big and you can hold it,” Wagner adds.
“I just really love records,” Talbert says. “And it doesn’t feel like a compromisable medium. If somebody wanted to put it on the Internet, they’d have to take some time to do it. They’d at least have to get up and flip it.”
FRONTIER FOLK NEBRASKA plays the Southgate House Parlour Friday with Josh Eagle and the Harvest City. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.