The Oakland-based folk fusion musician will be back next Friday and recommends The Starry Plough’s classic hearty food.
Dawn McCarty (otherwise known as Faun Fables) met us last week mid-tour at a local playground and she’s mostly what we imagined. While “mother of three children” is a phrase we wouldn’t normally use to describe a musician, McCarthy makes this the focal point of our conversation. Motherhood, a bit of an unacknowledged theme in music today (unless you’re Beyoncè), will be emulated in McCarthy’s upcoming record, the way a bad relationship, a good relationship, or a new environment would.
McCarthy has three daughters: Edda, Ura, and baby Gudrin, all under the age of five, all with Scandinavian names, courtesy of her husband Nils Frykdahl (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Idiot Flesh) and his background. “I have to admit, it’s a little tough touring with three children,” she said. Since her last album, Light of a Vaster Dark (2010), McCarthy has done several West Coast tours.
“In fact, we’ve done more touring since having kids. We’ll usually have a good friend or one of my sisters travel with us, as a nanny. It’s definitely shaped our whole tour—I don’t feel the need to have all this instrumentation. Maybe if it were easier to bring, I’d consider it more, but in general, we keep it simple.”
However, being a mother is time-consuming. McCarthy spoke passionately, but in a worn-out tone. She’s been practicing sleep deprivation. “We haven’t done so much writing and recording. [Now that] there’s something in the works, it’s so exciting! I’ve been getting into singing traditionals or obscure covers.”
These traditionals range by language and origin, from Italian folk songs from McCarthy’s background to Celtic melodies. McCarthy typically takes a song and molds it into her own, working with sounds and syllables to create an English translation. “I feel like that’s something I can add,” she explains. “They’re so good already. On the last tour we did, we had a beautiful Ukranian song, “Thornberries”. I learned it from Mariana Sadovska, who’s probably one of my favourite singers.”
“I spent some time in Ireland before I shifted to singing with bands, [before Faun Fables]. It was very influential to be in a place where music was a real living folk tradition. Day to day, everyone sang, I hitched a ride with a group of young people, and ended up going to a festival in Galway with them. They invited me to sing. This must’ve been over twenty years ago.”
Twenty years ago, McCarthy met her husband, Frykdahl, at Burning Man Festival. It was 1996.
“I was very broken-hearted [and] I had to escape New York, too. [The Festival] sounded interesting. I was in on the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus; I performed with them. I ran into Nils at the big gathering for when they burned the man. I was so in awe of him. We all hung out, a big group of us. It was really magical, singing songs, making up music, and jumping around. I left a little demo tape of my New York band with a voicemail number, etc.
“A year later, he was playing with Drumming Hostess and invited me to one of their shows.”
McCarthy hasn’t been to Burning Man since. Shortly after she met up with Frykdahl, she moved to the East Bay. “I was intrigued by the music too. The community here was real impressive; very DIY, bright, and vibrant. There were a lot of people doing things here that were inspiring.”
We think so, too. Nature and pastoral settings play a large role in Faun Fables’s sound, which is both traditional and radical. “I was a total punk rocker as a teenager and a pre-teen,” McCarthy admits. “I still feel like the influence is in my music.” After Edda, her eldest, was born, McCarthy and Frykdahl lived on a farm in Sonoma County for two years. She didn’t write anything then, but it’s coming back to her now. She expects storybook and folklore themes to appear in her upcoming album. The muse is with her.
“We were going to do a big national tour this summer, but if we’re going to record again, we have to make time for that. I do want to do the record.”
She wants to get back out there – to the countryside. There’s no need to be in cities anymore, McCarthy told us. “Not unless you’re trying to cut your teeth as a performer. Community and connections are all you need. I find myself getting into mundane magic, domesticity, simple conversation with people.”
All in all, it sounded like she was settling down. She wrote “Housekeeper” over four years ago on Light of the Vaster Dark, before she became a mother, foreshadowing the “next chapter” of her life. She’s working on two songs for Gudrin while in the midst of a West Coast tour, and is also looking at releasing a solo album under her own name.
Faun Fables has done theatre, musicals, residencies, and such with high school students in the East Bay. They will play Barboza in Seattle tonight, Random Howse in Eastsound tomorrow, and will be swinging back to The Starry Plough in Berkeley next Friday.