The practice room in the back of Club Passim was long and narrow and had only one window on the very far wall. The panes were lined with fairy lights and on a couch under the sill, Margaret Glaspy and Brittany Haas sat facing each other. They both held acoustic guitars and were singing in harmony. The view was unexpected: I knew Brittany as a fiddler, and Margaret for her trademark electric guitar playing. Intrigued, I slipped onto a stool by the door, and listened as they sung the last chorus of a folk tune together.

I first heard Margaret Glaspy and Brittany Haas play together on Youtube, as part of the band The Fundies. The group featured Bridget Kearney and Rachel Price [of Lake Street Dive], and performed folky, original tunes. “Oh No,” from their one, self-titled album still features on my regular playlists. “We’re still members of The Fundies,” Haas said grinning. “The Fundies will always be a band…and ‘Front Porch’ will always be our anthem.”

 

Our interview took place an hour before they were to take the stage at Club Passim. Conversation began with chatter about the evening’s performance; they had just started rehearsing early that afternoon and were excited for the opportunity to play together in a style of music different from both of their trademark sounds.

Samantha Fleishman: Brittany, I was first introduced to you as a fiddler, and later heard you play mandolin and sing. Tonight it looks like you’ll be playing guitar. How would you contrast your ability to musically communicate on fiddle versus other instruments such as guitar or voice?

Brittany Haas: Hmm…Since I’ve been playing fiddle for 24 years, which is most of my life, it’s so natural that I feel like I’m completely expressing myself. Obviously some of that is in my own head, because expressing yourself instrumentally is different than the clarity that comes with having words. For me and the fiddle, everything sort of flows out, since I’ve spent so many hours and so many nights playing all night long. I feel like I’m saying exactly what I mean when I play the fiddle. It’s like talking to your best friend.

SF: What has it been like learning a new instrument and having less control? Any surprising outcomes?

BH: It’s so fun to learn a new instrument, when you’re at a point where you feel really strongly about another. Guitar has been a bit of an experiment for me over the last year. I’ve been having a fun time plucking around on it. I definitely feel like I don’t have that much control over it, but that can be cool in a way too. There are a lot of unexpected things that come from it – (laughing) like sometimes totally wrong notes. It’s like learning a new language; there is different grammar and a different way that you have to go about it, which then forces you to say different things.  Singing is a totally different thing. I want to be able to sing, and I’m working on it. Songwriting is all on it’s own, because then you can actually say whatever you want. But for traditional songs, there’s such a wealth of emotion in them, that I want to be able to sing them, but you have to be able to really do it right to give them what they deserve. You have to feel the history of it. You’re telling people something more immediate than a fiddle tune might.

Margaret Glaspy: With songs, you can be less abstract than with instrumental tunes, which – to me – feels like metaphor. It’s in the air a bit more in some ways.

SF: It’s an interesting comparison of communication styles. Both lyrical and instrumental tunes allow for a certain amount of interpretation on the listener’s end. Perhaps singing a song can reach more people a little more directly? I wonder which option is more relatable, given that both have intentional meaning.

BH: Exactly. Maybe it depends on the type of listeners in your audience. For the most part, I think people connect with songs a little bit more than a quirky fiddle tune. Which is totally fine! And the people who do like quirky fiddle tunes are totally awesome, and I will play for them any time.

SF: Brittany, could you describe what it was like growing up in the music world? I know you started at a very young age. I’d be interested to hear about your evolution as a musician coupled with your growth as a person.

BH: Yeah! They definitely corresponded. I feel like most of who I am right now is because of who I met. The first time I went to fiddle camp, I felt like I had found my people. And she [Margaret Glaspy] is one of those people. We met a really long time ago at a fiddle camp. And a lot of those people, folks I would hang out with during the summer, people I was so excited to find through kindred spirits, turned into my lifelong friends. I was really lucky to meet some musical heros. Fiddle camp was a tight enough knit community that you’d be hanging out with your heros, and they become your mentors. Those people, like Bruce Molsky and Darol Anger were like really big influences on me.

SF: And, Darol hired you to be in his band when you were fourteen, yes?

BH: Yes exactly, that’s when I started to go on tour and see what that life was like. That definitely opened doors that I would have never gone through as a regular fourteen year old. I was just a shy little kid, totally in awe of everything. Each band was a different learning experience. When I joined Crooked Still, I was in the middle of college. That was cool because it was more peer-oriented. It was cool to be in a band with people that had just been through the stuff I was going [through] at that time in my life. I learned from them how to deal with that lifestyle, because it’s kind of a strange thing to be on tour all the time.

SF: Margaret, what has the transition from fiddle to acoustic guitar to electric guitar and vocals been like?

MG: Fiddle camp was a big learning experience for me, and I definitely had many important teachers there. The fiddle didn’t stick with me, but there was definitely a platform laid there that I sometimes forget about. I learned songs by ear, for fun, with no aim to make a gold record. I played for the enjoyment of it, and for the beautiful community. Now I’m off with the stragglers, doing indie rock music, and it’s a completely different scene. But, I appreciate the acoustic scene for having me. It taught me a lot about the subtlety in music.

SF: Margaret, when I first heard you sing, I was very much intrigued by your voice because it’s so unique. I am wondering if there was an evolution or an arch of your voice that you could talk about.

MG: When I was about twelve, I started to try to sing. But it was pretty bad, I just would sing really loudly. At least those were the comments. It was just like yelling honestly. And then from there on, I would start to hear other singers. I remember hearing Aoife O’Donovan when I was young, and understanding the power of subtlety and being able to have a dynamic range. Rather than always being turned up to eleven all the time. It was a process of taking my big yelling voice and carving it down, while still keeping my ability to project pretty loudly.

SF: So your vocal process was the reverse evolution of most. Instead of working up to something big and powerful, you started with something so big and powerful and gradually molded it into your current sound.

MG: Yes! I just sang a lot, and listened to a lot of music. I’d harmonize to the radio.

SF: What was your experience like as a student? It appears to have heavily influenced your recent music.

MG: My technical ear training isn’t that great, because I was at Berklee for only a semester. I still work on being able to designate pitches and be a better music technician. My schooling was the radio, and came from piecing apart my favorite songs and trying to find out why they were my favorites. There’s never been a specific role model for me, who taught me how to do what I wanted to do. It was mostly just the radio, albums, and my parents’ records.

SF: You have a song titled “Parental Guidance” about your schooling. That songs seemed the most raw and emotional when you performed at your last show here. What inspired that song?

MG: There’s this period in everyone’s life of adolescence, where things are intense. No matter what, as far as “Parental Guidance” goes, they’re doing their best. Often a parent just wants to aid their kid in having a nice time in school. The song speaks about learning of those intentions, and realizing that they can compress a child in some ways. And that sometimes there are different routes to travel on through life, and one of those routes is just going with the pack and not having to stand out too much because it just makes things easier, which is sad. That’s where the song comes from, the common theme of childhood, growing up, and parenthood.

SF: Brittany, you too spoke earlier about growing up with music. Was there one specific moment that marked a transition from youth-hood to adulthood?

BH: I don’t know . . . I still kind of feel like a youth.

To conclude the interview, I asked both Brittany and Margaret our signature Sound of Boston question:

SF: If you had to describe your music, individually, without using traditional genre labels, how would you describe it?

BH: My thing right now is playing with different people that I am inspired by, and creating a moment with them. My music is about other people just being there, with me, in whatever space we are in together, and listening, and seeing what happens. It’s about watching, seeing the interplay, and the personalities of the people playing together.

MG: An exchange. Humanity gives me moments, and whenever I play a show, I am regurgitating what the audience has already given me. I put all of the parts together, but as far as the moments that inspired the music, it’s often totally outside of me. It’s like my little project of putting together all the little influences on the outside and transforming them into a song.

As the interview wound down, Brittany and Margaret took turns conversing and preparing for the show. As I chatted with Margaret about her upcoming indie-rock album, Brittany scrawled lyrics onto copy paper and applied eye liner. The pair was genuine and miraculously relaxed as the concert approached.

The stage performance was only slightly more formal than the jovial jams in the rehearsal room. They laughed off mistakes, nailed impromptu setlist decisions, and combined vocals and acoustic instruments in a blend unique to both of their individual music styles.

Brittany’s performance was musically and visually multifaceted: three instruments, one foot tapping the beat, the other leg dancing, and fingers flying on the fiddle anytime she held it up to play. And with eyes closed and hands hugging her guitar, Margaret’s deep expressions added depth to her delicate, controlled vibrato on every harmony. From little behind-the-palm whispers about what to play next, to grand solos, both musicians contributed to a rehearsal room effect: The concert very well could have been in that fairy light-lined practice room, for it was relaxed, inviting and raw. Glaspy and Haas transformed their individual sounds, and transformed Passim.

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