Ten days before their show at Great Scott, the members of Lula Wiles are as scattered geographically as their talents. Eleanor Buckland, who plays acoustic guitar and fiddle, and who was originally thought to be on Lake George by her bandmates, is in a coastal Maine cottage. Isa Burke, who plays the fiddle, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and the banjo, calls in from a Boston café. Mali Obomsawin, the band’s bassist and occasional guitarist, is teaching at Maine Fiddle Camp—the site of the band’s origins—and is unavailable. When the band regroups in Boston, all three will sing songs they have written both together and as individuals since their initial childhood encounter in rural Maine.

Despite having been surrounded by the Maine folk music and dance community through most of her childhood, Burke never saw a place for herself in folk until she met her bandmates at the camp. The trio first performed together at what Buckland calls, a “classic summer camp, but for fiddle music.” “It’s an unseen corner of the culture, but it’s definitely there,” says Burke, referring to an “underground network of communities” that sustains the generational folk tradition throughout rural Maine. Both of Burke’s parents taught at Maine Fiddle Camp; Obomsawin and Buckland’s school instructor taught there as well.

Yet, what sets Lula Wiles apart from their ancestors is their courageousness in taking stylistic and thematic risks. On “Love Gone Wrong,” which laments a failing relationship and serves as the opener of their latest album, What Will We Do, the band showcases their cohesion on what they call the “broutro.” While the trio worked on the chorus together, it wasn’t until they developed the amalgamated bridge and outro that a unique stylistic vision for the song could be attributed to the band as a whole. Until that point, the song boasts a soaring chorus and an energetic pace; it’s a good folk song. However, like a sudden change of heart, the tempo drags, the electric guitar swoons, and enormous vocal harmonies appear that could swallow cathedral halls. It’s a daring but unified—and ultimately victorious—expression from a band whose sound depends so much on continuing what has come before them.

The band also pushes back on the softness associated with folk music by imposing their thoughts on current events through lyrics. Obomsawin and Burke hold no blows on “Shaking As It Turns”. Burke challenges, “So don’t talk about love if your love won’t burn, if your love won’t fight, if your love won’t yearn, ‘cause a love don’t win if it waits on some return.” Burke wrote those lyrics with Obomsawin shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, when she recognized the limitations of “Love Trumps Hate” rhetoric. She felt that the rhetoric expressed the notion similar to that of “if you’re nice to Nazis, they won’t be Nazis anymore”—an idea with which she vulgarly disagrees.

Obomsawin, on the other hand, has her own personal political battles. As a citizen of the Abenaki nation, she has written extensively on the shortcomings of liberal protest in relation to the rights of Native people. In her essay for Folklife magazine (a publication of Smithsonian—whose record label the band is signed to) she explains the exclusivity of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” “The lyrics as they are embraced today evoke Manifest Destiny and expansionism (“this land was made for you and me”). When sung as a political act, the gathering or demonstration is infused with anti-Nativism and reinforces the blind spot,” writes Obomsawin. Her concerns echo the band’s progressive inclination to utilize folk music as a way of molding tradition rather than lying prostrate in front of it.

Although the band recognizes music’s power to influence and provoke, they also understand its ability to heal and connect. For Buckland, playing with her bandmates has been an opportunity to restore a healthier relationship with the fiddle after a difficult experience at Berklee. Her experience in Boston strengthened her love for songwriting, which in turn led to her befriending other local songwriters such as Dietrich Strause and Laura Cortese. The band felt so welcomed and mentored by other artists in the Boston music scene that they feel responsible for building relationships with younger artists in Boston. As an example, songwriters Jobi Riccio and Liv Greene will be joining them at their August 23rd Great Scott show.

The core of Lula Wiles’ music is their friendship. Although Obomsawin was unavailable for the call, Buckland and Burke could answer anything for and about her—from her father’s history as a jazz musician to her thoughts on educating others on indigenous culture. That familiarity affords them the vulnerability to write with honesty and truth—and sound as though not just one, but all of them contributed that lyric or melody.

Lula Wiles plays Great Scott on August 23rd with special guests Jobi Riccio and Liv Greene.

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.