The Boston-based duo Fawn is comprised of previous solo artists Anne Malin Ringwalt and Will Johnson. According to Johnson, their music, described without genres, is “embracing your love, on morphine.” The two are collaborating on their upcoming debut EP Neither Dog Nor Car, which contains a level of intimacy rooted in the grace of the pair’s relationship. After moving in together, the two wrote the songs for Neither Dog Nor Car in their shared bed. “Writing music with a romantic partner is beautiful, awe-inspiring,” Ringwalt said.
“The Good Earth,” their cover of a Johnny Cash song, is the EP’s first single. Johnson calls Cash “almost as much folklore as reality,” citing his interest in music icons as one of the reasons the duo chose the song. Ringwalt provided a more elaborate story: “When we were writing our EP, I came up with a song called ‘Good Earth’,” she said, noting their current project — a music video for the song, created with the help of friends. Johnson asked if she knew the Cash song by the same name — she didn’t. After listening to it, she was moved. “The song is hauntingly spiritual and existential,” she said. It became their first release as Fawn.
Johnny Cash’s version of “The Good Earth” is jaunty and playful, with guitar, strings, and percussion chugging along beneath Cash’s rich, resonant vocals. Fawn takes a different approach, opening with Ringwalt’s delicate voice and Johnson plucking along a nearly stagnant bass line. Fawn adds a heaviness to “The Good Earth,” exploring the depth of the song’s lyrics. “I’ve traveled far and traveled wide/I’ve seen a lot of things./But looking back on all the years/I don’t know what they mean,” Ringwalt sings, adding pauses and drawing out the refrain Cash hurries through.
The duo adds a profundity to the lyrics by taking the time to enunciate each word, with the bass pushing back to support its weight. “This song is a prayer, a celebration of Cash, and, to the best of our knowledge, one of the few (if not the only) female-voiced versions of this song,” said Fawn in a press release.
The group seeks to occupy a space in between genres, and accomplishes this through the unlikely pairing of instruments, namely the banjo and synth. “The banjo is such a fascinating instrument and lens into American identity; and synth, especially in noise/ambient contexts, lacks a connection to any particular place,” Johnson said. “I’m fascinated by trying to make them fit together somehow and it seems to work better each time I try.”
Having worked as solo artists before, the two see their collaboration as beneficial and fruitful. Johnson said keeping focus and coming up with material “depends on a deep trust in your collaborator’s judgement,” which he finds comes naturally. And Ringwalt sees Johnson and herself as one spirit, each is a part of the other, making the duo “doubly dynamic.”
Neither Dog Nor Car gets its name from the Robert Hass poem “For Czesław Miłosz in Kraków,” and is representative of the duo’s passion for poetry. The EP has an expected November release, and “The Good Earth” was recorded by Elio DeLuca and mastered by TW Walsh.