The crux of Sylvia Plath’s only novel, The Bell Jar, is the protagonist Esther Greenwood’s meditation on a fig tree, taken from a short story the character reads earlier in the book. Greenwood, starving to death from indecision of which fig to pluck, laments, “I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” The image suggests freedom’s capacity for suffocation in the face of important decisions.

This scene gripped Alec Hutson as he listened to it at a friend’s poetry reading. Sitting at his dining table, he says, “Out of all the other poems I heard that evening, that one really stuck out as, ‘Ah, I really identify with this one!’” The result of his wonder inspired “Fig Tree” off of his latest album, Reactions. Hutson related the allegory to his own period of crisis before the making of the album. He refers to this time, which led to some time away from music, as a “rough year.” After going on a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat, he began to write again. “Fig Tree” in particular helped him clarify his priorities: “This song in particular is me trying to find my own philosophy on the way I go about living my life—addressing these internal and external struggles and how they relate to me as an artist. But also as me trying to live my everyday life and be content with the way I do things.”

 

 

“Fig Tree” is featured in the latest Tiny Bathroom Concerts video, a series Hutson created to remind bands that “music […] is not always something that you have to take deadly serious.” He reaffirmed this statement by gifting the interviewer another one of his inventions, The Dick Pick. “People don’t give themselves the opportunity to laugh about [potty humor]. The point is to get the really, really cramped scene. The fun part is to watch people improvise in those situations.”

In the past, Hutson has selected performers he has played with (such as Stains of a Sunflower and Anders Olson) and artists who he thought were “doing a good job already promoting themselves and putting effort into being the best that they could [be].” He has also taken submissions which he will present in the future. On the latest shoots however, Hutson wanted to spotlight the video crew, which is also made up of musicians. He serves as videographer, video editor, and producer for the series; Emily Graham-Handley and Nico Rivers provide video and sound support, while Charlie Gargano of Box of Birds provides further sound mastering. Hutson chose to present his band for this round, with contributions from the rest of the crew coming in the future.

Hutson selected “Fig Tree” for its overall energy and the way it translated into a stripped-down acoustic feel, as he normally plays with a seven-piece band. However, like most of the tracks on Reactions, “Fig Tree”  Hutson’s acoustic approach reveals a heavy folk influence. Unlike previous albums, Hutson wrote all of the songs on his own prior to meeting with his producer to “flesh them out organically.” Then, he alternated between “letting the songs grow and pruning them back.” The result is a record that feels more intimate and more tightly produced than his last project, Thunder and Lightning, and more fitting for the compactness of a bathroom.

“Fig Tree” contains ominous yet provoking lines such as, “well I tried being real for a while / I don’t know if it fits my style / I can’t get the things I want if I am honest all the time,” which refers to a tumultuous relationship in which Hutson felt “it was better to say less” than be someone “who ends up hurting and alienating everyone close to [him].” Sonically, it builds tension through rhythmic guitar patterns, prevalent background vocals, and a victorious trumpet which are further emphasized on the Tiny Bathroom version.

Despite the tribulations that sparked his growth as a musician, Hutson seems at ease and successful in his attempts for self-discovery. Of the album-making process, he describes it as “very cathartic in some ways” despite moral questions he had about exploiting past relationships for his art. The release of his thoughts and emotions pays off on the album, and it shows most clearly on “Fig Tree.”

Reactions is out now on streaming platforms and Hutson is organizing an In Rainbows tribute show with several prominent local Boston musicians, such as Cliff Notez, on March 1 at the Lizard Lounge.

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