Guest article by Lauren Lyman
The Deer has the profound ability to appeal to the senses. This Austin band, originally from San Marcos, released their third album, “Tempest & Rapture” in May 2016. In the double LP, we have plenty to absorb. We hear catchy and emotive melodies; we see a vast landscape and rolling hills; we feel the creek water at our feet; we smell the aftermath of a long rain; and taste the golden sweetness of life.
Avant Folk on the Farm
The Deer’s music has been categorized under a number of genres, but I think the one that sticks with me the most is avant folk. This label emphasizes the innovative tendencies of the band and their ventures outside the simplicity of folk.
I asked lead singer and songstress, Grace Park, about the main inspirations for the group’s lyrics. “This album’s main recurring themes are birds (owls, redbreasts), bugs (moths, flies) and plants (vines, trees),” Park shared. “Like our last album, much of the lyrical content references natural scenes like farms because we’re connected to and inspired by several local farms (Little Bluestem & Boxcar, mainly) and I live on one. Thigh High Gardens is our late Deer friend, Stephanie’s, farm which my family and I maintain.”
Stephanie Bledsoe was a back-up vocalist for the band’s first album, “An Argument for Observation” (2013), close friend to The Deer and manager of Thigh High Gardens on the outskirts of San Marcos. In August 2013, she passed away, leaving an emotional stronghold on the group she had been a part of. Since her death, the farm has been a therapeutic tool as well as a creative sanctuary. The Deer released their second album, “On the Essence of the Indomitable Spirit” in 2015, as a tribute to Stephanie. It turned out to be a pivotal point in the band’s songwriting.
“The farm is a stimulating environment with meditative work that opens the creative channels really well,” Park explained. “It’s also the main setting for my own ever-deepening life story that was shaped largely by the path Stephanie laid out before her passing. Of course, several of the songs still reference or are driven by her. I never want that to stop and, in my experience so far, I don’t believe it will.”
The Deer Explores Emotional Range
As Park stated, nature and its dwellers continue to inspire The Deer’s music in songs “Up Into Roses,” “Hawkmoth,” “Winter to Pry” and “Redbreast,” as well the visuals on the music video for “Do Return,” which was created by Grace Park, as well.
There are several moods to be heard and felt on the seventeen-song album, from turmoil to euphoria to a consistent psychedelic sound. “Redbreast” is one of the first tracks on the album to have a heavier feeling. It develops on a simple piano melody and then escalates on a minor progression as Park exclaims “Please don’t push me around, don’t push me around…please don’t push it, I’m gonna’ lose it.” I was also taken aback by “Your Right to Waive,” which develops in the same way on attractive melodies, grooving bass line (Jesse Dalton), fullness of the violin (Noah Jeffries) and bluesy climax.
“The last album was us coming into our new sound, experimenting with new moods and instruments,” Park shared. “This album is more a crafting of that sound, reflecting it with our live setup and honing in on our potentials in all directions. It’s definitely more of a genre-bending experiment too. We went a lot further with synthesizers and effects and played with a lot more rock and roll.”
Genre-Bending and Experimentation
Another single off the album, “Static,” uses more of that rock sound, which is indeed new terrain for The Deer. On the chorus, instead of ascending into a typical ending on the word, “static,” Park resolves on a tag of “ooooos,” which is a classic staple of The Deer. Why go to the predictable place in a song, when you can venture along the abstract? The group experiments with different textures and production on “Strange Resides” and “Visions on the Radio,” the latter having a hearty bass line to drive the music and give it a lush flavor.
“After making two albums ourselves with mainly Michael McLeod (our gifted lead guitar player/engineer) at the helm, it was refreshing to have outside engineers like Grant Johnson to bounce ideas off of and glean inspiration to try new things in a new studio,” Park said. “We also put a lot more time and money into shaping this album, and the value of that investment is already beginning to show.”
It is really gratifying to see this band develop, challenge themselves, and offer more beauty each time. As Texas weather blows through the hills with tension and release, The Deer does the same within their musical landscape. When the tempest has done its work, the rapture will reveal itself.
“As a band, we’re as comfortable playing music around a campfire as we are through a large amphitheater’s sound system,” Park concluded. “We hope to capture that versatility with this album, while bringing people out of their preferred genre comfort zone to enjoy a large, dynamic range of moods and sounds. The lyrical adventure of it alone is well worth the expansion into unknown territory, and we hope to open some minds.”
For information on “Tempest & Rapture,” visit thedeer.org.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Who is your favorite folk or avant folk artist in Austin?
Lauren Lyman is a freelance writer, flutist, and singer. She is a graduate of Texas State University, where she attained a Master of Music in music history. She wrote her master’s thesis on the sisters of Heart, as well as Fiona Apple, Madonna and Janis Joplin.
Disclosure: I have previously worked with The Deer through my professional position in the industry. All opinions are my own.