To the aspiring young bands of the world, Carter King of Futurebirds has some business advice for you: “Athens, Ga., is like the perfect incubator for a small band,” he says.
“One, because the University of Georgia there sees a big influx of young people all the time. And also, it’s really cheap to live because it’s a small town at its core, but it’s got this really cool scene and really cool clubs — just cool people that are all there to help nurture these bands and see them through. I think it’s a perfect place to start a band.”
The town already boasts being the launch pad of do-it-yourself success stories like REM and Widespread Panic. About three years ago, the Futurebirds also got their start in Athens, and now they’re ready to take their steel guitar-flavored indie rock across the country.
The band’s expansive second album, Baba Yaga, features five songwriters and the psychedelic feel of jangly guitars and spacy vocal harmonies. It takes its name from a frankly terrifying Russian children’s tale and spawned the band’s music video for “Virginia Slims.”
King called in to CMT Edge to talk about the new project and its strange title.
CMT: So I hear you live in Nashville now, right?
King: Yeah, moved up there a couple of months ago. Haven’t actually been there that much ‘cause we’ve been out on the road. But, yeah, I’m lovin’ it.
Baba Yaga has a whimsical feel to it, and then I found out the title is from a Slavic fairy tale where a wicked witch in the woods kills and eats her young intruders. What does that have to do with your music?
(Laughs) Well, this record took so long to get out, and for a while there, it seemed like someone was playing a sick joke on us or something, like it was never gonna happen. We were talking about it, and we were like, “Man, I don’t even know if this record actually exists. It’s just like a mystical being that doesn’t actually exist anywhere except in our heads.” Then we came across Baba Yaga, and her story perfectly described the record. She’s kind of like this evil, ugly witch out in the woods eating children. But at the same time, she provides a bit of wisdom that the protagonist of the story needs to fulfill whatever quest they’re on. So she’s got a dark side and a light side, and that pretty much nailed it for this record for us.
Why did it take so long to get the project together?
One, it was amidst a bunch of tours that we were playing. But two, we wanted to put it out the exact right way and kinda push the band to the next place. We went in more focused on really coming up with parts of the songs that weren’t just like “OK, that works,” you know? We massaged every little piece of it into what we thought it should be.
After a while, that can become a little self-defeating.
Yeah, for sure. You can definitely get into a cycle of overthinking stuff when you don’t have a defined schedule. I think we all suffered from that at some point. Sometimes you listen to it, and you’re like, “I hate this shit,” and then sometimes you love it. Sometimes you think it’s really original, and sometimes you think it’s trash.
Did the drive to spend a lot of time come from other experiences where things felt more slapped together?
Sometimes it happens that way out of necessity. Like the first EP we did, we had two days in the studio. A few of us worked at Chase Park Transduction in Athens, and [studio owner] David Barbe there was like, “Hey, there’s nothing going on for two days, so y’all can have the studio.” So I mean, we had two days and six songs, so it was like, “We’ve gotta slap this thing together.” But you know, when you have more time and the freedom to really think stuff out, you should use it.
You have five different songwriters, which is unusual for a self-contained band. Is it a hindrance to have so many competing ideas?
No, it’s more of a fact that everyone’s got their own songs, and you’ve got to be able to give them up. It was something that I personally had to get over early in the game because you have your song, and it’s your little thing, and you wanna see it through. But you have to give it up to the band. And then everyone puts their own little mark on it, and they may see the song completely different than you do.
Sometimes that provides for musical tension in the recordings — which we think works out cool a lot of the time and makes for really good harmony. But I think, yeah, you can tell they’re different songs and different people writing and singing them, but at the end of the day, I think they all sound like Futurebirds songs.
One song that stuck out to me is “Virginia Slims.” What would you say is the theme of that one?
It’s about a few different things but mainly just that adolescent teenager sort of age where you’re just kind of itching to get out — to go get into shit, you know? To see what’s out there.
The “Virginia Slims” video did a cool job of showcasing that. What was that experience like?
The “discovering the fireworks” storyline was perfect. Making that video was great for us, and I think it turned out incredible. We’re all really proud of it. That was our first actual, real-life music video that we’ve made. And we had an old friend Takashi Doscher, who’s a writer and director, do it for us, but he doesn’t like fireworks. So we had to kind of talk him into it. He really went above and beyond to make it happen.