A.V. Club Milwaukee – Foreign Fields Feature
Foreign Fields’ unsettled reality
From the cold, white winter landscape of Wisconsin to the rich culture and warm summers of Nashville, Foreign Fields has certainly had their fair share of traveling and diverse experiences in 2012. The mindset of the Nashville-by-way-of Wisconsin band is fairly unsettled—there’s a seemingly never-ending pursuit of a much better place, both physically and mentally, and one that benefits personal growth and self-discovery to the fullest. Foreign Fields’ debut, Anywhere But Where I Am, finds the unconventional electronic folk group venturing out with child-like curiosity to discover who they are.
“You move to a place and like it for six months, or you like it for a year, but it always feels like there’s something better for you out there,” says band member Brian Holl. “We love every place we’ve been to, but we feel the grass might be greener on the other side. Most of the album was written like that, with discontent with where we were.”
This vision and the band’s sound is something core members Holl and Eric Hillman have worked towards the 10 years they’ve known each other. With touring members Nathan Reich, Nate Babbs, and Clayton Fike rounding out the lineup, Foreign Fields strive to create richly cinematic and adventurous soundscapes. Holl says Hillman’s time at Berklee College of Music in Boston for film scoring certainly had an influence. “A lot of our music stems from that idea of allowing moments to happen in the song,” he says. “The thing that we followed is that if it feels good to us, it feels like we’re heading in the right direction and we keep following that. We don’t think of reasons why not to.”
Formerly named Flights, Holl and Hillman thought the name Foreign Fields fit their sound perfectly. “It felt like a place, and that’s what we try to do with our songs,” says Holl. “We try to take you out of the real world a little bit and let you suspend your belief. A foreign field sounds a bit mysterious and foggy, and I think that’s what our music translates to.”
To the band’s surprise, its album has quickly received attention across the country, with the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz being one of the group’s biggest supporters. The band has seen plenty of Duritz this year, playing at his SXSW showcase and the Outlaw Roadshow, as well as being roommates for two weeks. “He introduced us at our show in New Jersey and we were staying with him at his apartment in New York, so we got close those two weeks of rehearsing,” says Holl. “He says ‘Here’s Foreign Fields, they’ve been my roommates for the last two weeks and this is their fourth show ever.’ And it hit me how surreal it was to be on tour with the Counting Crows for thousands of people a night.”
The recording of the album was a journey in itself. Amidst the backdrop of a chilly Wisconsin winter, Holl and Hillman met in their hometown of West Bend, Wisconsin, to start work on the album in an abandoned office building. For two and a half weeks, the two would occasionally visit the building to record, with only a small propane heater and natural light to warm the room. The band recorded a little over half the album there. “It was just me and Eric, and there was no foot traffic outside and no car traffic. We had natural light coming in the room,” says Holl. “It was a pretty special place to be if you wanted to get isolated and try to create something. It was just a general cold feeling, and we were able to capture how we were feeling in that building in the middle of the winter in Wisconsin.”
The two later tried recording in Chicago, but found that environment didn’t offer what they were looking for. After living there for a few months, the band decided to relocate to Nashville, Tennessee (or specifically East Nashville, where there’s more newer bands and less country). Hillman and Holl moved into a house together and reserved a room for a studio. The change in location certainly had an impact on how the songs turned out, creating a rather interesting diverse collection.
“As much as you’d try to get in the same place as you were when you started the album, I don’t think that’s exactly where we were,” says Holl. “I think that’s cool because it provides a contradiction to the things we had recorded in Wisconsin. We spent a good two or three months recording, and Eric spent a lot of time mixing and producing and coming up with different sounds and everything. But Nashville was more ‘let’s get this thing done and let’s get it out,’ and less being in Wisconsin by ourselves and not knowing what we’re doing for the songs.”
Even with the critical attention, the band has found time to look ahead, searching for labels and starting work on its next album. While they’re not sure if they’ll return to Wisconsin to record, Holl and Hillman hope to continue to search for new sonic ground and continue to grow as individuals.
“We’re not back at square one, because we’ve had a lot of success, but we have to get back in there and make something special,” says Holl.