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"Recording is super easy if you let it be…"

That’s Kevin Salem speaking, 1 of 3 people who comprises Birdfeeder. He’s sitting outside a café on Tinker Street, in the famed village of Woodstock, which is also the name of the record we are here to discuss. It was recorded down the road at Salem’s studio, which he says a friend compares to the Millenium Falcon in that nothing seems to work but the job always gets done. Sat alongside him is his old friend Chris Harford, who played guitar with Kevin on "Woodstock" and co-wrote all the songs.

Chris and Kevin have been friends since the days of the thriving 1980's Boston music scene, when Kevin was in Dumptruck and Chris in 3 Colors, and it's a mark of just how thriving it was that they only first met while each recording or touring in the UK.

The 3rd member of Birdfeeder, the one who gave both the act and the record its name, wrote the words, sang them, and also played drums, will talk about it a week or so later from his home in Massachusetts. He is Mark Mulcahy, familiar to many as a solo artiste par excellence, and before that, as front man for Miracle Legion.

In short, Birdfeeder have a pedigree, one that you can hear all over the 7 new recordings, and one vintage demo, that comprise "Woodstock". It’s exemplified by how the trio sounds constantly relaxed, confident, unhurried and yet uncomplicated. “Beyond the pleasure of being with those 2 guys, guys that I like”, says Mulcahy of what is, so far, a one off collaboration, “there was the pleasure of being, ah, quick, I guess is the word. There was the pleasure of the speed of it”.

Indeed, the performances on "Woodstock" were recorded in just a day and a half, for the simple reason that, according to Salem, whose studio is depicted on the cover as photographed by Mulcahy, “That's how long it took to make the record”. The songs themselves go back much further, however.

Rewind to the early 1990's, by which point many of those thriving New England bands have broken up, Miracle Legion and 3 Colors among them. Chris Harford, who has established himself at the front of his Band Of Changes, and Mark Mulcahy, who is having some success with Polaris, are now tight friends, and over the course of a weekend hang at Harford’s home outside Princeton, New Jersey, they record some demos in the basement.

“We just kind of jammed out and just made it up”, says Mark. “I had some lyrics and that was that. It was real. Couldn't have been any more organic than that”. “The songs appeared magically”, concurs Chris, who adds that “We knew that the songs were good in the moment”. But that moment was one of grunge, and the duo turned down a paltry deal they were offered from a major label and figured to revisit the project on their own down the line.

And then the years went by, as they tend to. Mark had success with Polaris and then as a solo artist, though with severe life hurdles along the way, Chris became a cult figure on the jam band scene, always gigging, always making music. And yet, says Chris of the demos, “I never let it go”. Eventually, when the time felt right, he played them to Kevin Salem, who describes them in the present tense as being “amazing, just full of spirit”. With Kevin’s endorsement and engagement, Mark came down to Woodstock.

“The idea was always to keep it simple but keep it musical”, says Chris, citing Mark’s talents as a singer and drummer, and Kevin’s knack for making easy creative suggestions. The result was exactly what Birdfeeder was looking for: a modern, yet simultaneously timeless update on material that had never been properly heard or performed before.

For Mark, it was worth the wait. “I’ve wrecked plenty of songs in my life”, he says. “I don't have the genius, you know? But if you hit it right and you're lucky and you didn't blow it and you didn't try too hard and you still left some space...”. He leaves some space at the end of the sentence, he knows the difficulty of trying to explain something best felt.

Or heard, for on "Woodstock", Mulcahy’s voice is at its ever yearning best. Harford, a distinct singer himself, largely left his friend to it, loving the sound of Mulcahy harmonizing with himself, though Salem, a fan of both singers, eventually pushed Harford to a few backing vocals. Mulcahy says of the other 2 that “their instincts are great and their guitar playing is kind of singular. I think we all had a strength that was very easy to connect”. If it sounds like a mutual appreciation society, well, that can be a lot more productive as one matures than in fighting.

Of the songs themselves, “Big Chairs And Candy” announces the project casually, carefully. “So It’s A Bomb”, on the other hand, comes right in with it. And “She Stood Up At The PTA”, perhaps the most melodic and narrative driven on Woodstock, tells a true story. But not one that Mark, who generally operates in the realm of imagery and poetry, witnessed for himself. “I have written about me, but I also don't write about me”, he tries to explain. “These lyrics are just stuff I Iike to write about. Or they’re made up. Or whatever. You know, I don't know”.

To the 7 songs that Birdfeeder completed comfortably in Woodstock, they tagged on 1 of the original demos, “Super Diamondaire”, both because it was hard to replicate in the moment and to show the contrast, present with past. So, 8 songs, just shy of 30 minutes. Is "Woodstock" an album, an LP, an EP? “Categorizing things by length is for some other segment of this business, but it's a record”, says Salem. And by this, he is referring to the original intent of that word, back when it was 1st applied to music, to the then novel sensation of archiving a performance so it could be played back and heard a 2nd time. “It’s a document”.

"Kevin would point that out throughout the process, we're documenting something", says Chris. “It shone a new light on it for me, like, ‘We're actually making a record, this thing that happened that needs to be documented'.”

“I don't really like recording that much”, says Mark, citing the weight of expectations both from within and without that can hamper the true artist. “But this? This really was a pleasure”.

"Woodstock" by Birdfeeder will be released on Soul Selects on April 23rd, 2024.

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