“I don’t know what it is to be totally sincere,” says Jeremy Faulkner, the nucleus of the ever-expanding and contracting Ah Holly Fam’ly out of Portland. “I’m sincere in the same way that I’m sentimental and nostalgic, in a self-aware kind of way.”
The Portland-by-way-of-Moscow, Idaho, band’s last album, the woefully underplayed and under-appreciated Reservoir (2009), was nothing if not a euphoric combination of sincerity, nostalgia and sentimentality — even if Faulkner would insist the powerful trio was curtailed by his self-awareness. Reservoir was rooted in something that would seem to predate postmodern detachment: the mood of balmy summer nights backed by cicadas and the smell of freshly mown grass.
But Reservoir’s qualities were defined in part by the size of its cast, an eight-piece ensemble that included clarinet, flute, fiddle, cello and tender harmonies. For reasons both personal and practical, the current incarnation of Ah Holly Fam’ly isn’t so much fam’ly as a duo.
“There’s just a ton of bands in Portland now that are, like, 12 members,” Faulkner says. “You feel like that band wouldn’t exist without that huge ensemble. It’s kind of a cheesy gimmick.
“Right now it’s just me and a fiddle player. It’s more mellow,” he says. “And, if anything, the lyrics and the guitar playing come across a lot better. People are hearing things in the songs they didn’t notice before. It’s not a loss, it’s just different.”
Faulkner is approaching the follow-up to Reservoir with that in mind. “This next record will not be as baroque as the last one,” he says. “I’ve still written pretty big string arrangements for it, but it’s more stripped down. It’s not going to have as many woodwinds. The vocal harmonies won’t be as big of a thing. This record is almost more — it’s not really country music, but it’s kind of about country music.”
It’s an odd distinction, since it concerns a musical genre rather than a subject like love, loss or angst. But Faulkner reckons there are two components to this particular genre: a style and a philosophy.
“In the past few years I’ve really gotten into country music from the ‘90s: the Judds, Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn. But I approach it more like an anthropologist would — not that I only like it ironically, because I really do like it, but I realize that part of it is cheesy. I feel like the last record was a deconstruction of sentimentality in music. And this one is a deconstruction of a lot of ideas in country music,” he says.
“For me, having gone through this painful divorce, and going through a hard time in my life where I was doing a lot of the devil’s work, I felt very much like I was living this country music lifestyle.”
And to some extent, he still is. Despite living “hand-to-mouth” and taking intermittent menial jobs to scrape together enough cash for a touring van and studio time, Faulkner’s happy enough to hit the road accompanied by just his guitar and a fiddler.
“I’m doing it because I really enjoy it. It’s freedom from a square society. I’m trying to have a good time and relax and share an intimate moment with people.”
Ah Holly Fam’ly plays with the Ocean Floor, Wolf Gang, and Reverb at Empyrean on Saturday, Aug. 21, at 7 pm. Tickets: $12. All-ages. Call 838-9819.