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SUNDROP Music Festival: Arrah and the Ferns.

May 27, 2011

Philly transplants Arrah and The Ferns will play The Fire on Sunday as part of the three-day Sundrop Music and Arts Festival. Our Jillian Mallon caught up with Arrah Fisher and went deep into the band’s inspirations.

(The video above is on the roof of The Ox and it was created by these folks).

Between your first album, Evan is a Vegan and your sophomore album, All the Bad in One Place, there is an evident change in mood – from a jovial, light album to a slightly more introspective album. What do you think caused that change?

Well, when I first started writing music for the first album, I kind of didn’t really know I could sing. It was my first kind of, like, project where I was writing and I was trying to keep things fun and lighthearted and I was younger too. I was 20-years old. I just kind of grew up more. I guess I wanted to get a little bit deeper with my writing and songs. All the Bad in One Place was recorded in December 2007, so even now, me looking back on that album, I’m really like, “Eh, I’ve got better things to say.” I think I was writing about my life, too and I was just questioning a lot and I guess growing into a woman, as cheesy as that sounds. But, I guess I think confidence helped, too. Just being more comfortable with writing and myself as a performer.

How did you find your voice?

I always grew up singing in my room and I loved singing but I never thought that I was any good. My parents got me voice lessons for a year when I was 12 and I still didn’t like it. I didn’t like singing in front of people ever. So when I first went to college my freshman year I played in this band. I played keys, and I started singing backup. I was really scared to sing, even backup.

And then, I don’t know then one day when I met Carl, and we were just kind of jamming with some of my songs and his songs, I just started singing. I was very timid at first, and for a long time. I was scared to perform. So nervous. I had to close my eyes the whole time. I think maybe just over time I became more comfortable onstage, more comfortable singing.

And now my voice has really changed. A lot of what’s changed is that I’ve learned how to use it more properly. I’m really comfortable onstage. I find that it’s where I’m most comfortable, really, in my life, when I’m performing. I couldn’t say that when I first started singing with Arrah and the Ferns in 2005. I was mortified.

What is the instrument you play?

The Wurlitzer is a keyboard. It’s like a Rhodes keyboard but it’s a Wurlitzer brand. They’re really amazing instruments. They’re a pain in the ass though because they’re huge and hard to repair and heavy and all that. But they’re great. I started playing that because the band that I was in before Arrah and the Ferns with some of my friends from high school, they had a Wurlitzer, and I just started playing that by default at their shows.

It was kind of an accident why I started playing that. And then Carl (Stovner) has that banjolin. It’s kind of a signature piece for the band. That was his grandfather’s banjolin.

A banjo mandolin?

Yeah, it’s a mandolin. If you play it like a mandolin. It’s got eight strings but it has the banjo head. So kind of that banjo sound but you play it like a mandolin.

Throughout the band’s evolution, you have lost and gained a few members but you and Carl Stovner have remained consistent. Would the band still be Arrah and the Ferns if either of you were no longer a part of it?

Well, probably not without me. It’s interesting that you ask that question. Carl is still in the band and part of it, but he didn’t go on this last tour we went on in March. In December, he sat me down and told me, “I’m really stressed out. I don’t really know if I can. I don’t want to go on tour. Flat out, I don’t want to go. I don’t really know what it means.”

I was like, “Does this mean you don’t want to be in the band anymore?” You know, it was a really hard time because I was very confused and conflicted. Carl’s always been in this band, and Carl is, you know, Arrah and the Ferns, along with me. I was very upset. But then I realized that is what I want to do. I’m really focused on it right now, and I’m going to continue without him.

So he’s still in the band. He’s playing. He just didn’t go on that tour. But he’s still there.

At this point I’ve gone through so many lineup changes and I’m still trying to make it happen. I think I’m pretty determined either way. But fortunately he’s still a Fern.

Arrah and the Ferns has always been you and a bunch of boys. What’s your favorite part about being the only girl in a band of boys?

I don’t know. They’re stress-free, mostly. There’s no catty drama. I mean, there’s stress because boys can be idiots but I don’t know. I get along really well with men. I live in a house with five other guys. I have been, you know, traveling with guys forever. Most of my friends are guys. I seem to identify with their nature. I can be really high-strung and very womanly and I like the balance of men being around and they seem to relax me more. They’re fun. I can be obnoxious and say whatever I want, you know. On the other side, boys can get on my nerves. I’m on the road with them. On this last tour we went on with other bands, there were seven boys. That was too many boys. That was chaos. Yeah, I don’t know what my favorite thing would be, maybe just that I can be myself.

So now I have a corny question. Your band name is Arrah and the Ferns. What is your favorite plant? Are you interested in gardening?

My favorite plant? That’s a good question. You know, I don’t know if I could have a favorite. I like all plants. I can say that I never was, like, super into plants. The reason why it’s Arrah and the Ferns is because that’s my grandmother’s middle name. Her name is Arrah Fern. That’s kind of how we coined that name.

It’s not so much because I like ferns or anything but they’re pretty cool plants, I guess. My boyfriend is really, really, really into horticulture and I’m learning more and more about plants. I grew up in Indiana around gardens and plants and all these things but I never really gardened. I never knew about what this plant was or what that plant was but I’m learning more now. Maybe because I’m in Philly and there’s not a lot of it, so what little things I do have in our backyard is great.

Yeah. There’s not much green space.

I love sunflowers. I just love how tall they are and how big. We don’t have any but whenever I see them just growing randomly on the side of the road or something I just think they look great.

What are your next plans for the band, as far as both recording and touring?

We are doing some shows in Philly and a festival in Cleveland in June and playing a few shows in July. In July we’re going to record probably 4 to 6 songs, do an EP or something, get some new material recorded out there. Because like I said, the most recent recordings we have are from 2007 that we just put out last year.I want something that’s more reflective of what we’re doing now. We’re going to do it at one of my guitarists’ parents’ house. We’re going to set up a studio there, go away for a weekend and do that.

I think we’re going to try to release it for free online and just start promoting that. It’s kind of tricky to put out an album at this point in the music industry. Should we just do a free download or do Bandcamp?  It’s kind of a weird situation but I know that I do want to record as soon as possible.

Then, I’m thinking that we’re probably going to do some sort of tour in the fall. I don’t know how long. I would love to go all the way out to the West Coast. We still have never done that as a band, like, do the whole country. I have my eye set on that but I don’t know if it will be this year. But hopefully.

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