Earthwork artist profile Vol. 3: Gifts or Creatures
Photo by Joey Shultz
I recently had the opportunity to check in with Brandon Foote of Gifts or Creatures and talk about their recent album, Fair Mitten, their creative process, and what lies ahead for this band that has always inspired me with a comforting, deeply Michigan sound that simultaneously sparks my curiosity & imagination. -Chris Good
1. Your new album, "Fair Mitten," has a fascinating origin story...can you talk about the inspiration for that album?
Fair Mitten (New Songs of the Historic Great Lakes Basin) is our tribute to the Great Lakes region. The album offers up a collection of songs that celebrates the rich history and timeless significance of the area. I spent three years digging into the history of the Great Lakes, dreaming and conceiving a modern soundtrack to the past with Bethany’s creative input. I also spent some time at the Archives of Michigan in Lansing, sifting through their vast collection for inspiration. State Archivist, Mark Harvey and Brad Kik of Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology were both an encouraging force behind the project.
Ever since I was a child, I have been deeply moved by the vast waterscapes and thick northern woods of Michigan. The striking combination of wooded land and freshwater has a rich history that is often overshadowed by the coastal cities and towns of North America. I have traveled around the country and always miss the north woods when away. The Great Lakes region has always felt like a secret undiscovered jewel to me and deserves to be both deeply protected and celebrated. At the end of the day, our sincere hope is that this album will inspire others to protect the Great Lakes for future generations. We also hope that it allows people to reflect on the region’s history as to how and why we ended up living here in the Great Lakes Basin.
2. Tell us about the recording process for Fair Mitten? Were other Earthwork artists involved in the project? Do you have any additional insight about the creative process to share?
Fair Mitten was recorded in Kalamazoo at Ian Gorman's studio, La Luna Recording. We tracked the songs live sporadically over 18 months with Max Lockwood (Big Dudee Roo, May Erlewine), Dan Rickabus (the Crane Wives) and Seth Bernard. The longer chunk of time gave us some healthy space to take a break from the project and come back to it with fresh ears. A few of the tunes were locked-in with only a few takes. Others took a little more re-working, so we tracked multiple versions and some extra b-side material. We had an absolute blast crafting it together! We have worked with both Ian and Seth on numerous occasions now; we have a powerful unspoken sense of what we all want out of the songs and core tracking sounds. Adding Max and Dan to the mix was truly a treat. They're quite the rhythm section together - consummate professionals who really know how to dial things in quickly and efficiently. And they're really just two of the sweetest guys and gentleman on the planet. We love them dearly.
One fun piece of the puzzle for us was having our son, Simon, in the studio. For the first session in October of 2015, Bethany was 6.5 months pregnant. For the November 2016 session, Simon was in the live room wearing headphones and snuggled in a carrier on Bethany. For the winter of 2017 session, he spent time in the control room with Ian.
3. Having been active members of the Earthwork Music community together since 2009, what does being an Earthwork-er mean to you, right here & right now, in 2018?
Being a part of Earthwork Music and the greater Michigan music community has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I have met countless beautiful people and made so many deep lasting friendships through the collective network - more than I ever could of imagined. I am time and time again deeply inspired and moved by the music that is being made throughout Michigan – it is truly a special time for music here.
Right now in 2018, it feels more important than ever to be active and aware of the environmental and social issues happening in our backyard. We are excited and honored to be a small part of the Clean Water Campaign for Michigan and look forward to standing behind the vision of the campaign in the year ahead.
4. You've gotten some great press both nationally & internationally for the recent release...what comes next for Gifts or Creatures?
We feel deeply grateful for the press coverage regarding, Fair Mitten . It’s been a rewarding project overall and sharing it with the world has been a privilege and honor. Releasing an album is always such a huge emotional experience for me in particular. I truly feel somewhat post-partum after each initial release. It feels so good to know that people are absorbing this regional material and experiencing this art that we put so much thought and time into.
Bethany and I just wrapped-up a lovely run of duo winter shows this last weekend. We are slowly working on some new original material and will be performing some select shows throughout the year ahead. We moved to Kalamazoo last September and are still settling in here. Both Bethany and I are truly enjoying spending time with our little boy. We are finding joy in the slower pace of life and looking for ways to quietly explore some new musical ideas in the coming year.