Music of the sublime: Fiver’s Country-Folk Psychedelia

Despite the mirror, Simone claims her songs are not confessional. . .
Photo by Jeff Bierk

by Carey Rutherford

“Formed in 2012 as a medium for Simone Schmidt (One Hundred Dollars, The Highest Order) to write, record and produce original material unencumbered by outside aesthetic or group ideology, Fiver is dynamic, sometimes personal, and undoubtedly political.”

That’s the official line from Fiver’s promotional material, and Simone’s as captured by that definition as any artist is by a few lines of explanation: Not!

“I play guitar, cello, keyboards, and sing (on Lost The Plot, Fiver’s new album).. . . . We (Tom, another Simone, Stew, and Michael are the other performers on the disc) just got back from a tour with Timber Timbre in the States, and I’m going to bring Will Kidman, who’s (from) the Constantines, and Simone (she’s a great drummer), but I’m not sure what I’m going to assemble for this next tour.”

It may seem strange that the captain of this ship doesn’t know what it’ll look like when it sails through Western Canada, but nothing is simple with Simone. Musically, think of what would have happen if Nick Cave had centred his talents on country music, or if Johnny Cash had fronted Pink Floyd.

No, how about Grace Slick being a singer/songwriter in the 2100’s? Hmmm, no, Simone probably wouldn’t agree with that description, either.

“I worked collaboratively for many years, and was very accustomed to that give and take that I really love in collaborations, but I also yearned for an outlet where I could have control and make decisions that I knew, given the sensibilities of many of my collaborators, none of them would go for.

“The other part of it is, fundamentally, when you break them down, the songs are folk songs, and any song that I write should be able to be played on an acoustic guitar, with voice.. . . In general what I do is write folk songs: that’s not how I care to produce the record, but I wanted to be able to tour independently, as a solo performer, or build up whatever kind of musical act around me that I felt spoke to my interests at the time. I think, over many years playing, I realized that having that flexibility would be vital for me.”

Around this point, I failed miserably to categorize her musical intentions and genre, based upon the labels above, and even asking if Fiver had some First Nations influences because of the rhythms and harmonies I thought I could hear. Simone’s reply, that “We’re all settlers in our band” is an indicator of her considered response to the questions that come her way, both personally and creatively:

I don’t aim (my music) at an audience: I don’t really care who listens to it. I think we live in a time when people listen to a wide array of music.. . . I believe in crafting a record. It’s an opportunity, as my engineer (and bass player, Stew Crookes) says, to make something that couldn’t be made in a live setting. And that way it’s magical.”

Therein follows a little love-in about the inherent differences between digital and analogue recording, which you are welcome to bring up the next time Fiver comes through town (Sled Island, see below). We wrestle again through a definition of their musical style, which Simone says is based on North American folk tradition ( “based on piedmont guitar-picking”). Except for the cello and distorted violin and extreme reverb on drums and vocals. And stuff. And then there’s the song content itself, sometimes stark, sometimes psychedelic, never simple. For example:

“(The album’s closing track) ‘The Undertaker’ is the (performer) from the WWE. I was thinking about what are North American folk heroes now? Within folk tradition, people talk about Jesse James, but no-one knows who Jesse James is anymore: no-one knows who those old folk heroes are. People know about wrestling, and those plots, if you strip them of all the fighting, are pretty hilarious.”

And other lighthearted topics, like the internal reflections of a woman asked to run a benefit race for cancer, while working in plastics, and whose husband is dying of the disease (‘Rage of Plastics’). Y’know, ‘girl meets boy’ kind of stuff. Step into this heartfelt world when Fiver comes to town:

June 14 – Saskatoon, SK @ MoSoFest; June 18 & 19 – Calgary, AB @ Sled Island; June 20 – Kelowna, BC @ Fernando’s Pub; June 21 – Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret; June 23 – Victoria, BC @ Copper Owl; June 25 – Kamloops, BC @ Zach’s Coffee House; June 27 – Edmonton, AB @ Wunderbar; June 28 – Regina, SK @ The Regina German Club

‘Said it’s right to share in trouble
But there’s more to trade than misery
There’s a bed on the bank of a living and it waits for me

So I gone alone, did I do right?
My mind gone off like the river runs white I left my home did I do right?
The valley shines gold I’m outta site
The valley shines gold I’m outta site.’ (from “Gone Alone”, on the album Lost The Plot)

Posted by Hannah Rutherford

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.