"Even the colors of autumn fade as the winter is reborn; the monochromatic scale renews its war with the leftover spectrum of flora and fauna."
It begins with a single leaf gently making its way to over grown and slightly browning grass below. Soon a few other begin to fall, quietly as the rest begin to turn shades of red, orange, yellow, the collection grows into a pile. Building upon this foundation more leaves begin to fall as the wind starts to swirl and toss the colors back into the air. A trumpet sounds and the frantic leaves explode into an autumn dance of epic proportions. This is only the first few minutes of the fascinating mostly instrumental album debut full length album, We The Wintering Tree, from Kentucky's Foxhole.
Recorded in March 2004 in Westminster Bible Church, Wintering Tree, is an album tells the story of the human/spiritual/natural life cycle with vitually no words. Guitars speak of the rolling and harmonic life, while the trumpet gracefully paints a picture a somber wilting leading into the drums of death. Yet through the album there is a "promise of a new and better life".
Recently, the band (Derek Holt, Greg Leppert, Justin Shepherd, Adam Moore, and Brian Toppenberg (not pictured)) took a few minutes out after practice to collectively answer my questions.
Orange Alert (OA): Your debut album, We the Wintering Tree, was actually recorded and self-released back in 2004. How was the decision made to release it again through your current label Burnt Toast Vinyl?
Foxhole: Actually, WTWT was first released via a small label out of Michigan called Selah Records. We had found them - and they us - through another band on their label we had befriended. Since then, Selah has gone under and we’ve worked to keep WTWT in print by self-releasing it. We first started working with BTV when they commissioned us to write an EP for a project Scott, the owner, had for a vinyl-split of four instrumental bands he liked, which was released last year. After some time, we made our friendship with BTV official by signing with them, and we started talks of re-releasing WTWT on vinyl. I think it was that album that really got Scott into our music, and of course we had always been fans his label's music, and how pressing his band's music to vinyl was as important as to CD.
OA: There is only one song on the album with vocals. Why "Spectacle" and not any other songs?
Foxhole: Foxhole didn't start out without vocals. While we had always been primarily instrumental, several of our earliest songs had featured vocals of some kind. Spectacle is actually a vestige from that period, and was the only song we wanted to carry over from it once we had made some shifts in the band members & leadership. While writing, we've never completely ruled out the use of vocals, but Spectacle so far has been the only time we all agreed it was right.
OA: What I enjoy most about this album is the perfect use of the trumpet. How has your sound changed or evolved since those magical months locked in a Church back 2004?
Foxhole: I think WTWT's use of trumpet was what brought the album together and gave it its mark of ingenuity. And not just that we made use of a trumpet, which isn't all that remarkable in music in general or even instrumental music, but, as one famous listener put it, that we used "a lot of trumpet," meaning how many brass tracks seep through the mix from the very first song, permeating the music until the brass is just as vital as any other instrument. Up until this album we had been pretty cautious of its use for fear of it dominating everything else or being seen as a gimmick. Since that album brass has maintained its position of importance, but we’ve also expanded our repertoire of instruments to include keys and samples, so that we're a little better spread for writing.
OA: The wonderful metaphor of the life cycle of the tree, as it relates toour own lives and struggles, is beautifully written in the liner notes of this album. Was this image in your minds while recording the album?
Foxhole: In fact, it very much was! We had a very limited time frame in which to record the album - basically our university's "spring" break - so we had to plan out precisely what we would do on which days. In order to keep ourselves on track, we drew on poster board a wintering tree whose few remaining leaves marked the song tracks we still had to record. As it was the middle of March, it was still very cold out, and inside the church was no better, so we kept bundled up and huddled in the cry-room making plans for what we still had to do while someone else was alone in the sanctuary to record.
OA: Christian music seems to have this long running stigma surrounding it when in fact there are many fantastic Christian musicians. What your opinion of the current state of Christian music? Do you consider Foxhole to be Christian Music?
Foxhole: Well, it's sort of a conundrum. We support the arts among Christians and we're always encouraged when we find out a musician we like is also a Christian, but we've also not been sheltered from the dark things that go on within the Christian music business, which like any other business can get dirty and soiled by its ambitions. There came a point when Christians, in their zeal to make good use of their gifts, began to push their audiences really hard to take sides with or against the music, which somehow was translated to with or against God - that a young Christian listener should feel obliged to support a musician simply because s/he was Christian and therefore shared somehow in the same mission. Christians began to much more fervently use their tastes in music as tools of evangelism, and as time went on the music's message became so important that it would even trump the music itself, and you'd find people listening to otherwise poor music only for its lyrical content, or more vaguely, for its artist's intentions, which are often assumed or exaggerated. Add this to people's inherent desire not to be told they're wrong, that they “should" do this or that, and you can see the recipe for that stigma you mentioned.
Now I think "Christian Music" has established itself as a genre like any other, and to suggest the dissolution of the genre in order to let Christians make music they way they'll naturally make it is, at this point, preposterous.
As for Foxhole, we're Christians and our faith is life. We can't very well do anything without it, so it's a little silly to try and exclude it from our daily endeavors, artistic or otherwise. But as it is life, it also needn't be showcased. We hope our faith is evident in everything our lives produce. We don't resent the stigma attached to Christians who make music- historically Christians have always been frictional - provided we ourselves are not helping to exacerbate the stigma with our own folly.
OA: What's next for Foxhole?
Foxhole: Lots of writing. We're working on music for a new album hopefully to be completed this year and released on BTV. Beyond that, we're thinking of touring a little in warmer months, though touring for us must always be "a little" due to the rest of our lives. A week here and a week there.
We The Wintering Tree
A Series of Spring and Falls/The End of Dying (mp3)/Dead Rimes/Spectacles/Lent/At Right Angles/A Children's Canto/Lamentation/A Lion in Winter/Long Live the King/Through Bone and Marrow