When this interview was first posted, Jimmy Hughes was an active member of Elf Power and just launching his solo project, Folklore. For Folklore’s first album, The Ghost of H.W. Beaverman, Jimmy would ask various Athens, GA guest stars to sing each track (more on that in the interview); for his follow-ups, Carpenter’s Falls and Home Church Road, he would take vocal duties himself. Jimmy’s a super friendly guy and a talented musician, and I’m happy to reprint this interview with him from July 21, 2007.
Jimmy Hughes might be best-known as a guitarist for Elf Power, but word is spreading of his Athens-based band Folklore. As Jimmy explains, the band’s first, self-released album, The Ghost of H.W. Beaverman, peels away the layers of the legend it tells, one track at a time, until it reaches epiphanies that are pretty ambitious for what is, essentially, a pop-rock album. What makes the record even more unique is that each track is voiced by a different singer, the names of whom might be familiar to devotees of Athens music: Andrew Rieger (Elf Power), Amy Dykes (I am the World Trade Center), Jon Croxton (Wee Turtles), Bren Mead (Masters of the Hemisphere and Vetran), Ian Rickert (Bugs Eat Books), Heather McIntosh (The Instruments and Circulatory System), Scott Spillane (Gerbils and Neutral Milk Hotel), and, of course, Jimmy himself. But those wary of elaborate concept albums should check out Folklore, if only to see how they can be done right: The Ghost of H.W. Beaverman plays as a collection of beautifully-crafted pop songs, and the story they happen to tell only gains resonance the deeper you dig. Here Jimmy discusses the formation of Folklore, its future, and casting the leads for his debut album.
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First I’d like to ask how Folklore began. Had you been working on these songs for a while before you began to think about how you wanted to record them?
For whatever reason, I am prompted to write songs. I always have been since even before I could play guitar. So these particular songs I had been writing even though I didn’t have a band (they were all based on short stories that I had imagined but never penned, so when they found their way into the song form, it seemed natural since I wasn’t writing fiction anyway). So yes, I had been working on them since before I thought about how I wanted to record them (or at least most of them). I would say all of these songs were written since I moved to Athens, which was about five years ago. But around the time I moved, I didn’t have a band and just figured I’d go with the flow. So I started playing in bands such as Bugs Eat Books, Masters Of The Hemisphere, Fairmount Fair, San Ferry Ann, Vetran, and Elf Power. Basically anyone that would ask me to play, I would.
And then, a couple years ago, some people started showing interest in playing my own songs, and Folklore formed. It all made me very happy. I always like it when things come together naturally rather than forced. I think that’s the way it should be.
What prompted the idea of having this first album consist almost entirely of other vocalists singing your songs?
Well, a big part of that had to do with the characters in the stories. I wanted them to have voices rather than me singing all of them and blending them all into one. Like, I wanted to have female characters be sung by female voices and to even have each male character be sung by a different male voice than my own. So I sort of cast the album the way one would a movie and, fortunately for me, everyone who was asked for each character said yes so it worked out just as I wanted it to and I never had to re-cast any characters or consider a second choice. Again, it all just worked out…which makes me very happy. Another part of it is that I sometimes find myself bored by just one singer on an entire album. I mean, it happens all the time and sometimes that one voice is great, but I find myself more attracted to bands that have more than one songwriter/singer. I guess kind of in the same way that if you use one guitar tone on one song, then you want to change it up for the next one so all the songs don’t end up sounding the same.
Any record I have worked on in the past has been with one singer at the helm and though with different styles or effects added the voice can sound different, it’s still the same. So I wanted to experiment and create songs/stories that had totally different voices on every track…just to see what would happen.
Did you write the songs of The Ghost of H.W. Beaverman with the intention of having them sung by others?
No, I mostly just wrote them as they came to me, and as the songs started forming I started to think up the ideas of having other folks sing them. I didn’t have specific people in mind right away, but the idea was there. I waited until all the songs were written until I started casting them in my head.
Also, am I correct in assuming you’re the singer on the EP, and was that a conscious decision–to give the EP more unity maybe?
The EP was sort of out-takes from the album. Basically, the album tells the story from the perspective of a tourist who stumbles upon the H.W. Beaverman hoax and starts to obsess over it, trying to unravel the mystery.
So the album follows the tourist’s studies of different characters as he unravels the rumor tree backwards from hearing a story of H.W. Beaverman’s ghost (“The Kid”) to sitting next to H.W. Beaverman very alive and in-the-flesh in a diner, as the legendary man tells his own perspective (“H.W. Beaverman”). Each song in between is one step closer to the truth. Then there were these extra songs that I had which we were also working on in the studio but didn’t fit into that formula of the album so well. They were part of the story, but they were more narrative or back-story…for whatever reason, I felt they didn’t fit as well, so I cut them. They became the EP, and rather than go through the trouble of hounding people to sing them, I just sang them myself.
We’re actually working on an extended version of the EP now (which I guess will be an LP) which will include the original songs from the EP (some re-recorded), plus several new songs that will all play into the back-story of the H.W. Beaverman legend. I will be singing on all or most of the songs, partially because it works with the narrative of the song (me being the narrator) but also because I want to head more in that direction because that is how the songs sound live, and I want to create an album that is a bit more honest to our live sound.
Would having multiple vocalists on a record be an approach you’d consider in the future, or was that a one-off for this album?
I would love to do it again. It was really new for me to hear other people sing my songs and I really liked it a lot, but the record we have almost done now is the Carpenter’s Falls LP (the extended version of the EP) and that will probably be all me singing for reasons stated above…and then the next record we are working on is a new story that I think I will also be singing most of…or at least me and other regular band members will be singing. I would like to get into a more group vocal style with multiple singers and harmonies and such. This is not to say that I wouldn’t want to do another record with guest vocalists sometime, but just not right away. For now I would like to keep Folklore undefined. We could be anything on the next record…limitations are for squares!
Did Amy Dykes have any reservations about singing her track?
No, not at all. I was so happy when she was excited about it right from the start.
Her voice (as well as Scott Spillane’s, for that matter) is almost unrecognizable, mainly because she’s singing out of her genre–I Am the World Trade Center calling for a more Debbie Harry style. That was one of the more delightful surprises on the album.
Yeah, it was a delightful treat to have them both participate. I do think that they both took a nice twist with their vocals. They both sang them their own way, based on the demos I gave them…both not exactly what I was expecting, but pleasantly surprised by the takes on the their respective songs. I think those vocals work with their respective characters too, which is what I was really going for anyway. Scott’s voice I know sounds different than usual because he was specifically trying to channel a Kingston Trio voice (I can’t remember which Kingston Trio song it was, but it was a very specific voice he was going for…I will have to ask him what song it was)…so he was going for that and thus the vocals came out the way they did. He also sang it in a lower register than I do, which was kind of nice because on that recording my voice is still there in the background singing all the higher stuff. And then Scott’s down low embracing the voice of Beaverman.
With Amy, I see a sort of glazed-over look in the way she sings it, a woman scorned sitting at the end of dock looking over the water…the voice of an elderly bartender who is seeing ghosts of her old patrons as she goes senile, and she could snap at any moment. Maybe that wasn’t what Amy was going for, but that is the character I see in my head as the bartender, and the voice and the story work together, so I was very pleased by the whole process.
I remember you telling me you had the idea of shooting music videos to help extrapolate upon the story. Is that still something you’d still like to do?
Yes. I want to do stuff like that all the time! I have footage for three videos (not Folklore videos) that I just haven’t found the time to sit down and edit together. But yes, if that time ever presents itself to me then I would love to put each song/chapter to a short video.
All the songs are spoken in the first person, so I wanted to make them all really honest videos. Basically it would be the character speaking, interview-style to the camera. But I would want the settings to (if possible) all be the actual settings. And of course I would have to find some people to be the characters. So that’s something I will always be thinking about and maybe slowly over time I will do it. I have had a few people try to coax me into penning the stories as a companion piece to the songs, which would certainly extrapolate upon the story as well. I want to write it out at some point, but I don’t have the time and patience to invest in something like that right now. Maybe when I’m 70 years old I will finally sit down and write the whole thing out as a novel, which was the original intent when I first conceived the story.
What’s next for Folklore? You mentioned, in another interview, that the next album might have a science fiction theme.
Well, I hope to have the Carpenter’s Falls full-length done and pressed to CD by September. And then we’ll begin work on the next record (we have actually already started recording four songs for that project). I’m still constructing the story though, and some of the songs are still being written. The few that we are working on though are sounding pretty good. The album is tentatively called Home Church Road, and the story is loosely about the world coming to an end, but before it does, there is an era on the planet where the human race is gone, and the record will be short stories from the perspective of the remaining animals and what they do with the time they have left. So I probably did say somewhere that it was a sci-fi theme, but not exactly. I mean, I want the animals in this story to be just as we know them, only without the influence of humans, so they behave differently in their own natural way. There will be no “Animal Farm” themes where the animals start walking and talking. So yeah, the ideas I am working with are futuristic I suppose and they are obviously fiction, but I can’t exactly say if it is science fiction since there won’t be much science involved. But yeah, I guess it’s sci-fi in a very non-space kind of way.
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