Picture this: a beautiful garden bright with anticipation opens up beneath a starry sky. Twinkle lights and candles warm the night to a golden glow, illuminating expectant faces of all ages gathered together beneath the breath of a promise. Suddenly, the plucking of an acoustic guitar breaks apart the casual chatter, and the soaring opening note of a violin coaxes listeners into a trance that rewards the investment they made when they first fell in love with music.
This is the vibe Impossible Bird seeks to create. Behind the scenes, singer/guitarist Nick Drummond, formerly of the Seattle band the Senate, and internationally-renowned fiddler Tyler Carson, most recently of Jack Maple, both emphasize the importance of finding the idyllic listening space to appropriately compliment their music. As performers, it’s all about enjoying the time onstage and sharing the fun with those present and in on the secret.
Impossible Bird is hard to classify by genre – the duo has been compared to Dave Matthews Band in terms of instrumental sound and vocal cadence, but while DMB takes seven musicians to reach their full sound, Impossible Bird needs only two. This is partly due to Carson’s use of a Stroh violin, a unique instrument (essentially a violin-horn combo) that looks as cool as it sounds. Though the Stroh helps Impossible Bird attract attention, it is the group’s skill and creativity that makes listeners stick around.
Comparisons and rare instruments aside, Impossible Bird’s music is a close-knit combination of several styles, including singer/songwriter, alternative folk, troubadour style, and acoustic pop. Elements of these and more are present on Impossible Bird’s self-titled debut EP, released earlier this year, but instead of caging them in to one musical style or another, it seems more productive to identify Impossible Bird through their efforts at audience connectivity and artistic integrity. Flying to the top of the charts at the cost of forfeiting their values as songwriters is not on the table; instead, it’s “all about following the music,” according to Carson.
Impossible Bird’s latest release, a music video for their new song “Firefly,” surfaced as the epitome of what Impossible Bird strives to evoke, from the musical style and the venue setup through the playful performance Drummond and Carson gave onstage. If Impossible Bird had to nail down a mission statement, this would be it. A few days after the video’s debut, I called Drummond and Carson at their base in Seattle, Washington and voiced the stream of questions that had been pestering me since I first watched “Firefly.”
Drummond: We met years ago. Tyler was playing with the Paperboys, and the Senate opened up a show they did one night in Tacoma, Washington. The next day, we ended up jamming. It was fun – there was a spark there, and that jam turned out to be an epic long session. So we’re like, okay, we need to collaborate in some way. So Tyler ended up sitting in with the Senate quite a bit. Then the Senate split up and we went our separate ways, and Tyler went off and toured the world and did his thing, and then we reconnected about a year and a half ago. Immediately it was clear there was a new depth to the music that had always kind of been there between the two of us. For both of us, finding a collaborator and a partner where things just click, and suddenly before you know it the song has exploded – that’s really an important part of what each of us were looking for at that time, and boy did we find it when we reconnected.
Carson: I think that it’s all about what makes something click. People say with this record that they listen to it over and over and it doesn’t get boring; every time they listen to it, they hear something real. I feel like that’s how the aspect of our creation and working together has been. It’s always about following the music, and that’s how we approach every show. It’s funny…I sometimes forget my part, if we haven’t played the song in a while, because I never play from my head, I’m always playing from my heart from the moment of the music. That’s how the songs get written, that’s how my parts get created. I just kind of feel like one dream opens up to the next one, and you just have to go along and take some bets that you can just fall into it.
Where does the name “Impossible Bird” come from?
Carson: It came from Nick’s sock drawer! I love calling Nick out on this because, for several months we were looking for a name. Finding a name for a band is always tricky, and we started out talking about what we really wanted it to represent. But for several months we were looking and we had found one or two other ones…and then Nick came and said, “I wrote this name down six months ago and forgot about it. What do you think?”
Drummond: It was just kind of luck that I decided to go through my sock drawer that day, and there was a band name that I instantly fell in love with, and I think Tyler did as well.
One song on Impossible Bird that seems especially captivating is “Overture.” It sounds somewhat like an ancient story brought back to life or revitalized. How did that song come about?
Drummond: I think there are certainly bits in the song that are true to the human experience and watching humanity progress. For me, I guess it was a response of sheer terror at just what an atomic bomb can do, to put it bluntly. That was kind of the spark for me, but beyond that I think the more universal aspect of it is really something that I think we all are going to experience as we grow old, and that is looking at what younger generations are capable of and just being very puzzled by it all.
Carson: It’s interesting you described it as ‘ancient,’ that’s not a description I would necessarily have chosen, I will always think of it as being period, being industrial revolution. When I hear that, it always blurs images of time, it’s a timeless piece. There’s an atomic bomb reference, but for the rest I just see these period images that work so perfectly.
Let’s talk a bit about your recent video for “Firefly.” It was filmed at your Under the Stars concert, correct?
Drummond: That’s right, in Seattle. Yeah.
Can you tell me a little about that concert?
Drummond: Yeah, it was our second one – we did one last year, as well. It’s this garden in Seattle at my parents’ house, a pretty magical little oasis that they’ve built by hand. When we first started playing together, we quickly found that the vibe of our music, and really what we were trying to express and trying to instill upon the audience, was very poorly served by your average rock ‘n roll club, or your average bar. We had a hard time making our music fit amongst all the neon and all the noise and everything else. And so we were looking for concerts in locations that really enhanced the overall vibe for the mentality of our music, and the places where we were rehearsing at the time ended up being the perfect fit for that.
Carson: It always comes back to the sound of the music. In this case, they’ve watched three decades of visitors come to their home and they’ve noticed that there are some people who come in and come up to the front door and have no idea; they don’t say anything and that’s totally cool. And then there are other people that walk in and just stop, as soon as they enter, and have to hold their breath for a minute; and they slowly walk in like they’re walking into a fairytale. Because it really does evoke that otherworldliness. The observation is just that one moment a person will notice, and the next moment a person won’t. For me that really represents what creating artful music is about. It’s always different, and it’s always about getting the experience, just coming from that place in between the sound.
Drummond and Carson’s passion for their art is evident in the jaunt of their recordings and their onstage interactions. “Firefly” stands as a premier example of where the heart of Impossible Bird lies, but tracks like “Overture” and “Bottle of Wine” showcase the full sound and structural variety that the duo encompasses. For now, Impossible Bird has scheduled dates in parts of northern California and Washington through the end of the year; the rest is unwritten.