For many musical artists, the halting of traditional live performances during the pandemic inflamed a never-satisfied itch for applause and connection with their fans. That yearning is what sent a good number of them rushing into the untested waters of livestreaming and social media.
For others, sheltering in place and quarantining for long stretches helped them gain some clarity over the internal tug-of-war that goes on between a desire to move around the world as part of a tour and a craving to remain in one place and tend to the home fires.
That yin-yang balance of staying in motion and staying put is something that Dawn McCarthy–the singer-songwriter and leader of psych-folk duo Faun Fables–was, until very recently, finally able to maintain. She and husband/creative partner Nils Frykdahl had established a fan base around the world for their abundant music — a sound built from various global folk traditions that have been gently modernized and personalized — that they could tour fairly regularly even if there wasn’t a new album to promote. And they were in a comfortable enough position to be able to bring their three daughters on the road with them.
But as venues around the world shuttered for a good long while, McCarthy came to more fully understand how necessary that equilibrium was for her and how fragile it was.
“I always knew the work that I was going to do was going to have to have travel in it somehow,” McCarthy said, speaking on the phone from her home in California. “That started from being a kid and our family road trips taking the station wagon out and Amtrak rides. And then there’s part of me that can be so into decorative arts and cooking and hosting people at home and family life. That’s the main thing about returning to touring life right now: it’s the opposite of what the last two years have been. I can’t really say we got used to it because it felt like a part of our souls were missing.”
It took the birth of McCarthy and Frykdahl’s first child to plant the couple in one place for a while. Before the two met, they were constantly on the move. After growing up in the Spokane area, McCarthy bounced around the U.S. and developed her talents as a vocalist and performer as a member of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. Born in Oakland, Frykdahl toured regularly in the experimental ensembles Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Idiot Flesh.
Since meeting in the late ’90s, the two have done much of their traveling together, carving out time along the way to develop Faun Fables into an ambitious and diverse project. Their music can have a stomping ferocity to it or a withering beauty. And they’ve welcomed a theatricality to their live performances, which culminated in works like 2006’s The Transit Rider and 2010’s Light of a Vaster Dark–full-bore musicals, complete with costume changes and sets.
Though they kept up a regular touring schedule, the time between their albums has become longer as their family has grown. The only music Faun Fables has released since 2016’s Born of the Sun has been a single track on a flexidisc included with an issue of a folklore magazine. It would appear though that the floodgates of new material are about to crack open.
“There’s so much material,” McCarthy said. “There’s such fertile ground that happened with just having a family. Now I feel like I have a huge amount of material to write about. And then we have our girls, and they’re growing into these great creative forces. It’s kind of like the harvest comes but at a different pace and a little later.”
What this means for Faun Fables performance in Portland this week is a mixture of older material and new songs, as well as some creative input from McCarthey and Frykdahl’s daughters.
“They’re gonna sing,” said McCarthy. “They’re kind of a chorus of sorts with percussion. There’s gonna be some dance involved. We’re having fun. It’s not totally easy to work with your kids. They do get a little bit like, ‘Okay, yeah, mom and dad, whatever…’ But when the time comes to the actual doing, they’ll be golden with it.”
Faun Fables performs at Misdemeanor Meadows (6920 SE 52nd Ave., Portland) on Friday June 3 at 7 pm. $15 at the door. Proof of COVID vaccination required for entry.