On an insanely hot day in September, I’m invited into Folly and the Hunter’s Mile-End jam space, also occupied today by the Barr Brothers. With music pouring into the living room, Nick Vallee and Chris Fox lead me around their basement studio and jam area. “A bunch of bands have been through here,” vocalist, guitarist and frontman Vallee starts to say.
The indie-folk band–also comprised of Laurie Torres, and most recently adding then-touring member Phil Creamer to their regular line up–are pleased to sit down and talk a little bit about their most recent effort, Awake. Released earlier this year, the record has a noticeably different sound, one which sees Folly & the Hunter moving away from atmospheric folk to adopt more pop-friendly material.
Influenced early on by Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver, Vallee mentions that their sound was characterized by paired down songs and was “way more folky when we started out.” Vallee first moved to Montreal from Vancouver for school with only a vague idea of what he wanted to do with his passion for songwriting. After graduating and not knowing how he’d put his degree to use, he decided to focus on something he was a little intimidated to try: playing music.
“I was like, ‘I’ve always wanted to play music and I was always too scared to do it so I might as well try,’ so I put out an ad on Craigslist,” says Nick with a slightly embarrassed laugh. “I [met] a couple people and then ended up meeting Laurie, and we ended up playing together.” The pair started out playing in another outfit, and soon began playing in Chris’s band Migrating Birds as well.
“Eventually the old band with Laurie disbanded,” Nick continues, “and me and Laurie were looking for musicians and [Fox] was looking to play.”
“I pestered him to let me play,” Fox chimes in.
Now on their third album, the band’s music is reaching more people than ever before, while still staying true to their roots and dedication to quality. Citing Half Moon Run and Aidan Knight as influences for this record, the band was ultimately shaped by the music and the scene they were immersed in. “It was just a general evolution of the band and the way we wanted to go creatively […] We wanted to start playing with things like synths and get more into the pop realm because that’s what we were listening to. I think that we were also very influenced by bands that we were playing at the time,” Vallee explains. “You can’t help but be influenced by the people around you.”
Vallee assures me that they haven’t turned bubble gum pop or anything remotely close to that: “[With Awake] we wanted to create something that we could touch more people with. And for me, when it comes to the aesthetic–whether it’s folk or indie or pop music–I find that most of those designations are generally meaningless. I think that there’s a sort of common misconception with pop music that when you move closer to it you’re somehow giving up your roots, but […] it has more to do with what we listen to, and how our personal music choices have sort of developed through time.”
In making Awake, Folly & the Hunter worked with producer (and Feist collaborator) Howie Beck, which allowed them to be pushed beyond their comfort zone while staying true to the Folly & the Hunter we all know and love. “Working with Howie specifically was just really nice because he was not necessarily pushing us to be anything different, he was more just clarifying our ideas. He was always encouraging us to sort of take out elements and create more space in the music,” says Vallee.
Fox also cites their latest album as being an enormous milestone for them, which he credits for keeping them motivated day in and day out. “These things are kind of like bucket list things we’ve always wanted to do, and so it really enables us to achieve those kind of goals. The kind of consistent, but very slight, upward slope in our career together – I mean, it’s very motivating to see these different milestones coming through, like being played on CHOM.”
“[Awake] seems to be touching a lot of people, more people than we ever have […] For me, it’s just enjoyable to have that exploration and try new things. This is where we were at that point in time,” details Fox. “It’s kind of like a snapshot of where we were and hopefully that will continue with our evolution, and for the next record as well.”
Folly & the Hunter credits Montreal’s local music scene with influencing their sound tremendously, and providing them with the power to strive to do better, even if it may be a bit intimidating at times. “We’re so heavily influenced by the people around us,” says Vallee, “by the Barr Brothers, by Half Moon Run, by Miracle Fortress, by all of these bands that we’ve admired and we’ve played alongside. The amazing thing about Montreal is that there’s so many incredible musicians that it pushes you to do better […] because you see all these people who have worked so hard to get to where they are, have put so much effort into their sound, and have maintained such artistic integrity that it really pushes you to be more and keep growing as a musician.”
As my time with the band approaches its end, I ask the seasoned veterans if they have any advice for those trying to make it in the local music scene. Vallee was quick to share his guidance. “Oh man, I have a lot of advice,” he says with a laugh. “Be patient. Just make what you want to make, make your music from the heart. Don’t worry about what’s trending, what people think about it and… Oh yeah! Get a freelance skill, ‘cause that will save your ass.”