Swallow Hill audiences know Tony Furtado as an always-restless and inventive genre-hopping musician.
They also know that no matter how many times they’ve seen him in concert, they can expect something new and different from him every time he visits Daniels Hall, as he will on Friday, February 1.
It’s been close to two years since Tony last made an appearance at Swallow Hill, making this the perfect times to check in on him and see what’s he’s been up to.
We are excited to have you back at Swallow Hill! The last time you played here you had just released Cider House Sessions, what have you been up to since then?
I’ve been writing a bunch of banjo instrumentals! It’s been a while since I’ve released a banjo-focused album, so I’m hoping to put together either an EP or a full length album with a focus on my banjo tunes. I’m also getting back in the song-writing saddle… so 2019 will hopefully see a couple new releases from me throughout the year!
At your concert in Daniels Hall on February 1, you’ll be joined by Eric Thorin on bass and Carl Sorensen on drums, a set up you’ve described as a power trio. Have you played with Eric and Carl before? What can audiences look forward to from this group of musicians?
I have played with Eric MANY times over the past 20 years or so… he’s such a spot on solid bass player, and super nice guy! That’s why everyone wants to play with him! I’ve only played with Carl on one other tour but it was enough to know that I can’t wait to play with him again! A very creative and sensitive drummer (also a nice guy)! Two qualities a folk singer begs for in a drummer. I figure folks can expect to hear my songs and tunes with creative, sensitive, nice-guy grooves 😉
I found a great profile of you from Oregon Public TV that delved into how you’ve embraced sculpture again after a long hiatus. How does your sculpture influence your music, and how does your music influence your sculpture?
It’s hard to explain how they influence each other but I know they do! I’ve found that sculpting tends to be a very meditative process for me… it’s like a release valve from the stress of the music industry. Sometimes when I’m sculpting I get ideas for songs, and vice-versa. Also, they are somewhat opposite ends of the social(izing) spectrum. When I’m performing I’m very chatty and social – from the stage and the merch table. When I’m sculpting, it’s the complete opposite… I get inward – introspective… definitely alone mostly.
I also noticed from the donkey (or perhaps it’s a mule?) on the album cover for Cider House Sessions to your hare sculptures, you seem to have a fondness for long ears – is there anything behind that?
Ha ha! He’s more of a hare than a donkey… I guess he’s a chimera (a mix of several species). Kind of a long-faced hare with a messy tuft of hair on his noggin! I’ve always loved finding a particular aspect of an animals appearance to exaggerate or find emotion in… ears are cool!
In that video, you also discuss how you discovered the banjo when you were quite young. You also knew relatively early on of the banjo’s African origins, how did that knowledge influence or inform your development as a banjo player?
I’d say it kept me open-minded to what the banjo can do since it’s had a pretty colorful past! I didn’t even know what bluegrass was when I begged my folks for a real banjo for my 12th birthday! I just knew I liked the instrument – it was different! It came from another place and had a cool sound.
Who are some contemporary artists – musicians or otherwise – you currently look to for inspiration?
My influences over the years have shifted all over the place from blues and rock to bluegrass, Irish and English to bluegrass. But These days I find myself listening for artists with a great ear for lyrical melodies… and lyrics that grab me. It’s that simple! If you want some names, you guys have a guy in your neck of the woods named Gregory Alan Isakov who I dig. Some others are Jose Gonzalez, Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Ros, Anais Mitchell. I also find myself listening to loads of classical music when I’m sculpting. Classical has always been a bit of a peripheral influence for me!
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I love Colorado! I miss the mountains there and the crazy view I had from my home in Boulder when I lived there. Sometimes I even miss that strange cold white stuff that fell from the sky. But mostly I miss my friends and the folks who come and listen to me play, that’s why I keep coming back.
See Tony Furtado in Daniels Hall on Friday, February 1, 2019.