Fernwood's Gayle Gives His Scenic View on Their Music

Fernwood was formed in 2006 by Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett, having already released three albums thus far into their musical careers, they have gone to create contemporary acoustic music that is beautiful and elegant, with a strong cinematic and pan-cultural feel. By combining elements of pastoral acoustic music, with the sounds of Traditional American, Irish, Eastern European, Asian, and Middle Eastern music, and a laid-back Southern California vibe, the music of Fernwood is quite special. With a deliberate focus on composition, arrangements and orchestration, they have created a new Americana hybrid style that is uniquely their own. One of the two members Gayle Ellett discusses their latest album "Arcadia" along with not knowing what the fuck has in-store for them!

1. Please tell us about the history of your band and its members.

Gayle: Todd Montgomery and I formed Fernwood in 2006. Earlier, we were playing together in a different group, a 12-piece Topanga hippie commune-type band that played totally improvised music. Todd was playing sitar and I was playing analog mono-synth. And as we talked more about our love of interesting acoustic music, we decided to form a band to play this new sound. Todd has been playing Celtic music for many years, and he studied sitar with Ravi Shankar’s oldest student. Now he is working on a new solo album. I currently play in 7 bands (in many different styles, on many different instruments), some of which are mainstream, and some of them are quite out-there! We feel very fortunate to be able to play this great music that we do in Fernwood.

2. What’s the origin of the band’s name?

Gayle: We took our name from the neighborhood I live in, in Topanga, California. We live in the costal mountains high above the Pacific Ocean. Its very scenic and beautiful here. The name is a good fit, because we play beautiful instrumental acoustic music. And as we always say “All music played by hand, on instruments made out of wood!” Basically, we play music the old-fashioned way: by hand (not computers). Sadly, this is becoming a lost art.

3. Where is the band based out of and what is your music scene like there? Are there any local bands you could recommend?

Gayle: Todd lives in Malibu and I live here in Topanga. We focus on making albums, not on playing live, so we are not very connected to the performing music scene. In our music, there are often 15 to 20 different instruments being played on a single tune. So we do a lot of layering up of instruments in the studio, because there are only two of us in the group. We are a studio band. We did do one show, for a big radio station, but we had 7 people to help us create the music live. If we play live again someday, I’d rather have about 12 people in our group, to better realize our vision. Many the bands in my town just play at the local bar, and at raging 10-band all-night house parties! We like the music of our friends The Blue Dolphins, Joee Corso, Hani Naser, Jim Crawford, Killing Casanova, etc. Its a fun, but mellow scene.

4. How would you describe your style? Which bands influenced your music?

Gayle: Our music is rather calm, its beautiful, its acoustic music played on a very wide range of stringed instruments from all around the world. These include Greek & Irish bouzouki, sitar, dilruba, quirquincho, Chinese ruan, Turkish cumbus, Moroccan oud, harmonium, gimbri, rababa, bulbul tarang, jal tarang, dotara, surmandal, tambura, manjira, tumbi, bugchu, gopichand, violin, mandolin, acoustic guitar, baritone guitar, tenor banjo, tenor ukulele, bells & chimes, acoustic piano, rhodes piano, upright bass, field recordings and other sounds. I also write music for Film and TV, so our music has a strong cinematic/soundtrack-type feel. Listening to it, creates little mini-movies in your mind! We are a rather unique group, so we do not sound like other groups, and we don’t have very many groups that we follow. But we are somewhat similar to some of the music of Gustavo Santaolalla, and Tin Hat Trio. And we are also very influenced by our desire to better understand the root elements of “beauty” and how it differs from being merely “pretty”. It has a lot to do with understanding how to apply the artistic concept of “theme & variation” to the different elements of our music, such as dynamics, tempo, orchestrations & arrangements, as well as melody, harmony and rhythm, etc. It is this intellectual understanding of beauty, that helps us create music at this level. Our first album (Almeria) was “#4 Album Of The Year” on Echoes Radio (a nationally syndicated daily FM radio show broadcast on 150 stations from California to Maine). So we must know what we are doing!

5. What's your take on "Arcadia" as a whole?

Gayle: Its the best album I have created so far, and I've played on over 100 albums, so that says a lot! Todd and I are super happy with how Arcadia came out. We could not be happier! We worked really really hard on Arcadia, it was recorded over a 5-year period, and each song went through 100 to 500 revisions before we settled on the final arrangements. Every single note is in the right place, throughout the entire record. And some reviewers are even calling it a “masterpiece” (Lady Obscure Magazine, from TURKEY). Its our third album, and it follows in the same direction as the first two: Almeria & Sangita. Its also the first time we have released a Fernwood album … on vinyl LP! So we’re happy about that!

6. What's your favorite song on "Arcadia" right now?

Gayle: I very much like our song “Vision At Vasquez Rocks”. It has many of the classic dreamy/almost psychedelic elements heard in much of our music. And the sound is filled with the traditional tones of: sitars, dilruba, charango, surmandal, guitar, dobro, Rhodes, acoustic piano, harmonium, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, upright bass, etc, And you can hear/see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWLOgLzq_lc

7. What should people know about your band? Why should they be interested in it?

Gayle: We make music for ourselves to enjoy, and as a challenge. I aspire to someday be the peer of my music idols, and with Fernwood we try to do just that. We've been reviewed in most of the biggest music magazine throughout the world, and all of the reviews have been super positive! Todd and I have been playing and composing music for over 35 years each, so we are very experienced musicians. We make music for musicians, not your average ding-a-ling listener. So our music is not condescending. Its deep. Fortunately, our music is also not too complex or hard to follow…the complexity exists in how the instruments relate to each other. Not in tedious, hyper fast playing. Take it for a test drive and see for yourself what we’re talking about!

8. What plans do you have for the future as a band?

Gayle: Todd and I are going to continue making the best acoustic music we can! There is nothing “broken” with our concept, so we won’t be making any big changes to how we approach what we do. We’ll just keep on keeping on. Who knows what the future has in store for us?

9. Where can we listen to your band and where can we buy your stuff?

Gayle: You can hear our music on our websites at: www.FernwoodMusicGroup.com and also at:
https://fernwood.bandcamp.com/album/arcadia. And you can buy our music directly from us, and also at iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, BandCamp, etc.

10. What is it you’d like a listener to remember the most when hearing your music for the first time?

Gayle:We make Art-music. Not mainstream music. And the difference between these two concepts is huge. With our music, much of what really matters, is revealed slowly as the song unfolds or evolves over time, throughout the duration of the song. So it means that a listener really needs to hear the whole song, all of the way through, and pay attention to it. But the upside of that is that you will be rewarded for the effort: our music is VERY engaging, compelling, and its truly beautiful. Our music tells a whole evolving story, its not just a scene or a snapshot (as is common with mainstream music). Feel free to stop by our website and say hello, where you too can hear what Fernwood is all about! And many Thanks to Natalie for giving us this opportunity to talk about our music!

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