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Foreign Fields Find Happiness in Nashville

Feb. 19, 2013
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When Wisconsin natives Brian Holl and Eric Hillman were granted permission to transform an abandoned office building in downtown West Bend into their personal studio, the duo jumped at the deal. With ostensibly limitless time to record, their band Foreign Fields, then still known as Flights, painstakingly constructed an electronic-tinged folk album that sounds surprisingly restrained and delicate. The process, however, wasn’t as effortless as the result. The main stumbling block was that the pair went into the studio with more or less a clean slate.

“Eric has done so much production work that we go in with the mindset of producing a full song,” the soft-spoken Holl says. “That's how we write. One of us will have an idea for a verse or chorus but then we just press record and start adding things. It kind of takes shape like that. Everything you hear is being written on the fly…. Since we spent so much time on every song, we perfected it, at least in our eyes, while recording it. We realized that writing is pretty much the same thing as recording to us.”

Foreign Fields’ debut, Anywhere But Where I Am, invokes images of snow-covered landscapes devastated by the unrelenting cold. Bare yet beautiful, the album's starkness can seem overwhelming. However, it hints that the most wonderful settings are those unstained by mankind’s touch, no matter what the climate suggests. Holl asserts that being holed up in the imposing walls of an office building inspired those themes to surface. “We were dreaming of other places,” he says.

At the time, Holl and Hillman were stationed in Chicago and spent their free time traveling up I-94 to work on the record. Neither situation was ideal. The studio, while free of charge, lacked some basic necessities—most notably heat. “In some songs, you can actually hear the ruffling of our coats," Holl says. “I think that desolation influenced the album a little bit.” And in Chicago, he and Hillman grew tired of the confining standards of a city where nobody seemed to be making a living playing music. They decided to pack up their things and find a new home. Where that would be, however, wasn’t immediately clear, but Nashville sounded like as good a place as any.

The gamble paid off and the change of scenery helped spur the band to place the finishing touches on Anywhere But Where I Am. The duo eventually came to realize that the album’s title no longer rang true. “In general, we're pretty happy where we are right now,” Holl says.

Like many bands nowadays, Foreign Fields simply released their record for a pay-what-you-want price on their Bandcamp page with little-to-no promotion. “There was no reason for anything to get moving and it did,” Holl muses. “People started telling friends and it got picked up by some pretty good blogs. All of a sudden we were playing South By Southwest in Austin and got some really good opportunities.”

Those opportunities included having their songs featured on a couple of episodes of the NBC television series “Parenthood,” a few Daytrotter sessions and a tour opening for the Counting Crows. “[Frontman Adam Duritz] has become a really great friend of ours,” Holl says. “It's good to have someone like that on your side.”

The future remains unclear, but as the band has begun preparing for the follow-up to Anywhere But Where I Am in Nashville, the only concern should be whether or not their studio has air-conditioning.

Foreign Fields plays Linneman's Riverwest Inn with openers Phox and Boom Forest on Friday, Feb. 22, at 8:15 p.m.



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