“Bands that have grown up together have a really good dynamic, no ego involved,” says Sean Canan, lead guitarist and chief arranger for the St. Louis based-band Falling Fences. “I think that really helps.”
Joe Stickley, singer and songwriter for the band, met Canan while both were students at the University of Missouri-Columbia back in 1999. Along with keyboardist Andrew Weir and producer Wil Reeves, they’ve been making music together pretty much ever since then. Under the name Joe Stickley’s Blue Print, the band released three albums and toured widely in the U.S. before slowing things down about ten years ago.
That’s when Stickley and Canan picked up a weekly gig at McGurk’s, an Irish pub in St. Louis where they found a way to mix their original material in between Irish folk songs. Eventually, enough originals accumulated and the urge to play louder led to getting the band back together, this time under the name Falling Fences. With the additions of new bass player John Hussung and drummer Joe Winze, they are now releasing their second full-length album, Falling Fences II.
“It starts in my living room,” says Stickley, “then we workshop it in Sean’s living room, then Johnny comes in to the living room, then we take it to the pub. Then we have a rehearsal with drums and keyboards.”
“I usually come and twist the feel of the song,” Canan adds. “I like to turn it into something iconic. Especially with choruses, I want to know what kind of melodies the crowd wants to sing over this. I try to speed the process up, get closer to the finished product as if we’d played it a hundred times live.”
Canan has studied the mechanics of music making at a masters level over the years. He grew up with a father who taught him the history of rock’n’roll, and eventually found himself making a living playing guitar. A few years spent in the constantly touring Grateful Dead tribute band the Schwag gave him plenty of grounding in improvisational skills. But, another regular gig, this time at the Broadway Oyster Bar leading Sean Canan’s Voodoo Players which pays tribute to different classic rock artists every week, has forced him to learn the secrets behind his favorite records.
“I’ve dissected the studio recordings of Tom Petty, or Fleetwood Mac,” Canan says. “We’ve used some of those techniques on the new Falling Fences record. Like bringing the acoustic guitar in on the chorus, like they do on “Dreams.” Or percussion, congas, mixed very low.”
Whatever the process, the proof is in the pudding, and Falling Fences II is one tasty custard. After a delightful melodic fragment sets the table, the album contains nine songs made richer with all the production details gleaned from the greats. Stickley’s vocals are front and center, as befits a collection of songs so literate. He has a wonderful vulnerability in his delivery, which blends beautifully with the backing vocals of Canan, Hussung and Winze, and instrumentation, leading to a greater focus on the images in the lyrics.
“I think I see the imagery of a movie I saw a long time ago but can’t really remember, and I’m trying to describe that,” Stickley says. “One of the songs, “The Hawk and the Dove,” is a song about two outlaws. That idea of these outlaws from the 1860s leaving their respective camps to go off together makes its way into the 20th Century in the last track of this album, with two outlaws in Durango, Colorado. I think it’s a love story, like many records.”
“The hawk and the dove are two characters, Native American rivals, they rob riverboats,” Canan adds. “That song in particular is more of a historical setting. We sing about the characters in the other songs, so it’s woven through. It’s fairly conceptual, more so than the other records we’ve done.”
With all this thematic connection going on, not to mention clever little tricks such as opening side two of the LP with the lines, “It’s good to see you again / I thought you were gone forever,” it’s nice to note that Falling Fences II is musically enchanting, too. Every song has a wonderful melody and highly singable hook in the chorus. The band supports the lyrics, with short, snappy guitar and keyboard solos which tell stories themselves. Instruments, including horns on a few cuts, and voices are all put together to maximize the affect of each song.
With two Falling Fences albums and a backlog of Joe Stickley songs, not to mention a love of working up cover material, plans are in the making for more and more live shows for this band. Falling Fences looks to be around for a long time. After all, they’ve already been making music together for almost twenty years.
- Steve Pick, host of Sound Salvation on KDHX
"St. Louis is known for its hearty Irish and Americana music scenes, but no group in town bridges the gap like Falling Fences. The veteran musicians have been holding down a weekly residency at the legendary McGurk's Irish Pub for over six years, honing their highly original take on chanteys, ballads, rousing sing-alongs and daring instrumental flights. This isn't quaint acoustic music; this is acoustic music with guts and chops to burn." - Roy Kasten, host of Feel Like Going Home on 88.1, KDHX
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St. Louis, MO