Seattle folk duo March to May recently released their second studio album, What I Was and More. The duo, featuring Elizabeth Wesche on harp and Darren Guyaz on piano and guitar, is committed to breaking genre boundaries with their music. They describe their sound as “simultaneously familiar and foreign, integrating folk instrumentation with chamber pop and indie rock influences to create a cohesive sound that’s rich in color and texture.” These rich colors and textures are apparent in their sophomore album. We caught up with March to May to learn more about their new album.
Tell us a bit more about your new album. What inspired the music?
Darren and I always draw a lot of inspiration from the people and places in our lives, and that definitely holds true for this album. Each song has a distinct story for us and is a way of processing what we see happening around us. In What I Was and More in particular, we played quite a lot with the idea of subversion—saying one thing that means another, or themes and ideas that look like one thing until you hold them up to the light and realize they’re painting another picture entirely. It’s more important to us that people hear something that means something to them in our music than it is for them to hear a song in the particular way we intended it. It makes things more interesting both for the listener and for us!
How does this album differ from your previous recordings?
What I Was and More is an evolution both sonically and lyrically. While our first full-length album, Through the Night, captured a core essence of our songwriting and musical style, writing and recording What I Was and More gave us the freedom and confidence to push our style and experiment with different directions we could take our sound. We were less worried about staying within a particular stylistic lane than we were about playing with interesting ideas to see what stuck. We gave ourselves more freedom to play in this record, and the process was intoxicating. I think the floodgates have opened; it’ll be interesting to see how that sense of experimentation continues in our future work!
You mixed the music remotely as a result of the pandemic. Tell us about that process. What location did you use to record and mix?
We were extremely fortunate to have wrapped up our recording in the final days before the world shut down. In those first weeks of March, we started to have a sense that the COVID situation was about to get a lot more serious, so we rearranged our final recording sessions to get to the point where we were relying on as few people as possible to wrap things up. We recorded the final tracks on the very last day before our engineer, Don Farwell of Earwig Studio in Seattle, closed the studio indefinitely as a result of COVID lockdowns. Luckily, we were able to export the raw tracks to our producer, Martin Feveyear, who could then mix and master remotely from his home on Vashon Island in Puget Sound.
What were some of the challenges associated with doing this type of work remotely?
That’s a great question. There is nothing like working with someone in the same room, listening to what they hear, in the same space, in the same moment, and having a live dialogue with them around what works, what doesn’t work, what a song should sound like…or not. We feel so lucky to have worked with Martin Feveyear before; we knew he would understand the subtleties and intricacies of our music and how to bring out the sounds we were going for whether or not we were able to specifically articulate it. Despite the challenges of not being able to be in a room together during the mixing process, one unexpected benefit of distance was that it built in more time for us to sit with ideas and really listen to small changes rather than feeling pressure to go with our first instinct about something. As a result, we were more open to unexpected ideas and creative approaches to the songs. Mixing remotely forced us to step back and trust our collaborators to make magic without us needing to hold the reins.
You’ve stated that “the songs center around a theme of creative destruction.” What do you mean by that? How do you think this is reflected in the sound?
When we were writing this album, we kept coming back to the idea of chrysalis—the process of transformation in which a larva becomes a butterfly. We’re both big fans of Rebecca Solnit’s writing, and were struck by her description of the process. Creative destruction is the painful, messy realization that the things you once relied on no longer serve you. This album focuses on figuring out what’s still worth keeping and building new, more interesting things out of what’s left behind. There’s a lot of point-and-counterpoint in this album, and we really focused on bringing it out in the instrumental and vocal textures. Instrumental textures play a big role in what this album is trying to communicate.
How big a role does the harp play in this album?
The interplay between our instruments is always an important part of our music. We build our tracks around the conversation that’s happening between Beth’s harp and Darren’s piano or guitar, whether it’s playing a supporting role or adding a layer of nuance. In “Hylas,” for example, you have this strident, aggressive piano line overlaid by a harp line that’s as sinister as it is sweet for a song that is all about deception and false promises. Writing this kind of music on harp can sometimes be an interesting and fun challenge because of the way its resonance and tone can pull a sound towards elegance and gentleness even when we don’t necessarily intend to convey that. The role of the harp is particularly important in What I Was and More; if you want to understand what each song is trying to say, listen to what’s going on in the harp.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about this recording?
We both feel so much gratitude to our bandmates, who added so much nuance and richness to the music we were writing. One of the most incredible things about writing this album was the way that each of them brought their own voices and interpretations to these songs. They understood without missing a beat what we were trying to convey, took those ideas, and elevated them to a place we couldn’t have begun to put into words. We couldn’t be more grateful for the energy and dedication that is so apparent in their creative input. It’s truly humbling.