Faun Fables front woman examines the ‘sanded-down’ edges of her mothering soul
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Absorbing the entirety of the Faun Fables catalog might be daunting for even the most ardent of fans, front woman Dawn McCarthy acknowledges.
Start with “Light of a Vaster Dark” and working backward, however, eases the listener into the labyrinthine world of McCarthy’s mind, where music and light and the creaking doors of distant memories intersect with the silent shriek of comets shooting across the night sky and the steady drumbeat of hearts in love.
“Earlier Faun Fables records are a smorgasbord of stuff; to listen to them all in one run would be a lot,” McCarthy told The Daily Times during a recent phone interview. “Back then when we were putting out records, there was almost a desperation to it, sort of a we’ve-got-to-get-all-of-the-bases-covered type of thing. Making ‘Light of a Vaster Dark,’ we put limitations on it and deliberately tried to make it a shorter record. I think it’s really good in that way, and better in that way as far as being a more cohesive piece.”
McCarthy started Faun Fables in 1997 in New York, and when she left the city to travel and perform, her first album (“Early Song”) captured the attention of Nils Frykdahl, a musician with leanings toward the theatrical (as well as the founder of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) who began collaborating with McCarthy in 1998. They began combining elements of theater and music, creating intricate arrangements with dramatic flourishes that are cinematic in scope and breathtaking in beauty.
They became a couple as well, continuing to marry music and art. The album “The Transit Rider” was a combination rock concert and theatrical presentation based on a show McCarthy created in San Francisco, drawing upon her experiences riding the subway system when she first moved to New York. Signed to the Drag City label, she released “A Table Forgotten” in 2008, drawing on her experiences as an instructor at Idlewild Arts Academy in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. A period of introspection and communion with the people and the land itself inspired a good deal of that record as well as “Light of a Vaster Dark.” Now the other of two girls, she found her family’s life thrown into chaos when the ranch on which they were living shortly after “Light” was released in 2010.
“We were in this interesting situation on this ranch in northern Sonoma County, and it was a perfect little rite-of-passage place: very dreamy, and in various ways we were kind of off the map,” she said. “When ‘Light’ came out, we did a full national tour, but we lost our RV during that tour, and then the ranch was sold.”
The family moved back to the Bay Area, and necessity dictated that Frykdahl and McCarthy sideline Faun Fables for a brief period. She contributed vocals to an album by Bonnie “Prince” Billy, among other projects, but the bulk of her time was spent caring for her children while Frykdahl went to work every day.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of sheer survival stuff I’ve had to engage in in the past year, but you go where things make the most sense, and that’s an interesting, maturing experience in one way, too,” she said. “We were in the city, I was doing solo child care and Nils was trying to work as much as possible while we both figured out what to do next. It was just very strange, having all of these situations beyond your control that hit you all at once.
“I feel like we’ve had a lot of grace in our lives, so losing the vehicle and the ranch sent us scrambling to figure out what’s next. Things shifted, and I feel like I’ve been so humbled and had my edges sanded down with motherhood.”
Not that she’s complaining; Faun Fables is back up and running, and the couple will go into the studio in May to record the follow-up to “Light.” She’s a working mom who happens to bring her children to “the office” with her, and now that she’s back to writing and focusing her experiences and emotions into creating music and art once again, she feels reenergized, she said.
“It’s been really great having a lifestyle where I can take it in and devote time to that and to work, and I can take my kids with me,” she said. “In some ways, I feel like a mom having an unusual experience for modern times. I’m actually a house mom, because I take it all with me wherever I go. And it’s been a pretty good little tribe to be a part of. I feel like I won some new medals as a mom.”