No Depression, April 5 2014 • Neil Ferguson
The music world suffered a great loss on April 5, 2014 with the passing of David Lamb, one half of the Rhode Island husband and wife duo known as Brown Bird. When I received the news via my dad, who is a music writer himself and a DJ in our home state of Rhode Island and had originally introduced me to Brown Bird, I was hit with a wave of sadness unlike any I have felt in a long time. It wasn’t just another death. Dave was a true musical spirit and an unbelievably talented singer-songwriter who is now gone from this world. He was also a Rhode Islander like myself. Words can’t fully express the feeling I got when I found out that such a kind and all around genuine person had lost his battle with leukemia. Yet, if there is one thing to be learned in life it’s that, while mourning has its value, it is far more important to celebrate a life lived. In this case it’s not just a life lived, but a musical legacy that will forever live on and continue touching others for years to come.
I was the last journalist to interview Dave before he checked himself into a hospital in May of 2013, received his unfortunate diagnosis, and subsequently cancelled one tour date after another. We spoke on the phone less than a month after Brown Bird released Fits of Reason, an incredible album with an array of dazzling sounds and influences, perhaps their finest work to date. Our talk was upbeat and Dave was one of the warmest, most easy-going and humble musicians I had ever interviewed, and still is to this day. The band was riding a wave of praise from the album and was freshly into a long tour. Our conversation was nothing but positive as we discussed the band, Rhode Island, and heavy metal, one of Dave’s great loves. There were no signs that something was wrong. Just days later Dave found himself in a hospital. The first tour date the band cancelled was their show in Austin, which is why I had interviewed Dave in the first place. From there more dates were cancelled and as Dave’s condition worsened the entire tour was cancelled.
My heart goes out to Dave’s wife and bandmate, MorganEve Swain. I cannot even imagine the pain she must be in. My feature on Brown Bird caught the band in their prime when they were growing every day and life was just about as good as it can be for two professional musicians. That is why, in keeping with the idea of celebrating a life lived, I am republishing this interview on No Depression. It captures Dave and Brown Bird at a time when they were doing amazing things. At the very least, any musician can tell you it’s always good to close on a high note. RIP.
Flying Upward With Brown Bird
Originally published on May 9, 2013 • Speaking with Brown Bird’s primary lyricist and guitarist David Lamb on some rare downtime, I was expecting a gruff rambler with a grim worldview. Instead, the man behind lyrics like, “I must drag my body through the muck and mire/Gather branches for it’s funeral pyre” (“Muck and Mire”) couldn’t have been more friendly as we shared our connection to the tiny state of Rhode Island – Brown Bird is based out of Rhode Island and it is my home state. The members of Brown Bird share an apartment in the tiny coastal town of Warren, Rhode Island owned by close friend Will Schaff, the artist behind album covers from bands such as Okkervil River, Songs: Ohia, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Brown Bird’s albums. Not what you’d expect from a state known more for corruption and economic decay than as the home base of incredible bands and artists.
“MorganEve and I hit it off really well musically and romantically so I decided to move to Rhode Island to be closer to her. At the time I was also looking for a full time job and I found some work here in Warren – I went to school for boat building. There was a job opening that was perfect for what I was doing and we decided to move to Warren. There’s a really cool little arts community here. It’s nice to be in a smaller town,” says Lamb.
After meeting MorganEve Swain in 2008, the two realized they had a connection beyond just romantic interest.
“Playing music together was very natural and we realized pretty quickly that we had a lot of similar interests in music and a variety of stuff; we’re both big metal fans, we both love international music along with a lot of classic rock, country and blues. With the writing process we have our own little method of working together that works really well,” says Lamb.
Indeed, as a duo Swain and Lamb recently released their forth full-length album, Fits Of Reason, and have managed to stay on the road for most of the year opening for bands such as The Devil Makes Three, Trampled By Turtles, Yonder Mountain String Band, and playing headlining performances at high-profile events like the Newport Folk Festival (see our coverage of the 2012 Newport Folk Festival).
Acoustic-based duos tend to be on the quieter side, but Swain and Lamb took a different approach that has given them the unique ability to connect with people no matter where they play.
“We basically tried from the very beginning to keep our songs as diverse as possible so that we have a lot to choose from in every situation. We go from festivals playing in open air for thousands of people and the next night we will play a small room with tables and chairs where there’s no dancing and it’s very intimate, quiet and serious. Personally, I feel like our music still works in all of those situations,” says Lamb.
Surprisingly the often dark tone of Lamb’s lyrics hasn’t scared away an ever-growing legion of loyal Brown Bird fans. Despite speculation about the characters behind Brown Bird’s music, Lamb insists there is no angry message, but rather simply lyrics that come as the result of his childhood.
“My dad was a minister and I was raised to read the Bible every day. I left the church when I left high school but there’s always been a feeling of seeking my own abuse that I think was ingrained from an early age. I’ve always maintained that, and I think that struggle has always affected what I write lyrically,” says Lamb, adding, “I think the darkness might come from the idea of being fed up with an over idealistic optimism that seems a little too unrealistic in the sense of, if you always ignore the dark, negative sides, then you’re not very well equipped to deal with the realities of the world. Not only that, but the world is based on balance and you need a little bit of dark and light.”
Much of the imagery behind the songs also focuses on the water, boats, and the sort of rogue mentality behind harbors and seaports. This is no coincidence considering David’s background working in a shipyard.
“After I met MorganEve and moved to Rhode Island I was working full time in the shipyard here. It was an intense time because there was no overtime pay and we were working 45-50 hours every week if not more. Plus trying to write, practice and record with the band every night, and any free time we could possibly get use to go out and tour. We were also booking all of our own shows at the same time, so it was basically like having 10 jobs,” says Lamb.
Riding the wave of positive praise for Fits Of Reason, David Lamb and MorganEve plan on touring as much as possible while playing larger venues to more fans who find their music both sinister and uplifting. Brown Bird challenges listeners to think beyond the confines of genre or poppy lyrics and enjoy the beautiful possibilities that arise from two connected individuals making raw music on a stage.
This article was originally published on The Horn, an online publication based out of Austin, Texas.