I first met Andrew Rodgers of Fairgale out of St. John’s, Newfoundland at the Taxi Songwriter’s Convention in Los Angeles in November of 2017. Craig Dodge, a Charlottetown music producer and mutual acquaintance suggested we hook up at the convention. Don and I were attending as Groove Fondue to pitch songs and network, as was Andrew. It was charming. Don and I were two, far out old men attending this convention with a bunch of much younger musicians. Well, as it turns out there were a lot of far out old people pitching music along with the gaggles of youth there so fortunately, we didn’t stand out freakishly. Much. We hung out with Andrew and had a blast. That, however, is a story for another day.
Prior to the convention, I emailed Andrew as part of my “getting to know you” campaign. He told me about Fairgale and later would send me links to their first album and I was extremely impressed with the band’s sound and the maturity of their writing.
The tourism industry would have people believe the music of the Maritimes and Newfoundland are all about jigs and reels. Listening to Fairgale’s Pillars, there’s nothing even close to being influenced by a jig and the only reeling was done by myself as I was listening to this CD. I’m talking “reeling” in the “gob-smacked” sense rather than the traditional dance sense.
From the opening notes of Tunnel Vision until the final ringing note of Another Day, I was enthralled. There’s not a hint of filler on this album and every song is compelling in its own way. For a basic four piece group Fairgale offers an incredibly sophisticated sound.
Fairgale is an alt rock band but could easily cross over to pop given the production values and writing. Along with Andrew on guitar and vocals is Stephen Green on guitar and vocals with a rhythm battery which consists of Brad Tuck providing the iron on drums and Gary Powers the steel with his punchy and potent bass. Andrew and Stephen are the primary writers of the group and all of these guys offer the utility of playing multiple instruments.
If I had to compare them to another group it becomes difficult. Initially, given the high caliber of musicianship, production values and overall vibe I would say they would fit in a playlist with Amanda Marshall’s debut album easily and that’s a very tall order. It’s difficult to pin down a direct comparison because I hear so many influences that are referenced, but not copied. Alluded to but not imitated. U2, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Oasis… but in the end, it’s all uniquely Fairgale.
The two singles Tunnel Vision and Bad Reputation, written and sung by Stephen and Andrew respectively kick things off. Tunnel Vision leads off and there are definitely shades of the 80’s in there. I hear the familiar roll of jangly guitar octaves in the chorus and I get all warm n fuzzy. It’s a good foot to put forward to begin the journey.
Bad Reputation written by Andrew also captures the 80’s vibe with a contemporary sound. It has a bouncy groove and the choices of organ as a layer adds to the fun. I hear the line “She’s crazy about Elvis is her favorite Tom Petty line” and I’ve got to smile. Andrew’s lyric brings this grrrl to life. It’s a fun tune and a nice follow up to Tunnel Vision.
When I initially fired up the CD, the bass sounded hot to me but as the album rolled on I realized it’s exactly in the space it needs to be in terms of the mix. The drums and bass are definitely the pulse of this band. They’re deep in the pocket, every time and this makes for a consistently driving foundation for each song. In terms of vocals, I find Stephen has a Bono quality to his voice, controlled, contained and silky. Andrew seems to be more on the edge in terms of phrasing and choices, but that tension creates great emotional moments. Both their vocals complement each other and dovetail beautifully to enhance the band’s cohesive and fluid vibe.
Andrew’s Drop in the Ocean is the third cut and has a compelling, mid-tempo flow that has shades of Pink Floyd and Cold Play. Perhaps a hint of Foo Fighters in terms of chord voicings; the continuously ringing open B and E strings that fatten the sound and help sweep you away. Andrew’s vocal is perfect. A simple melody with lots of room to work sustained notes to wring out the emotion and he does it perfectly. Every time I hear this I pick up my guitar to play along, it’s a very relaxing groove. The opening lyric is striking in its simplicity but it resonates.
“You don’t speak my language. You don’t think the way I do.”
There are only two short verse but that’s somewhat appropriate given the isolation of which the song speaks. Drop in the ocean, indeed.
Wishful Thinking written by Stephen is a compelling mid-tempo rock groove that at it’s core flows like the Tragically Hip, but the instruments providing supporting color as well as the shift in the bridge twist things in ways that are “un-Hip-like,” but work well. A case study in musical tension. The bass and drums are locked together, feel more “rock” here and give an insistent push to the music. Stephen has fantastic control of his pipes. His performance is structured and he makes great phrasing choices, particularly in the chorus. The lyric is poignant, introspective and the phrasing in the chorus underpins a hint of bitter regret.
“Sometimes I wonder,
Is this as good as it is ever gonna get”
What really made that line pop in terms of performance was the punchy delivery on “good as it is,” each word a shot on the beat and artfully done. Stephen is definitely a wordsmith.
“Daylight in the Dark” begins with evocative cellos and acoustic guitar but shifts gears to an upbeat drive that along with Stephen’s vocal styling lends a strong U2 vibe to the piece. Each and every time I’m impressed with Gary and Brad’s playing. It’s not just how tight they are when driving a groove, they just make solid choices across the board. Together. No weak and thready pulse here, their vitals are strong. How good are they? It’s another song that whenever it’s on, I’ve got the the Strat in hand and in a large measure it’s the compelling groove they set up that calls to me. These are simple lines, haunting and memorable:
“are we living on a memory
have we gone too far
gunning for the
daylight in the dark
daylight in your heart”
As a lyricist… I really wish I’d written that.
“40 nights of wishful thinking
40 days of wasted time“
Biblical references are always powerful word juice, if you will. However, there’s a precision and symmetry in the lines is almost mathematical. That would carry more weight had I not failed math in high school, but I’ll stand by my position.
My first exposure to Andrew’s music was a song he was pitching for the convention called 100 Miles a Minute and it floored me. It’s not part of Fairgale’s portfolio yet, but even in its simplest form it’s a divine piece about a glimpse of a girl, a yearning ache and unrequited love. I was drawn to it and listened to it multiple times. There’s no doubt in my mind Andrew does “longing” extremely well and in Never Live Long Enough, the eighth cut on Pillars he does it again.
Is there anything that imparts a sense of deep longing in a more unique way than a single note, insistently pedaled on a piano? Think Don Henley’s A Month of Sundays or A Great Big World’s Say Something and you know what I mean. The song begins with a simple piano line accompanying Andrew in this beautiful piece on the loss of a relationship.
“Where are you now?
How have you been?
How did we become strangers after everything?”
The questions are a great way to set up the mood and they tell us everything we need to know. Andrew’s lyrics can be a little spare at times, but I believe it’s due to the difference in singing styles. If Stephen can be compared to Bono, then I’d compare Andrew to Peter Gabriel. He hangs notes out there and works them to their full emotional potential. However as it turns out, Andrew is also a wordsmith in his own right:
“I hear your song on the radio.
It haunts me like a ghost creeping in like the sunset through my window.”
That’s a nice bit of word craft and use of imagery. There are times Andrew’s lyrics almost feel like dialogue and I like the way that anchors the listener. I feel that aching pull every time I hear this song and I sigh.
The entire album is a work of casual precision. It feels casual, but it’s all actually precisely tooled and balanced. I think this is a world class project and these are hard working, serious lads. If these guys can’t make it off The Rock and out of the Maritimes with this type of material, then I’d say the executives in the music industry are either deaf or willfully obtuse. Yes, that essentially means stupid. However, it’s always about getting music to the right set of ears. There’s always the “crap shoot” variable to success in the music industry and lucky for Fairgale, they’re rolling with loaded dice.
Check out their first album Own the Light at their website at Fairgale.ca
Check out Pillars on Spotify