Searching for Sonic Spaces: An Interview with Morgan Bolender and Scott Ferreter

“Do you remember who you were before they told you who to be?” Morgan Bolender asks the world during her demo track “Mary Oliver.”  She is a self-taught musician from the Empire State that has traveled the globe and currently calls Oakland, CA home. 
During her travels, she found her sacred path as an artist and after hundreds of thousands of Youtube views, she realized that her compassionate lyrics and beautiful voice was echoing throughout the world. Her debut album, Recordings From My Living Room, has gained popularity among her open minded and globally conscious followers and while the music may be too emotional for some, others find refuge in its soulful tranquility.

Self-proclaimed “freak folk” artist Scott Ferreter calls his music “Deep Pools.”  Ferreter spends his time in the spotlight attempting to engage the members of the audience mentally and emotionally.  He uses his music to tell stories of his life and experiences.  Musical influences such as Radiohead, Neil Young, and The Band can be heard in his stirring tales of death, birth, peace and seasons.  After decades of practice, Ferreter has formed a bond with his guitar, allowing him the confidence and comfort to explore many different sounds and genres.  His most recent LP, See You In The Morning Light, has been described as “an ecosystem of emotion” by Sacramento News and Review.  It was no coincidence that Bolender and Ferreter found each other and formed a musical communion that has been strengthened through love, respect and admiration for one another.

After their first sonic pilgrimage through the country called the Come As You Are Tour, Bolender posted on her Instagram, “Tour’s over. 10,512 miles. 34 cities. 70 days.  I have so many feelings.”  These feelings were planted inside of Ferreter and Bolender in the beginning of the Fall of 2016, and much like a tulip bulb, they are finally ready to bloom this Spring.  They will embark on yet another house concert tour entitled The Feelings Parade.  After the spiritual, emotional, creative and musical success of their 2016 travels, they have decided to do it all over again on an even bigger and more ambitious trail.  Their live shows feature the two playing together as well as solo before an audience of all different backgrounds and interests.  In reference to last year’s adventure, Ferreter writes, “We played over 35 shows, saw parts of the country we had never seen, and made deep-feeling community in places where we used to be strangers.  We miss you already.”

The truly dynamic duo is currently calling on their friends new and old to host house concerts for their upcoming gigs.  No town is too big or small.  No mansion is too sparkly and no barn is too dirty.  No swamp lands are too filled with alligators and no desert is to dry.  Based on their Instagram feed from last year, they are willing to do basically all the work except building the venue itself.  If you or someone you know is interested in helping with the tour efforts, send an email to the performers and express interest.  I caught up with Bolender and Ferreter after their last tour to hear more about what they learned, what they liked, and what the future holds for them.

Ben Boivin: What covers did you play most frequently?

Morgan Bolender: “Hallelujah” by MaMuse, and “Old Before Your Time” by Ray LaMontagne. When playing MaMuse’s “Hallelujah,” I invited the crowd to sing along, which was almost always an overwhelmingly beautiful experience. There’s nothing quite like singing my heart out with a room full of people. My favorite times were when the crowd started out singing with quiet trepidation and finished with wholehearted gusto. Due to my own trepidation, I didn’t sing at all (not even in the shower!) until about 5 years ago, so it’s one of my missions to create a safe place for people to open up the channel that has enriched my life so much. 

Scott Ferreter:  I hardly played any covers this tour, because I have so many new songs I’m excited about. It was hard enough to decide which originals to play. One cover-playing memory that really sticks out is playing “Traveling Song” by Bright Eyes in Omaha, Nebraska, because that’s where Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes) is from. He’s one of my favorite songwriters, and it was quite the experience playing it on my first visit to his hometown and having several people in the crowd passionately singing along.

BB: Did you switch up the sets or add more to a set based on where you were and the experiences you had during your travels before the shows?

MB: Our sets varied from let-it-all-hang out, no-holds-barred-wild-fun, to playing for a garage full of conservative Christian corn and soy farming seniors on a farm in South Dakota who all brought their own lawn chairs. Part of the beauty of the intimate house concert setting is having the opportunity to really feel and connect with the audience – to experience them as a living body and try to tap into what would be most nourishing for that body.

SF: The set changed almost every night, based on the feeling of the place and the feeling of the crowd. Also, a lot of my songs are very vulnerable and they often push at different social norms that I find myself bumping up against in my struggle to be my full self. For that reason, some of them were entirely inappropriate for certain shows and certain crowds. I have no interest in shoving anything in anyone’s face–my intention is to stretch boundaries, not break trust. For that reason, I found myself changing the set quite a bit.

BB:  What was your worst show of the tour?

MB:  New Orleans. For sure.

SF:  Absolutely, New Orleans. Heiress to a fortune.  Old school classism and elitism.  Small turnout plus pretension equals a terrible show. I’m amazed that we played over 35 shows and only had one that I wouldn’t want to do again!

BB: What was one of the best shows of the tour?

MB:  That’s a really tough one, as I’m still processing the experience. My heart feels warm when I think about Kim’s living room in Blue Springs, Missouri, who Jodi filled with a lively, funny, loving crowd. Then I think of Jen’s show in West Bend, Wisconsin, which happened on gorgeous, magical land where, if there are fairies, fairies lived.  That show was so sweet and tender, the people so open and ready to receive what we came to share. And the, Paonia!  In a castle, and then a community house! And San Diego! Then the Dakota’s – a beautiful yard along the Missouri River, a sweet farm with Alice’s epic flower garden! Nicole’s overflowing yard in Nunica, Michigan! Playing for family and friends in NY, many of who’d never seen me play. Flagstaff, AZ, where they created an ornate backyard festival for us! There was a tea tent! I didn’t answer this question very well, but truly – there were so many magical shows. Oh! The squawking baby eagles that accompanied our show on Whidbey Island! The Heartson’s in Vermont, where we not only got to play a great show, but got to teach a songwriting workshop! Like I said – magic, magic, magic.

SF:  There were so many great ones, and they were all great for different reasons. I had a particularly connected-feeling set in Paonia, Colorado. It was one of the few places where I felt no need to bring people into the right headspace for the music. It felt like we were all there together from the beginning, and it was so sweet to be able to just drop into the music and feelings.  Wisconsin was a very meaningful set for me because I showed up incredibly sad, and decided to be vulnerable and play the set I needed (instead of the set I imagined the crowd wanting). As it turned out, sadness must’ve been in the air, because it seemed like the perfect set for the people there, too. I left that show feeling very held.

BB:  If you had to spend two weeks at one venue you played, where would it be?

MB:  Hmmm. Possibly New Orleans. That place feels like an entirely different universe, and I feel like in order to really drop in and explore it, I need some time. Or Portland, because there are so many people there I love and want to hang out and make music with.

SF:  Great fucking question! I feel like Ashville, North Carolina and I have some catching up to do. I’d never been before, and yet I’ve had many great friends live there over the years. I felt deeply connected to the land there, and could easily see myself putting in some weeks barefoot in Asheville.

BB:  What did you learn during your travels and would you do it all over again?

MB:  If you’re going to buy high quality, American made, ethically sourced and produced merchandise, be sure to let people know, because ethical and conscious consumption is really important for our people and planet, and I want more people to consider where their things come from.  Also, ethically sourced and produced merchandise is more expensive.

Humans are extremely capable of adapting. For the first 2 weeks of tour, I was a wreck. My body was falling apart, my emotions raw, and my nerves fried. The pace of tour, the emotional expenditure, and the sheer amount of work was breaking me down. Once we got into a rhythm and once I made a strict “I need 8 hours of sleep per night” rule, things changed dramatically. I was amazed and inspired by how much my limits could be extended.

It’s okay to need people. Okay, fine, I’m still learning that one, but tour helped a lot. I was very stubborn about my independence, and was sure to let Scott know, many times, that I could have done this on my own. But the truth is, I couldn’t have. Not this exact tour. I could have done some version, sure, but not what we did. Doing it together made so much more possible. And just because I can do something by myself doesn’t mean that I have to. I learned so much about how to trust and work as a team.

I can set out to do something huge, and make it happen. Even if I don’t really, really know what I’m doing, I can learn as I go.  [There are] so many more things that I don’t know yet.  I would absolutely do this again, and intend to. I realized after a few weeks of the Come As You Are Tour that, though we were already reaping harvest, much of our work was seed planting. Meeting new people who became part of our community. Refining our model for producing house concerts. Creating systems. Walking first-time hosts through how to put on a concert. The tour was enough, just as it was, and, it’d be a shame to not put all we learned to use!

SF:  I learned that I’m supposed to be touring and sharing my music! I learned that you don’t eat passionfruit by biting it directly in half. I learned that it’s better to play the songs I want than play the songs I think the crowd wants. I learned that just because the east-coasters don’t show their love as freely doesn’t mean they aren’t loving it. I learned that nobody wants to buy totes. I learned that there are fewer medium-sized people listening to our music than there are small and large people listening to our music. I learned that I’ve still got a lot to learn from Morgan. I learned that Morgan has still got a lot to learn from me. I learned that I’m making music on behalf of all of the people who are nourished by it, not just for myself.  I would do it again tomorrow!

In a dark world, Bolendar and Ferreter use their music as the guiding light.  Their compassion for the human race is powerful and their creative approach to going on tour is refreshing.  The Feelings Parade of 2017 is sure to see these couch-surfing companions on an entirely new wave of energy and bliss.  Two old souls living their own version of the American Dream with a trunk full of instruments and heads full of sound will hopefully inspire a new generation to get in their cars and cruise the land of the brave and free.