An interview with Tough Old Bird on New Album “Garden Dream”

Right now, folk music is having a major resurgence in the mainstream music world. One indie folk band, Tough Old Bird is looking to make their mark with their latest studio album Garden Dream, set to release April 26. So far they’ve released two singles, “Conjurer” and “Locks.”

Brothers Nathan and Matthew Corrigan first started releasing music as Tough Old Bird in 2016 and have debuted three albums since, drawing great influence from their rural upbringings in the small town of Fillmore Glen in Western New York. The band is now based out of Buffalo.

This time around, Nathan and Matthew brought in new musicians, namely Ricky Bechard on drums and Brendan O’Shea on bass. The album was recorded at Sunwood Studios in Trumansburg, NY.

I sat down with the band of brothers to discuss the creative process behind Garden Dream.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ryan Bieber: To start, when did the idea for Garden Dream come about? And what was the inspiration behind it?

Matthew Corrigan: I remember almost conceptualizing this album in 2018, like, quite a surprisingly long time ago. We already had our previous album, The Old Great Lakes recorded and done at that point, then we had a few songs left to the side that kind of felt like we really wanted to hold on to them and go in that direction the next time. And so we had a little inkling of an idea for what it would be. 

Nathan Corrigan: When we write songs, we tend to just …put them in whatever pile it seems like they belong. Then eventually an idea will start to take shape that some of those songs kind of feel like they’re dealing with some of the same things or sound like they belong together. 

Matthew and Nathan performing the title track from their second studio album, “The Old Great Lakes” live.

Ryan: How does Garden Dream differ from your previous projects? 

Mathew: I would say that songs themselves are definitely more autobiographically leaning than some of our previous stuff, which felt pretty important to me to reach a certain point where I was comfortable with writing more directly about myself rather than necessarily crafting narratives.

Ryan: And what’s it like being in a band with your brother? Is there some sort of extra special, like, telepathic sort of connection in the songwriting process? Is there a different energy when you write together?

Nathan: That’s a good question. I’ve never really written with anybody else, or played in any other band. So, I don’t have a lot of frame of reference there. I do think we have a pretty good partnership in that sense that we came up listening to a lot of the same music, so we definitely share a musical language that, you know, one of us can reference some very obscure song that very few people would know, but we’ve both listened to almost all the same stuff. So we can just be like, ‘Oh, we want the sound like this.’ And we’ll know what we’re talking about.

Mathew: We’re now very good at being like honest editors for each other. I’ve done a small amount of writing with other people and sometimes it’s harder when you’re less familiar with someone else to critique something or offer an opinion. But I think, between Nate and I … we’re both very respectful of each other’s opinions. I think the biggest benefit is just having someone who’s open and receptive to ideas.

Ryan: How does your upbringing in western New York inform your songwriting process, the lyrics and the themes that you write about?

Mathew: It’’s pretty massive, almost such an influence, I don’t know how to even pare it down into words. I feel like almost everything that I write about comes from my observable world and life and a ton of that is influenced by where and how we were brought up in a rural environment. I feel like the natural world is largely a character in a lot of songwriting I try to achieve.

Nathan: Yeah, I think there’s some lyrics on this album that I maybe didn’t even realize as we were writing them, our direct references to certain things that we might have experienced growing up. We lived way out in the country on a dirt road in the middle of the woods, in a little house that our dad built. And it was kind of like this almost homestead or pioneer-like childhood. And so there’s just little elements of that, that have found their way into into some of these songs that kind of feel like they’re looking back and observing that from a point of view of adulthood.

Ryan: You mentioned having the same taste in music. Growing up what kind of bands or artists were playing in the household that everyone was listening to?

Nathan: Growing up, our parents played a lot of Beatles records in the house and some singer-songwriter things like John Prine. The music that we chose to listen to when we were kids a lot of the time it was country music, because that was not something that was in our house.

Ryan: Folk music – at least some version of folk music and pop music – has definitely seen a growth in popularity in the mainstream with artists like Noah Kahan. I was curious as to your thoughts on this sort of mainstream folk popularity and have you felt like the effects of this as a folk band at all?

Mathew: I would say for for us, we’re fairly influenced by like a previous wave of mainstream folk. The early 2000s indie folk boom was very influential musically once I reached college age. I don’t know if it’s technically a different era, but in my mind, it kind of is and that’s where I’ve learned a lot about songwriting.

Nathan: It seems like that kind of stuff is always there. There’s always people doing it, but it rises and falls in popularity, and you know, it’s placed in the public consciousness. It kind of felt like that stuff was really became popular again in the early 2000s for a few years, and then maybe died off again a little bit, and a version of it is now kind of coming back a little bit again. Yeah, it’s always around.

Tough Old Bird recording Garden Dream at Sunwood Studios in Trumansburg, NY

Ryan: What are you looking for listeners to take away from this project?

Nathan:  I sometimes have a hard time talking about what songs are about because I want people to listen to them and decide what they’re about for them. So I hope that people connect with it in some way and find some meaning in it.

Garden Dream is available on Bandcamp for vinyl/CD pre-order and will be streaming wherever you get music on April 26th.

The band will be playing shows in Rochester and Buffalo as well as Glenshaw, PA throughout the month of April and into May. The full tour schedule can be found on their website: here

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