We're back from a few week hiatus and we're bringing you one of the finest up-and-coming folk duos from the Northeast: Vermont-based Cricket Blue. I first fell in love with Cricket Blue's music one late (and drunken) night at NERFA in 2016 and have since been excited to share them with the Porch Stomp community, including during our event at the Haylaught last February (paired with Belle-Skinner and The Nick Horner Family).
When asked to describe the sound of Cricket Blue, "Poulenc meets Sufjan Stevens" is always at the forefront of my mind. However, the emotional experience is much more complicated. Cricket Blue is a duo of beautiful, humble talent whose performances both intoxicate and seduce. Their performance practice is crystalline and eloquent; Laura and Taylor etch lyric and melodic contour with a sense of inevitability that is seldom heard in the contemporary folk world. Despite this, their performances are anything but stoic. Cricket Blue draws the listener along, alluring and guiding through their intensely crafted musical world where swelling emotions bead along like dewdrops on a spiderweb, seemingly weightless and timeless, both arousing and asexual at the same time.
We tried to capture a taste of that experience for Porch Stomp Presents. Take a minute to check out their performance of "Elliot" below!
Q and A with Laura from Cricket Blue:
So, first thing first: tell us a little about your first Porch Stomp experience!
Our first Porch Stomp experience was a wonderful house show! It was so packed with listeners of all ages and genre preferences that the windows were starting to steam up. We played after the amazingly talented Belle Skinner, and before the wonderful, warm, dazzling Nick Horner Family (in quartet form that night). A special beer was brewed for the occasion. People were sitting all over the floor and up on ladders and in lofts. It was both warm and respectful and so worth the drive to New York.
Seeing you in the Haylaught it was clear that you have a special connection, both as performers and people. How did Cricket Blue come to be?
Taylor and I became friends in college, when we were both playing music as solo acts. We each moved up to Burlington after we graduated, and we kept booking these long, two-hour shows, and neither of us had enough music to play the whole show so we’d split them. We started to do more and more songs together during these shows until we just decided to be a band instead of two acts who constantly performed together!
Regardless, you guys have clearly cultivated a sound together that's pretty seamless! What are the different influences you each bring to the table?
I admire and aspire to write like Anaïs Mitchell, Laura Marling and Sufjan Stevens among others. I like to read and get a lot of inspirational energy from old myths, as well as contemporary short story writers like George Saunders and Alice Munro. Taylor is in a similar aesthetic sphere and I think he would add Joanna Newsom and Neutral Milk Hotel as some of his biggest musical influences. For literature he tends toward the more classical, but also adores David Foster Wallace.
One thing that’s sort of fun about our backgrounds is that I grew up playing classical music and Taylor grew up playing jazz, and those genres have deeply influenced our songwriting. My songs tend to have expressively loose tempos, and my guitar parts focus on chordal colors. Taylor’s songwriting has all sorts of intricate structures filled with extra beats, dropped measures, surprising chord choices, rhythms that are syncopated on the second time through but not the first or third etc. It’s always exciting to learn the other person’s songs for that reason.
One can definitely hear those elements in our featured video, "Elliot". Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the song?
I wrote Elliott at a time when I had a lot of interactions with both friends and strangers that were making me uncomfortable. It was frustrating because, in talking about these interactions, one thing that most of them had in common was that these people hadn’t crossed any specific line that I was able to call them out on, but in aggregate, all of the interactions made me feel unsafe. I couldn’t help but imagine that these people were everywhere and that I would have to navigate interacting with them, but I would feel guilty about all of my dread for them since no individual had been overtly inappropriate to me. And then when I would interact with them, I would feel I had been too cold, or too warm to them. I would feel a societal eye on me accusing me of inviting their attentions if I wasn’t distant enough. And the thing that I feel most feminist pieces don’t talk about is the feeling of flattery and validation these interactions can give you, even as you feel unsafe and are repulsed by your own validation. And because you’ve been taught to be validated by attention, it feels like your fault when this thing you hate happens. I wanted to write a really honest song that encompassed all of those conflicting feelings.
Musically, I structured the major and minor sections of the song to represent this ambivalence. The minor sections are about the narrator’s fear, the major sections are the narrator’s self-talk about her own thoughts being the real problem, not Elliott. The floaty bridge section tries to encapsulate the tumult.
Finally, what suggestions can you give to new or developing songwriters looking to hone their craft?
When I teach songwriting to beginning songwriters, one thing we end up talking about a lot is using specific, humble language, and avoiding elevated language, and words that feel like they stick together. When a lot of people are starting out they try to write lyrics that sound like lyrics, which means they end up writing lyrics that include bits like “I wear my heart on my sleeve” “road less traveled” “test the waters” “spice of life” “broken heart” - if a couple words or a phrase tend to want to stick together in your writing, break them apart! It’s also good to avoid words that are fancier than they need to be. “Hence” “thus” “alas” “mere” and “to bear” are pretty straightforward examples of “writerly” words that distract from the meaning of your song, but there are more subtle decisions to make also. Are you using the word “sea” when you’re talking about the ocean? Are you using the word “silence” when you really mean “quiet”? The best version of your song is the one that creates powerful new ways of thinking about universal experiences using simple language.
You can learn more about Cricket Blue at their website, linked below: