Photo Credit: Kaitlin Egan
Upstate New York has long held an appeal for city-dwelling artists burnt out on the Big Apple grind. Nearly 50 years ago, Bob Dylan and The Band scratched out an escapist blueprint, holing up in Dylan’s Woodstock home to record The Basement Tapes. Echoes of those sessions, as well as the epochal festival that Dylan and company were trying to ignore, still surface in the psychedelic roster of Warwick, NY’s Woodsist label, or in articles in the New York Times real estate section noting the northern migration of the creative class and anointing this or that hamlet the new Brooklyn-on-the-Hudson.
Songwriter Shana Falana’s 2008 exit from New York City came after an unhealthy stint in its most buzzed-about borough.
“I was a bit of a mess in Brooklyn for the five years that I lived there,” she says, “so I just kind of dragged my ass upstate to get sober, not really knowing what my plan was gonna be.”
Falana first landed in New Paltz, a college town halfway between New York and Albany, where she became involved in a burgeoning community organized around the O+ Festival, an annual music and arts event founded in 2010. While in New Paltz, Falana also met drummer Mike Amari; the two soon began creative and romantic partnerships.
Speaking from the highway en route to a show in Los Angeles, Falana recounts her creative trajectory, which began on the West Coast in the 1990s.
“I moved from San Francisco in 2003 to Brooklyn to go after my own music career,” she says. While in Brooklyn, she collaborated with songwriter Nicole Pinon in a band called Skirt; once upstate, she was ready to make music on her own.
In 2011 and 2012, Falana released a string of self-issued recordings, including the In the Light EP, as well as Channel and Velvet Pop, both of which featured recordings made upstate as well as songs recorded in Brooklyn and San Francisco over the past decade-and-a-half. Finally, last month, Falana dropped her debut full-length, Set Your Lightning Fire Free.
With the new album, released by New Paltz-based Team Love Records, Falana says she made a conscious effort to merge the different styles present on her earlier recordings, which ranged from synth-driven songs with abstract, wordless vocals to guitar-backed love songs in the Cat Power vein. The goal wasn’t to narrow her range, she explains, but rather to let her different songwriting tendencies sit side by side and trust the listener to embrace the diverse sound.
“Part of it,” she says, “is just that, as a lover of music myself, I do like diversity from an artist. I get bored with one genre, and even onstage I would get bored if I were just gonna play a whole set of heavy rock or ambient music.”
Lightning Fire hews closest to the reverb-heavy aesthetic of the near-ambient recordings. Falana, who played most of the instruments, layers her tracks to form a dense, enveloping sound. Closely harmonized vocals give the songs an added heft, even as Falana’s delivery shifts from New Age-y (opener “Gone”) to punk-bratty (“Anything”). Amari’s drums—understated or driving, as the occasion commands—lay a solid foundation, and Jane Scarpantoni’s cello is a welcome acoustic respite from the synthesized assault.
A few years ago, Falana and Amari moved from New Paltz a half-hour north to Kingston, NY, after Amari took a job booking shows at a new venue there. The two have since worked to foster a local scene, bringing in acts from New York City and around the country. “We're living there; we want to be a part of the music scene,” Falana says. “So, we’re sort of building it.”
WHO: Shana Falana, Blunt Bangs, Emileigh Ireland, Grand Vapids
WHERE: Flicker Theatre & Bar
WHEN: Friday, May 15, 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $5