There’s an old saying: man plans, god laughs. The idea, of course, is that no matter how precisely or consciously human beings chart a course for the future, it can be upended in a moment. A flash flood, an earthquake or a global pandemic can shift entire blueprints. This year, married couple, Tekla Waterfield and Jeff Fielder, learned this lesson over and over again. The two had made strong considerations to move from their Seattle homestead to Nashville to pursue the connections Fielder has amassed in the industry over his years playing with folks like Mark Lanegan and the Indigo Girls.
Sometimes change can be good – or, at least, salvageable.
To wit, Waterfield and Fielder, during the COVID-19 quarantine, have composed, recorded and begun to release their terrific new LP, Trouble In Time. Today, we are happy to premiere the record’s newest single, “Wrong Time State of Mind.”
“In the ‘before times,’” Fielder says, “I would be gone at least half the year on tour, which is a lot. But when the pandemic hit and everything went away, this project happened as organically as something could.”
In May, the couple traveled to a small resort in Washington State for a residency. There, they recorded about eighty-percent of the tracks that would soon become the new album, which is set for release in early January. Fielder set up minimal recording equipment and captured the vibe. Prior to the residency invitation, Waterfield had written a half-dozen songs, or so, inspired by the tumultuous year. Songs whetted with tears and the nervous perspiration that comes from fear and feelings of insecurity. The type of anxiety that comes from not knowing whether the city or country you live in will be completely upended. But by writing and recording the songs, Waterfield and Fielder were able to process these emotions, together.
“Music is a way to make something that I feel like will help other people,” Waterfield says. “It’s therapeutic for me, in so many ways. It’s essential.”
The duo’s new EP is excellent. It’s deliberate, mellow but effective. And it’s latest single highlights that feeling when everything seems out of sync. Nothing is quite right, every bit of news astounds and in unpleasant ways. But, internally, too, the song is a reflection. In the lyrics, Waterfield wonders what’s ahead, if she should leave everything behind. But, of course, there is resolution ahead. There will be a time again when the world seems right and when the internal frictions flatten and subside.
“You’re going to find your inspiration again,” Waterfield says. “You’re going to keep going. That’s the message at the end: don’t give up. There’s hope out there.”
Other standout tracks include the moody, reflective song, “Through The Falls,” the generous, “Let There Be” and the final, “No Justice No Peace.” Much of the measured album is recorded with simple acoustic guitars and is buoyed by Waterfield’s signature hushed, subtle vocal performance, which brings the listener in as if she’s hearing a newly told secret. The album stands proudly in line with the many great Pacific Northwest Americana albums and artists like Brandi Carlile and Courtney Marie Andrews.
“We made a conscious effort,” Fielder says, “to go into it with a calm point of view because it’s been so chaotic and so stressful this year. We didn’t use a lot of drum fills, guitar solos. There aren’t a lot of busy things.”
That both Waterfield and Fielder are so confident and capable in minimalist compositions may stem from their beginnings in music. Both artists grew up in Alaska, though they met years later in Seattle (introduced by famed local guitar player, Kathy Moore). Waterfield remembers singing harmonies with her mother and sister at folk festivals and Fielder remembers the early days of listening to Willie Nelson on his father’s car stereo and borrowing his older brothers’ albums (and roach clips) to jam to as a kid. And while, since getting together, the two have collaborated on tracks and playing live, Trouble In Time marks their first significant, co-headlining work together.
“If you listen close,” Fielder says, “you can hear the birds that start the record. We got those sounds by using a condenser mic right out our window at the Doe Bay Resort while it was raining. We did everything with this idea that we wanted to get it finished as soon as possible and done before the election. But we pulled it off!”
The record is already making its mark. In October, the opening track, “Let There Be,” was featured on NPR’s World Café and Waterfield and Fielder plan to release more work before the LP formally comes out on January 8th. It’s a testament to both their professional chemistry, romantic partnership and their empathy for the rapidly changing world in an uncertain time. Then again, for both artists, music has always shone the way through difficulty.
“Music saves people from being depressed and feeling lonely,” Waterfield says. “It’s also a wonderful outlet if you want to shake it out and dance around and head-bang. It releases things our bodies need to release that we can’t hold onto. People respond to music because it’s part of the basic chemistry of humanity.”
“I tend to think,” Fielder says, “that music is the coolest thing humanity has come up with. If you know music history then you know world history and you certainly know American history. Personally, it’s just the perfect outlet. I wish more people would jam nowadays. If you can play music, you can play it with anybody and it opens up the whole world.”