Striving to make sense of loss, Farrow releases ‘Organize,’ and looks to the future
The band's Town Ballroom release party will also be a celebration of drummer Tim Webb's life and artistry
I met Michael Farrow and Andre Pilette of Farrow at Cafe 59 in Allentown, on an early Tuesday afternoon, as Buffalo battled its way out of a blizzard.
Getting their was a pain in the butt. Parking in Buffalo sucks, particularly in the winter. And the first establishment we’d chosen for our meeting was closed due to the storm. Seemed like a recipe for stress and perhaps even a little attendant grumpiness.
Of course, as soon as I sat down with these two - the core of the alt-indie-soul-rock band Farrow - all of the angst flew out the window to mingle with the grim, grey slush on Allen Street. When you spend any amount of time with Pilette and Farrow, you tap into your better self, without necessarily even realizing you’ve done so. These guys care, simply put. Whether they’re talking about the Buffalo music scene, the ongoing push-and-pull in a city that still struggles with issues of racism, equality and access, or the ever-present need to strike a balance between the energy of live performance and the quest for perfection in the recording studio, it’s just not possible to indulge in lazy cynicism in their presence. They make you wanna do better.
Fitting, then, that I’m meeting them on the eve of the release of their new album, the aptly titled Organize, which will be celebrated at the Town Ballroom in Buffalo on Friday, January 26, with the help of openers Grosh and Sunday Reign.
The third in a 3-album cycle that also includes Agitate and Educate, the album delivers on the promise of its predecessors and fulfills the long-standing Farrow mantra, “Joy is revolutionary.”
Joy can also be hard to come by, and that has certainly been the case for Michael, Andre and their bandmates (percussionist Michael Rupoli, guitarist Cory Clancy, keyboardist Rufus ‘Breezy’ Cole and vocalist Danielle Johnson) in the weeks leading up to the release of Organize. On December 11, the band’s longtime drummer and musical conscience, Tim Webb, died suddenly and unexpectedly, a few weeks shy of his 45th birthday. Webb was a much-loved member of the Buffalo music community, and a major factor in Farrow’s groove-centric sound.
Our conversation at Cafe 59 touched on the void left by Webb’s passing, the band’s growth during the writing and recording of Organize, and the pair’s hopes for the future, as they pick up the pieces and move forward.
I feel like Organize is part three of a trilogy, that Agitate and Educate were leading up to this one. Is that accurate?
Michael Farrow: When you organize, that’s when you can do something about the things you’ve agitated for, and the things you’ve educated yourself about. Take what’s happening in Palestine right now. People are getting increasingly agitated. And they’re educating themselves about what’s going on. Right now, in real time. The next part is the organizing. And that’s the part where it usually collapses. (Laughs)
That’s the hardest part, because organizing requires you to be friends and get along with people when things don’t go right. Which is why I write a song like ‘Please Remind Me,’ saying, hey, we’re stuck in this together, because we’re here for a reason Please remind me that we’re friends. That’s the hard part.
Andre Pilette: I think stepping in a progressive direction takes significantly more effort, too. Agitating is easy. Educating is not. And organizing is the hardest of the three.
Farrow: And the building up, as opposed to tearing down, is the hardest part, because you have to realize that you’re not always going to agree with others.
The process of making of this album was not the same as working on deep political and social issues, but it’s a case in point, of realizing, ‘Hey, we’re on the same team here, but we’re not always going to agree.’ That definitely happened. We had fights about what might seem like little things. But they felt big. They felt like they mattered.
How did that end up playing out?
Pilette: Honestly, I relinquished a lot of control this time around to Mike, whereas in the past I’d taken the lead in producing, and working with our engineer and co-producer Jeremy ‘Cochise’ Ball, who has been there from the beginning.
This time around, I really wanted to let Mike take the lead. And he did. I think you can hear that, not only musicianship-wise and artistically, but also in the whole production, which has definitely leveled up. I give that credit to Mike. He did an amazing job of corralling the guitar, the keyboards, the vocals, the horns, the grooves - all of it. Tim knew how to produce too, and he definitely had input. My fingerprints are definitely still on it…
I don’t doubt that….
Pilette: Right! (Laughs) But I give credit to Mike on this one for the direction and the feel.
I’m really proud of it. It’s the best piece of art that I’ve ever been a part of. We pushed each other, and we learned, and that’s what makes collaboration a positive and worthwhile thing.
Farrow: It’s the first album that I’m on that I actually enjoy listening to all the way through. (Laughs)
So when you’re done, you’re all about moving on? Is it hard to look back?
Farrow: It’s not hard to look back. Because I’m already working on the next three new things, you know? We’re already working on the next album. Being perpetually busy is a good thing, in that way. New growth.
Pilette: I think creatives should be perpetually busy. And that’s what makes me so excited about the future, about the next album. Because now we’re co-writing, and we’re really collaborating in full. Everyone in the band is contributing to the writing and arranging. That feels healthy.
Losing Tim just as you’re releasing an album that he’s such a huge part of has got to make this a bittersweet moment.
Pilette: We played yesterday, for the first time since Tim died. It was emotional. It was cathartic. And mostly, it was heavy. It’s definitely going to be one of the most emotional things I’ve ever gone through, playing this concert without him.
Farrow: I don’t know if I’m going to make it through that first chorus into the second verse of ‘Please Remind Me.’ Because that drum fill messes me up every time. (Laughs) Tim would always cue me with two hits on the snare drum. And that became a signature part of the song. It’s on the album.
Tim’s playing was so brilliant. I don’t know any other person that would’ve played what he played. Because it was simultaneously so extra, and so held-in. It was contained extra. It’s Tim in a microcosm.
That’s what I’m going to always miss. The ordinary excellence that Tim Webb brought. It was always superb. And so, when there was something extra on top of it… Damn. It was understated, but amazing.
Pilette: There were only two or very occasionally three takes of each tune that we recorded the bass and drums for for this record. Tim cut all his tracks for the whole album during a single one-day session. Think about that.
He had an understanding of how to lead. He really became our musical director. And you can hear it on this record.
The release party seems like it now has taken on an aspect of healing, as well as celebrating Tim’s life and artistry. That’s not what you originally planned for. But here we are…
Pilette: It’s true. We need this right now.
Farrow: Tim will always be missed. There’s no other way to say it. My relationship with Tim was based on the solidity that was always behind me on stage. He literally had my back, always.
Pilette: David Jonathan will be filling in for the bulk of the album release show. And we have a few other guests joining in.
David really picked up on a lot of the nuance in the music, that we developed over the 100-plus shows we’ve played by now. So much of that revolved around Tim. So his presence will be felt.
There’s challenges with this. But facing them and dealing with them is the only way we’ll grow.
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