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Fairfax, AK

17 Jan

The Twin Cities prides itself as a musical cauldron, where styles blend together to form something grander, more interesting than simply the sum of their parts. Punk-rock rappers? Got ‘em. Blues-inflected hip-hop? Yep. Country-soul roots singers? Right here.

Enter singer-songwriter Pat Dougherty and his project, Fairfax, AK. Starting off on the West Bank and recording in an attic in Frogtown, Dougherty talks about the group as a folk act with punk rock energy. Dougherty plays guitar and sings, Dave Afdahl kicks in piano and vocals, Tim Binger plays cello, Joe Finstrom plays bass and Andy Myers takes percussion and their first record, Love Stories and Picture Shows is out today. Instead of being a loose anarchic mix of a disc, Love Stories and Picture Shows is a sweet, cohesive collection of tunes that owe as much to the singer-songwriters of the mid-90s as the folky 60s and punk 70s. It’s a record that slips in an surprises you, like a polished up, lyrically focused take on Spirits of the Red City, or a Hootenanny with an orchestral band. Their appropriately eclectic CD release is this Friday at the Nomad World Pub along with Ghostmouth, Silverback Colony and Sans Aura.

CakeIn15: Tell us a little about yourself. How do you come to find yourself making a record in a house in Frogtown?

Pat Daugherty: I moved to Minneapolis from the Philly area. I stayed in the West Bank for a few years, but then moved to an apartment in Lowertown. One day I bought a Hammond organ on impulse and then realized I had no way of getting that thing back to Saint Paul, so I asked Dave if I could keep it in his storage closet [on the West Bank]. Andy already kept his drum kit in there, so I ended up hanging out in that storage unit a lot, writing songs and adding drums with a loop pedal I had. Eventually we had band practices in that tiny, little space. I forget how the five of us even fit in there.

As for the record, a while back my buddy John Peters and I were looking to start a pirate radio station in Saint Paul. He found this house in Frogtown and built an awesome studio in the attic. We set up an internet stream and named it Radio Noir after the radio show I had in college, and for about a year we would record and broadcast house shows every Sunday. That got kind of crazy. After a few months we had bands from all over the country and even Europe playing and sleeping in that house week after week, but that’s another story entirely…

Eventually Radio Noir wound down and we had a perfectly good studio just sitting there, so we took the songs out of the storage closet and into the attic.

C15: Is Fairfax, AK down the highway from Halloween, Alaska? Where did the name come from?

PD: Haha yeah, Halloween is a few exits down on the Alaska Highway. There’s a rest stop about halfway with a great diner! I guess I didn’t realize that connection. Perhaps in the distant future someone will curate a festival consisting of acts named after fictional towns in Alaska.

I wish I had some sort of crazy story involving a bottle of whiskey and a moose with a snow blower, but the name came from a much more anticlimactic place. About a year ago I was going through one of those “What does it all mean?” kind of things. I had always been drawn to Alaska, and I figured I had already moved halfway across the country once, so doing it again couldn’t be that scary.

Before I pulled a Chris McCandless, I wanted to do a little research. In my head I wanted to go to Fairfax. No idea why that town popped up but it seemed like the perfect solution, except for the fact it doesn’t exist. I could have sworn there was a Fairfax, Alaska. It seemed so real! I knew I heard it before. At least I thought I did.

The whole ordeal was funny to me. Probably because the concept of something feeling so familiar and real but nonexistent summed up a lot of things in my life at that point, so rather than abruptly ending a relationship of three years and abandoning my post as a teacher to flee to Alaska, I thought I’d name a band after it instead.

C15: Steve McClellan said you might be “the loudest folk act” he has ever heard. Do you consider yourself a folk act? What does that mean to you? Who are your folk?

PD: Steve is a good guy. There’s a funny story about that quote. Steve got me my first gigs in the Twin Cities, and one night he was looking for a last minute fill-in for an acoustic show. The band and I had already been working on stuff, so I said I had a folk act that could play. We didn’t even have a name at that point. In fact I think the flyer he made said something to the tune of “And Pat Dougherty’s Project.”

The bill was 3 singer-songwriters and us. We played first. After our set, he came up to us and said, “That might have been the loudest folk act I have ever heard.” I replied, “Ya know, Steve, we might just use that in our press kit.”

I don’t know why we’re so loud. We don’t use amps. I suppose we just play really hard, but what’s the point of playing if you’re not going to play hard?

I still consider us a folk act, despite our loud tendencies. I deeply respect the traditions of folk music. It’s why I wrote “This Machine Still Kills Fascists” on my guitar, but folk music isn’t limited to a certain set of chords or cadences.

Folk music has always been something much bigger than that. It’s a vehicle for people to say something they need to say. It’s telling a story the only way you know how to. It’s very personal music not unlike punk or hip hop. It’s music for the folks by the folks, hence the name.

C15: You are releasing Love Stories and Picture Shows this week, what are your hopes and dreams for the record?

PD: I feel like you can’t really know if you like or dislike a record without listening to it a few times, so I just hope people give it a good three listens. If you like what you hear, I’d love to see you at a show sometime.

C15: Who, local or national, live or dead, would be on your dream bill?

PD: Oh, this is a tough question. For current artists, I’d say anything Jeff Tweedy is involved in. Out of the songwriters in the world, I probably steal from him the most, haha! As for artists of the past, I would have loved to be involved with the Last Waltz, but then again I might have to say GG Allin just so I’d have a story to tell later.

C15: What is something that you see, artistically or personally, that the Twin Cities needs more of?

PD: A bigger respect for the DIY scene. There is so much amazing art being made in the Cities, and a lot of it gets overlooked because it doesn’t get played on a certain radio station or get written about in a certain paper. Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled. Go to a house show. See a band you’ve never heard of, and if you like it don’t be afraid to support it. It’s your opinion. You’re the one whose right not everybody else. Don’t let someone else’s opinion influence your own. Especially mine.

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