New American Farmers Showcase Their In-Season, Local and Chemical-Free Folklore On "Brand New Day"
Paul Knowles And Nicole Storto Leave Mars, AZ for Berkeley’s Pastures Of Plenty
(by J. Poet)
Paul Knowles and Nicole Storto spent most of the last decade performing and recording as Mars, Arizona, winning fans with their original brand of cosmic Americana. Like many other American towns, Mars, Arizona recently disappeared, forced to move on after four well received albums. “Like the vanishing American family farm, it became too expensive to run the family business,” Knowles says. “The town was auctioned off and we became New American Farmers. We hope to survive by embracing sustainable approaches to music production and delivery.”
On Brand New Day (a full length to be released on April 9, 2013), Knowles and Storto continue to showcase their evolution as songwriters intent on celebrating the essence of the American experience with all its contradictions and complexities. “By calling ourselves New American Farmers, we’re suggesting a sense of independence and self reliance away from corporate structures. A lot of today's music and food is mostly poison and full of additives.”
Knowles produced the album, recording live at Berkeley’s Opus Studio and Fantasy Studios, adding vocals and a few guitar parts later at the band’s home facility. The arrangements span the entire roots music spectrum, with trumpet, pedal steel and a string quartet adding new colors to the mix. “The songs are about the human experience, putting a spotlight on those that are less fortunate, songs about having different viewpoints from the accepted norms when it comes to immigration, food, philosophy and materialism. We don’t have all the answers, or maybe even any, but we have to ask the questions.”
“Everywhere,” opens things up with a bluegrass/Americana romp, featuring banjo by Gene Parsons from the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. It echoes the sound of those iconic groups with its warm harmonies and upbeat message. The moody trumpet of Ara Anderson, from Tom Waits’ band, adds to the desolate feel of “Don’t Wait For Me Here,” a ballad about immigrants crossing the border hoping for of a better life and the families they leave behind. Knowles’ vocal is equal parts anticipation and sadness. A sighing slide guitar, played by Dave Walker, that recalls George Harrison’s best work gives “Brand New Day” the sound of jubilant desperation. A dad tries to put the best face on a family’s flight from the Great Recession. The emotionally complex “Sad Hotel” is a country weeper that investigates the end of a relationship, when home is just another empty room on the lost highway. Dave Zirbel’s sensitive pedal steel adds glistening teardrops to the song’s bleak aura.
The band shows its lighter side on “Can't Get It Out Of My Head,” the ELO hit stripped of its bombast. Knowles supplies piano and Storto croons a winning vocal supported by The Real Vocal String Quartet and Dave Zirbel’s spirited pedal steel fills. “Hypocrite” is a rocker full of ironic, self-effacing humor, but it makes a serious point about the 1%, while “How Do We Do It” is a bitter meditation on the trials of the 99% given a bare bones delivery by Knowles and his piano, played through a Space Echo tape machine.
“We want to elevate the GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) of our community, state, country and world,” Knowles says. “If people like the album, hopefully they’ll come to our shows, or buy an album, which we’ll have out on 180 gram vinyl as well as CD. We just want to be able to make the next record, and the next, play some good shows, boost the overall GDH and forget about the GDP.”
(The duo had their debut performance as Mars, Arizona at Chicago's Double Door in 1999. They came to California shortly thereafter and made four albums: Love Songs from the Apocalypse, All Over the Road, Hello Cruel World and High Desert before changing their name to New American Farmers in 2012.)
"We had never had any real conscious drive to self-sufficiency. We had thought, like a lot of people, that it would be nice to grow our own vegetables. But living here had altered our sense of values. We find that we no longer place the same importance on artifacts and gadgets as other people do. Also, every time we buy some factory-made article, we wonder what sort of people made it- if they enjoyed making it or if it was just a bore- what sort of life the maker, or makers, lead. I wonder where all this activity is leading. Is it really leading to a better or richer or simpler life for people? Or not? I wonder about the nature of progress. One can progress in so many different directions. Up a gum-tree, for example. I know that the modern factory worker is supposed to lead an 'easier' life than, say, the peasant. But I wonder if this supposition is correct. And I wonder if, whether 'easier' or not, it is a better life? Simpler? Healthier? More spiritually satisfying? Or not? So far as we can, we import our needs from small and honest craftsmen and tradesmen. We subscribe as little as we can to the tycoons, and the ad men, and the boys with their expense accounts. If we could subscribe to nothing at all, we would be better pleased." - John Seymour- Fat Of The Land