Like many bands that slip through the cracks, Fields of Industry does not fit into a predetermined mold. In fact, that difficulty of description extends to members of the band.
“I have trouble verbalizing [how to describe our sound], because all the terms to describe it are pretty loaded terms,” said Josh Barton, the creator of the band and the primary songwriter. “You could call it folk-rock and put stress on the populism of the term folk, because it’s a very DIY kind of thing, and simplistic, not necessarily ornate in any kind of way. But if you just say folk-rock, people are going to think of, I don’t know, Peter Paul and Mary or something.” [bandphoto]
Barton’s band mate Eric Gallippo echoes Barton’s sentiment. “I always like to call it a pop band, but then people think that I mean ‘NSYNC or something,” Gallippo said.
Barton also said that the band can be defined negatively, listing all the things it is not, until you arrive at a combination that encompasses the stark, minimalist sound they employ. With haunting, sparse guitars, occasional ambient noise and downright ghostly sounding lyrics, Fields of Industry does not fit into a clear category.
Despite the band’s difficulty in summarizing their sound, Fields of Industry has been making that sound for a while. The band began with Barton recording songs in his bedroom on a four-track-recorder in 1999. At his home in Jackson, Barton converted the recordings into tapes he distributed to friends. His side project began to morph into something more when he went to college.
“When I went to school at [the University of Michigan] as an undergraduate, I suddenly realized ‘there’s all these people here who play instruments,'” Barton said. “We all lived together in the same hall in a dorm, so it was just like asking everybody ‘hey, will you help me play these songs?’ I looked for opportunities. To set up shows, and used those shows as an impetus to get a band together. And that’s how it all started, basically, just bringing some sort of performing life to the songs I’d already written.”
Barton said that all the potential instruments available to him became somewhat overwhelming.
“When we first started performing, I think I was aiming pretty high, for really big arrangements, but with no real capacity to make those arrangements,” Barton said. “I was just kind of drunk on the idea of getting as many instruments to play as possible. So, for our first two performances, we had between seven and nine people playing on stage. I did that on the first self title record, when I recorded it all myself and had a few friends come in to try and fill in instruments that I couldn’t play, like horns and things.”
The first, self titled, album from Fields of Industry had a rich arrangement structure that was an outgrowth of that over-reaching early approach, according to Barton. He compared his goals at that stage to Brian Wilson in his Beach Boys days. As members permanently joined the band, Barton began simplifying the songs out of practical limitations.
“When Eric and Joel [Schrauben] joined the band, it started to get more practical for performance purposes. I realized I’m not going to be able to tie down nine people to play these songs,” Barton said.
The shrinking size of the band helped to develop the songs Barton wrote, Gallippo said. “I think something that sort of shifted the direction for a while was that it was just [Barton and me], and just realizing that the songs could be just two guitars and his voice. Going from nine to a band of five for a while, and that was still pretty full, and then all those people needed to do different things, so we were just doing like two people, just playing the songs. I think from there, we’ve kind of built it back up, but around that same composition,” Gallippo said.
When the band was eventually built back up in members, Barton said the shift in songwriting style carried over to the new incarnation, leading to a much more minimal, basic approach that has carried through to their new album, Two Dogs and a Television.
Gallippo met Barton through Barton’s wife, and eventually Gallippo helped Barton perform one of the shows that involved the larger band. As time went on, Gallippo became more involved in the band, becoming a regular member, despite living in a different part of the state at the time.
“For most of the life of the band, performance has really been rehearsal, because rehearsal has really been too costly to do,” Barton said. “It costs so much to do a show already that we rarely break even on gas money for everybody to get there, that was the case before we kind of centralized in the [Lansing] area. Performance was really the time when we got to learn the songs. I think it made the performances kind of interesting because they were different every time. That’s something we’ve really enjoyed; the variance in our approach to the songs. We don’t just do them verbatim, it might vary from show to show… it’s an approach that was born of necessity, because it was too expensive to get together for practice.”
Ron Gibbs, a friend of the band’s who has seen them play quite a few times, echoes the sentiment that Fields of Industry can play to different audiences. He said that one of the strengths of the band is their ability to adapt to the demands of the crowd. [Garvey]
“I’ve seen them in a couple different types of venues,” said Gibbs. “I’ve seen them at coffee shops, or I’ve seen them play like at Mac’s Bar. I think they can really handle just about any setting really well, whether it’s the bar or whatever. They can turn it up a little bit and definitely have that kind of rock and roll, Velvet Underground type of style, but then, seeing them in a coffee shop; they’re just as good in the quieter setting, too. I’d say a lot of their stuff is suitable for that type of an environment, too. That kind of quieter, folksier, acoustic type stuff. For me, they’re really good at both. They can fit into either environment really well.”
“I feel like I have so much personally invested in making music, it’s something that if I wasn’t doing it, I would be really unhappy. Some of our songs, a lot of our songs, I guess, when it comes to emotional content are really heavy, or, maybe emotively kind of depressing or something like that, so there’s a catharsis in that. If I truly am feeling that way without recognizing it, and it comes out in a song, being able to recognize that ‘hey, this heavy, depressing thing came out of me,’ there’s some kind of catharsis or at least existential experience in that,” Barton said.