As a former member of Yukon Blonde and Red Cedar, and a current sideman in Twin River, Vancouver-based songwriter Andy Bishop has dabbled in everything from heady psychedelia to '70s-tinged rock and reverb-kissed roots music. His latest endeavour is White Ash Falls, and this project finds the seasoned singer finally embracing the timeless folk and country sounds that are closest to his heart.
"I just wanted something that was a little more country, a little more me, where I wasn't compromising my writing. I'm doing exactly what I want to do," explains Bishop. "I've played in punk bands. I've done just about everything, but I've always had a thing for folk music. With other types of music, I feel like I'm writing for that genre. Whereas for White Ash Falls, I'm writing for myself, and this is what comes out."
Bishop first began creating songs as White Ash Falls in the winter of 2010-2011. At the time, he had just finished up a year of gruelling touring as the bassist of Yukon Blonde and was eager to focus on his own material once more. Bishop began self-recording his own acoustic tracks at home, and with Brandon Scott of Yukon Blonde serving as co-producer, he assembled a handful of ghostly, barebones folk tunes.
Despite the intimate style and confessional lyrics of these early tracks, Bishop refrained from recording under his own name, instead selecting a band moniker and leaving the door open to collaborators. Quickly, White Ash Falls grew into something greater, with a host of backing musicians joining to contribute everything from pedal steel to fiddle to jagged electric guitars.
"I like to think of it as a collective," says Bishop of White Ash Falls' malleable lineup. "It's not necessarily a band, because everyone's coming and going depending on when they're not busy. I was lucky enough to have players who were so competent that they were able to learn songs in an afternoon and be ready to make an album."
Bishop brought his collaborators to the Hive Creative Labs, where as many as ten players filled up the floor and recorded every part live in studio. These raw, spontaneous sessions resulted in the full-length debut Over by the River Bend, a nine-song collection that brings together Bishop's solo acoustic tracks with full-band numbers. You can hear the energy and excitement in the room as the ensemble tears into the sun-drenched "I Can't Get Tomorrow" and the dark and stormy closer "Rain Came." Elsewhere, the moody "Your Song" is fleshed out with spectral harmonies and fluttering castanets, while "Whatever You Want" builds from a soulful a cappella lament to a barn-burning alt-country gallop.
Throw in a couple of well-chosen covers — Hoagy Carmichael's 1943 classic "Hong Kong Blues" and the Scottish folk standard "Katie Cruel" — and you've got an album that represents a creative pinnacle in Bishop's already impressive resume. The live shows are no less stunning, with many of the frontman's cohorts dropping in and giving his songs a hard-hitting punch. The results have been so inspiring that a new album is already underway with Colin Stewart (Dan Mangan, Black Mountain) serving as producer.
Hearing Bishop sing his songs while surrounded by his talented friends, it's clear that this tireless musical explorer has found his home at last.