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I'm a sucker for stereotypes. I'm not proud of it, and I do my damnedest to consciously try and deny them, but my subconscious is inexorably pulled in by their sinister gravity. Especially when it comes to poseurs. That's why it was so self-effacingly satisfying when Danny O'Brien burst my smug little judgmental bubble.
1601 University Ave. W.
St. Paul, MN 55104
Oh, I had him all figured out when I first walked into the back of Buster's on 28th St. in south Minneapolis on a drizzling Labor Day evening. Slight of frame and sporting an oversized brown hoodie with a softly tussled head of brown hair, O'Brien looks younger than his 25 years. What he looks like is your typical introverted, passive-aggressive, self-absorbed emo boy.
"I think America sucks, and I think we exploit the world and we rape Third World countries."
Whoa. Where the hell did that come from? Surely not from this bashful doe of a young man. But indeed it did. O'Brien and I, along with the two other primary members of local indie poppers the Farewell Circuit, drummer Geoff Hartnell and multi-instrumentalist DJ House, had been enjoying a polite, albeit expected, chat about their nice little rock 'n' roll outfit when O'Brien let loose with his scathing criticism of America and our Westernized worldview.
O'Brien, and the rest of the Farewell Circuit, are frankly not the cliché I pegged them to be. Their two most recent recordings, the 2009 album Birdless Sky and the 2010 EP Brother's Eyes are a melancholy batch of indie pop songs in the vein of Copeland, Radiohead, and Death Cab for Cutie. But dig a little deeper and you will find a collection of passionately intimate, angry, pleading songs about collapsing worldviews and insistent, burgeoning ideology.
O'Brien's attack on America, and much of the thematic basis for this year's Brother's Eyes release, arose from a 2009 humanitarian aid trip O'Brien and his wife took to east Africa.
"The most influential thing for me lyrically is seeing global poverty and the lack of humanity that exists around the world for those who are impoverished. I think that's pretty apparent on Brother's Eyes," he explains. "I have a difficult time talking about the trip and the things that we saw. You see it on infomercials all the time, but when you meet them in person and have a name with a face, it fucks up your world big time. My heart truly breaks, and I don't mean this as a cliché, when I think about the people I know in east Africa who are dying of curable diseases and this beer [holds up the beer in his hand] could have saved three people's lives with a malaria shot."
"Exodus," the fifth track on Brother's Eyes and O'Brien's favorite song he's written so far, is the most literal exemplification of this: "Come along/we're walking out/we're leaving here/never to return/it's an exodus from affluence/we enter into promised poverty."
"It's about dealing with the reverse culture shock of coming back here and wondering if I am going to let what I saw and experienced, and the people I met—am I going to let that affect the way that I live and the way that I act as a human being?" O'Brien says.
"It's what's in our hearts. It's what comes out of our mouths. It's what we think about," adds Hartnell, who went on a similar humanitarian aid trip to India this past summer. "So it's hard not to write music that portrays that view or that experience."
When asked the obligatory question of where they want the band to be in five years, House simply responds, "Our farm." That's right: a farm. Not the typical band blather of "sustainable touring" or "playing national festivals," but instead operating a working farm. And these guys are dead serious. Thankfully for them, they're not naive. Although not one of these city slickers has a farming background, they have friends who do and who are interested in joining them in acquiring a hobby farm. They also plan to continue with their current careers—bartender, HR operations director, paraprofessional working with students with special needs—while they try to give this farming thing a go. For a band that once spent a summer tour sleeping virtually every night in various Wal-Mart parking lots, you half-believe they stand a chance.
"We want to escape the city, but we definitely wouldn't stop playing music. If you are at a farm, why not turn the shed into a recording studio?" O'Brien explains.
Whether or not their well-meaning little commune actually happens, House claims the music will continue.
"We'll be playing music together, whether it ends up making us millionaires or it all just falls apart. We'll still keep playing."
THE FAREWELL CIRCUIT play with Usonia and Cedar Avenue this SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, at the TURF CLUB; 651.647.0486
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