Analogue Music | Far Lands

Far Lands

By Matt Conner

Andy McFarlane is learning to let you in.

To interact with Far Lands' catalog is to chart an outward journey for Andy (or perhaps an inward one from our perspective), one in which the talented songwriter has learned to let others in on the beautiful musical ideas that were once nothing more than memos and sketches. For the last two albums, McFarlane has enjoyed both input and inspiration from the likes of Matt Drenik (Battleme) and Ivan Howard (The Rosebuds), but Far Lands is, first and foremost, about a personal project.

Whether you start with 2017's Oh, What An Honor / Oh, What A Drag or head straight for their new release, There Be Monsters, the beauty of the thoughtful, reflective indie rock tracks is proof positive that sometimes it's worth believing in one's self enough to offer something meaningful to those around you.

We recently sat down with Andy and Ivan to hear more about Far Lands' latest album and the confidence gained from having a rich community of talented and supportive friends.

Analogue: You worked with Matt Drenik on the first album and Ivan more so here. I’d love to even just get a sense of how Far Lands is organized.

Andy: So Matt and I are both from Cincinnati and were middle school friends together through high school. He was frequently at Bogart’s at my band’s shows and our friendship revolved around that Battle of the Bands scene.

After years of losing track, I met him at a show in Portland and it turned out he lived 12 blocks from me and had for years since recording the first Battleme album in his basement. I saw him after the show and said, ‘Hey man, I’ve got this studio. We’ve really got to catch up. It’s been years.’

I’d been a teacher and school principal at the time that we ran into each other. He was like, ‘What have you been doing? I got wind of your book that you published and I went off to art school.’ It was just this instant reconnection after having lost track for so long. So I brought him 15 little snippets of songs and he was like, ‘We’re doing it. We’re gonna make it happen.’

"It’s really a lot of open collaboration among really tight friends without a lot of territoriality. It’s really just, ‘Let’s put energy into this because it deserves it." -Andy Macfarlane

Fast forward a few months and we have Pauli Pulvirenti playing drums. Ivan comes in during a snowstorm with a scraper, hacking his way through a mile of Portland winter to put some vocals and bass lines on things. We had a great team of people and created the first album in the spirit of a clubhouse at that studio.

After that, Matt and I put out the two singles together. It was our project, but after that, Matt’s life quickly dictated a move to L.A. We had a quick heart-to-heart and he said, ‘Man, this should be your solo project and you pull in collaborators and find the people.’ He gave his full blessing for me to collaborate.

Ivan and I had already had a pretty fast friendship that was on good legs. We’ve been talking of the possibility of working together with him in a production role for the second one. Matt’s just the best and his heart is so big. He just said, ‘Go for it. You and Ivan are going to make something amazing.’

Ivan: Yeah, I wanted to make sure Matt was comfortable with it. I didn’t want to step on somebody’s toes. [Laughs] I was adamant about that, to make sure that he wasn’t going to be involved like he was last time. We left the door open for him the whole time along the way.

Andy: Last thing on that I’ll say is that, in that same spirit, is that Matt and I are looking for the next full-length, there’s at least energy behind it being this stripped-down collaboration with both of our songwriting. If Ivan wants to be involved, that’s great. So it’s really a lot of open collaboration among really tight friends without a lot of territoriality. It’s really just, ‘Let’s put energy into this because it deserves it.’

Analogue: Is that what drives the beauty of Far Lands?

Ivan: I would say so. The openness to have people involved and the ideas involved… not a lot of people would let a guy read a poem on a record. That’s not cool. That’s not rock and roll. But I was like, ‘Why not?’ I had to coax Andy into doing it, actually. You have to take chances instrumentally, idea-wise, just throw stuff in the wind and see what happens.

I think that translated into the people that Andy got to play on the record. If I suggested somebody, it was like, ‘All right, let’s do it,’ even if he didn’t know them.

'There Be Monsters'
'There Be Monsters'

Andy: I think what translates is an honest dialogue between friends. The first album, Oh What An Honor, Oh What A Drag, was the rekindling of an old friendship and catching up on 12 years of life lived separately from two old buddies who hadn’t seen each other. On the second one, you have a new friendship and the excitement behind that time. Both of us were in career changes at the time, so it’s the openness to allow time for pursuing this in a different way. Then you have this friendship that’s full of laughter and just good times getting together around the focus of the music.

Analogue: Let’s look back a bit. When you hear those initial snippets that you mentioned for the first time after Matt says, ‘We’re going to make this happen,’ do you remember the emotions there?

Andy: I do. It was pure joy. With every single one of them, the realization that what I heard in word and melody, what came to me on a drive or commute… it was pure joy.

Analogue: How does that then feel to know this is now an ongoing vehicle or project. I guess I wonder if you’ve reflected much on this moving from requiring others to say you’re doing this to now realizing Far Lands is something you can lean into…

Andy: I would say it’s a sweet progression from a bit of surprise that the first album found the legs it did and something that I believe in so wholeheartedly came out of it. I think that built momentum to wider collaborations based on the way that first one played out. Now I can say there’s no doubt I’ll be doing this every few years for as long as I’m able.

I’ve been toying this idea, and I don’t know how to weave it into a song yet, but it’s a concept that I woke up at some point of my life in someone else’s dream. I think it might not be atypical. A lot of my friends are going through mid-life struggles like losing a parent or figuring out that their career isn’t something they want to do. They’re now finding a new direction.

This is the most concrete example of somebody who really took stock. I was 15 years into a pretty heavy career working with at-risk youth and director of alternative education and equity for a pretty big school district. Then I realized I wanted to be a more present dad and that I wanted to pursue art. So these things all happened simultaneously. The world really received that well, both in terms of the art and in my life. If I look back to 2017 to now, the way a label was born out of this is incredible.

It really was like I woke up in someone else’s dream and realized that time is finite. You have to use it fully. You’re not guaranteed a chunk of time to pursue dreams deferred later on. You better do it while you have it. I’ll be honest that the first album was the catalyst for me to go to a part-time consulting job in my school district. I realized this was the moment to jump on it.

VISIT: Far Lands

Photo: Michelle Lucille Taylor