Soundtracking the Resistance - An Interview with Mimicking Birds

The Natural World

Jan 19, 2018 By Stephen Mayne Web Exclusive
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This week we're joined by Nate Lacy from Mimicking Birds who talks the wonders and dangers of nature, plus we have medicals, shutdowns, presidential racism, and a sad loss. 

The Big Event

Certain words appear regularly in connection with Portland based Mimicking Birds. Their music is often described as melancholy and ethereal. Delicate and fragile are also favorites. It doesn't take much listening to understand why.

The Oregon band's third full-length, Layers of Us, doubles down on an approach that has become their own while continuing to enhance the sound, adding complexity and subtle variations. But to truly get into the head of lead singer and songwriter Nate Lacy, it's best to get outside, because it's the natural world that gives him much of his inspiration.

It's been this way since he was a kid. "I grew up in a place where the community in general seems to be very connected with the environment. The grade school I went to had a thing called outdoors school where we just went out in the forest for a week and learned about the woods."

When pressed further, Lacy expands on his interest. "I liked everything about it: geology, long-term processes, the weather. Weather was a big influence."

This comes across on Layers of Us. The centerpiece song, "Great Wave," arose from a New Yorker article describing how an earthquake could create a tsunami that would sweep the Northwest coast. Scientists agree such an event is probably overdue in America now.

The duel nature of the natural world-terrifying and beautiful-is something Lacy finds fascinating, and something he thinks everyone else does as well. "We all like to watch doomsday movies, as horrible as they are. There's a certain innate interest: what would happen if our star blew up? All that large-scale devastation intrigues us."

Positives can flow from this obsession with natural disasters. "It's also about consciousness and being able to change our ways; not building along coastlines, preparing people for the things scientists have proven are overdue. We need to take threats like that seriously."

Lacy accepts there's a point beyond which nature cannot be controlled, but he doesn't see this as a reason for inaction. "We should do as much as we can, not just say these storms have always happened. We know we're dealing with things it couldn't hurt to prevent."

As for how to deal with it, that's where we start to get political. "We need more education and a basic acceptance these things have occurred and will occur again. Regulations are in place for a reason, and it can't hurt to be a little extreme on some of those if we know it's going to preserve a place in the future."

By now we've moved away from the realm of natural disasters as Lacy admits. "I'm speaking more of the atmosphere." When it comes to climate change he's worried science is losing its place in the argument. "I grew up with my science book. These things were settled and can't be questioned so it's a little worrisome. But the rich and powerful have other interests which mostly seem to be short-term."

Despite this, and despite his willingness to tackle environmental issues, Lacy doesn't see the music of Mimicking Birds as political. "I wouldn't describe it as political. Scientific more."

It's this love of science, and love of the natural world he wants to pass on, whether the initial motivation was intentional or not. "It's hard to be too literal when you're writing lyrics as opposed to an article or something, but I feel I've touched on these topics in my music. I don't know if it was ever intentional. It was just stuff on my mind."

Lacy retains some qualified optimism when asked if our species will avert course before we've destroyed everything. "It kind of reminds me of the frog in the hot water. We don't really do anything until it's too late. But then something like the solar eclipse happens which got everybody super interested. I can't imagine how many kids have decided to look to career paths in science. I guess it's about finding ways to make young human beings interested in wanting to save this place. We can't be here unless we maintain part of it."

Mimicking Birds walk the walk as well, making their tours as sustainable as possible which has led to confusing conversations at gas stations as they attempt to refill water bottles rather than buy more. They have other goals here too like "a biofuel electric touring vehicle."

Such an aim remains unfilled as of yet, but they do at least have a decent amount of musical material for the tours, built up over three records all released on Isaac Brock's Glacial Pace label. So far there has been a four-year gap between each album, something Lacy assures is purely coincidental. "My intention is to work a little faster, and I think after this album, we're hoping to put another one out in a year. That's the goal."

But given he's been writing about natural disasters and climate disturbances, particularly of a type that might devastate the area he lives in, doesn't he feel a desire to move to the safety of a mountain somewhere in the middle of the country? He laughs before answering. "I don't know if it's going to come up the Columbia river or not. They say the city of Portland will be basically swamped. All the bridges will collapse. It's going to happen eventually."

What's Going On

Is it government shutdown time? We'll find out soon as Congress struggles to patch together a short-term deal to keep things functioning for another month while something a little more permanent is discussed. Right now, the House has passed a Bill. Things look a little shakier in the Senate where the Democrats are considering next steps. Whatever happens, we'll have to do this all over again soon.

The President had his medical check last week and he's in tip-top shape apparently, aside from needing more exercise and a better diet, although frankly who doesn't that apply to? I doubt many people really expected anything different to be announced, whether they actually believe the results or not. His cognitive abilities also cleared with flying colors. For most of his presidency, a chorus of voices has suggested he's suffering from declining mental abilities. That's been the reason trotted out by many critics to describe his extremely erratic behavior. Taking the medical at face value, if that is not in fact the case, should we be more or less worried?

Speak Up!

If Trump is a man entirely devoid of racist thoughts, he does a terrible job of demonstrating it. The latest furor concerns his description of Haiti and African nations as "shithole countries." A rather unedifying row broke out afterwards spreading into this week. The sycophants on his own side tried to cover by suggesting he actually said, "shithouse countries" as if that is acceptable anyway. Not everyone has been so content to sweep his latest terrible behavior under the carpet, with several musicians calling him out.

 

 

U2 have a video out to accompany new single "Get Out of Your Own Way," and the Trump administration doesn't get off lightly. The stop-motion video shows a White House with KKK members strolling around in the background.

The veteran rockers aren't the only ones using music videos to take political shots. Justin Timberlake's new video for "Supplies" takes a similar approach, showing an array of TV screens with footage of anti-Trump protests, feminist protests, Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein.

Song of the Week: The Cranberries - "Dreams" 

For anyone with even a passing knowledge of the '90s,  The Cranberries are awesome. Sadly, lead singer Dolores O'Riordan passed away on Monday aged only 46, far too young for anyone to leave us.

Because she brought better times, and we could all do with those, we close with "Dreams," their wonderfully lush love song from 1992. It's as good now as it ever was, and she'll be greatly missed.

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