Must See: Open Fields at Fresh Produce Music Hall

As their name suggests, the music of the band Open Fields brings to mind an afternoon meandering through a grassy meadow, the sun so bright, colors begin to kaleidescope against the electric green of new Spring leaves and a wash of cerulean sky. The four Arkansans have crafted their sound not only from a respectful nod at 60s psychedelia, but there is a clear gravitation towards polished harmonization.  Notably, Preston Whittenburg (guitar), Brent Morgan (bass), Chris Kordsmeier (drums), and Blake Lefler (keys) all sing.  Some tunes on their current demo are not necessarily fuzz-laden or drone intense.  One song,“Old Folks,” is propelled by vocals and a rolling guitar solo.  “Words,” however, explores a cosmic soundscape, full of trippy sounds, a crescendo fit to backdrop a rocket blast off, and a tribute to space rock that would make any Pink Floyd or Spiritualized fan feel a sense of deja vu.  

Open Fields will be visiting Macon for the first time this Sunday, playing at Fresh Produce Music Hall.  I talked with the band about one of their influences, The Beatles, working on albums, and their thoughts about psychedelia today.

How did you guys start Open Fields?

Chris and Blake had been playing together for years, probably a decade or more. And Preston moved to Little Rock and met Blake. Blake got Chris in on it. And then we all asked a bunch of our friends who we could get to play bass and we got a bunch of people recommended this guy Brent Morgan. And here he is.

Was playing psychedelic music something you wanted to do going into this band?

We’ve all played a bunch of different styles. Psychedelic is such a vague category but, yeah, it just feels right. You know we didn’t come together like taking drugs, but a lot of our favorite albums are classed as psychedelic.  Like a bunch stuff from the 60s, naturally.  Everything that the Beatles ever did, we all love. The Beach Boys psychedelic period, is great too . . . Pink Floyd you know carries the torch of the word psychedelic.

Is there a big psych rock scene in Little Rock?

There’s a lot of people that are doing cool stuff that I would feel comfortable to have the term psychedelic applied to them. And ultimately, doesn’t it just mean mind opening? That’s what it’s all about. Learning how to completely almost let the music play you in a certain sense to be completely connected with each other and feeling some sort of mysterious flow. People are reconnecting and waking up. But something’s going on and we like it. We feel it here in Arkansas and everywhere we go, there are people speaking the same language.

Your bio refers to your mutual respect for The Beatles’ art and it being a “primary common denominator” between bandmates.  Could you go into a little bit more detail about this for me?

We were just looking for a way to describe our band to people and a lot of our arrangements are similar and influenced by [them] for sure. But it’s more about the influence and inspiration. You know we all love The Beatles; that’s one thing when we’re in the van and picking music we never argue.

I [Chris] actually wrote that bio just randomly very soon after we started. And it was before we shared our other influences with each other. Living on the road together and stuff like that and just being a big part of each other’s lives over the last several years since that was written, I feel like we wind up with a lot of other influences. Including even Harry Nilsson, who was cited as one of the greatest influences of the Beatles. He’s been teaching me over the last several months, and these guys introduced him to me. So there’s a lot of that, like you know, sharing the gene pool. Just making sure that our influences grow our ears to the extent that we still end up doing something somewhat unique.

With your current recording, did you guys have a really clear idea of what you wanted to do?

So we had this 10 song body of work and we spent our first year developing that to be played live. And we recorded the first three songs of that and put that out in 2013. And then the second two. And then the last four we didn’t finish those until spring of 14. But the thing that you were talking about is a live demo. We recorded it all live and we sang the vocals over it. So even right now we are finally finishing those those 10 songs as like a fully arranged album.

We’ve had some turbulent times with recording. We recorded it and then the hard drive crashed. So we lost like two years work on an album that you know is now nearly complete for the second time. It’s basically those same songs from the demo but just more deliberately as we had intended to do them all along. You know that album is entitled a demo and we really appreciate the way it turned out because it does get what we do live really well. We love the demo and we hope that a lot of people still feel the same way. But we’re so excited to be releasing these songs. Just having had the ability to put a lot more attention to the details.

Why was it important for you to make an album that translated live?

It really was just what we could do so we did it. A lot of the albums that we really love and talk about these days have a lot of auxiliary instrumentation and other layers of production and mastery and whatnot. Blake is awesome about creating crazy synthesizer textures just to tastefully paint over the surface, kind of like the cool filters that we use on Instagram. But this is like our art piece that shows what we do together and the cohesion that we’ve developed. But this is going to be hopefully something that will really characterize what we see internally about these songs.

Psych rock seems to have made a big comeback in the past 5 to 7 years.  You can see a wave of psychedelic influences even in fashion and art.  Why do you think it has become so popular again in our culture?

There’s a greater spirit of unity that’s just becoming more prevalent in the world today. People are kind of tired of being shifted from left to right.  With all the different influences that bombard us, all these different factors that are beyond our control that cause people to feel anger towards each other, we’re tired of that. And now there’s this spirit of openness and love and acceptance and it’s catching on a little bit more. And it feels ancient. It is ancient.

The whole Standing Rock thing really shows how there are these factors of our humanity that are still very much alive and are essential to not just what happens within us. . . People are opening up, loosening up, breathing easier. The psychedelia helps us to connect with that most essential part of our being and helps us to just let go and to be open. To have open fields if you will. One of many potential labels you could put on the reason that we chose that name because there’s so many different factors. It’s all magnetism; it’s all our interconnectedness and this music puts us in touch with that regardless of whatever planet you’ve chosen to sample that day.

Have you guys been working on anything new?  How do you think your writing, sound, or direction has changed?

We’re working on a follow up album right now, the writing process you know we’re all bringing songs and figuring out how to play them live. And we’ve got 90 percent of that album already written and we’re kind of beginning to work on it. It’s a good ways developed it’s just we really want to finish the first album and get it out.  It definitely will sound different because we’re not limiting ourselves in any way. . . Acoustic guitar is definitely there, so that’s a really good texture, and acoustic piano as well. So it’s going to be a lot of more diverse sounds.

Catch Open Fields w/ Wakeful and Atria on January 29th, 9pm  @ Fresh Produce Music Hall  $5