(EDITOR’S NOTE — As it entered the new year, Tough Old Bird was riding a wave of emotion.
There was reason to celebrate as its new single ‘Conjurer’ — which hit the streams a few days into 2024 — marked the folk band’s first release in more than two years. But there was also reason for concern as the band had its instruments and gear stolen during a break-in to its rehearsal space. ‘Conjurer’ could not have come at a better time for the group, helping it to push through a period of self-described creative struggle. Meanwhile, the community rallied to help raise money for the band, enabling it to replace its stolen property. Formed by Matthew and Nathan Corrigan, Tough Old Bird now is not only back writing and performing, it’s doing so with a full lineup. Recently, the brothers were nice enough to speak with 1120 Press about feeling both reinvigorated and thankful — (and we are thankful for their time). Tough Old Bird is comprised of: Nathan Corrigan: vocals, guitar, harmonica; Matthew Corrigan: vocals, guitars, banjo; Ricky Bechard: drums, percussion, vocals, and Brendan O’Shea: bass. Note: Chris Ploss was the bassist on ‘Conjurer’ and supplied background vocals. Please read our story below. — Photos by Sarah Bruno of 1120 Press.)
1120 PRESS — Thank you for speaking with us. Congratulations on the release of the new song, ‘Conjurer.’ The band mentioned in its press release that the song proved to be the “crack in the wall” needed after a long period of being creatively stuck. Can you tell us about the song and what it felt like to finally break through that creative drought?
MATTHEW CORRIGAN: ‘Conjurer’ was written very quickly, which is not normal for me. It sounds cliche, but it really did feel handed to me from some other place. Almost all of it was written in one sitting, first thing in the morning. Before that it seemed like I had run out of steam in the direction I had been writing songs in. The content and imagery of ‘Conjurer’ felt special and new to me, and I think I was able to use language in a way that I hadn’t before. It’s both more personal and more universal than what I had been doing up until that point, and it really taught me a few things that I’ve carried on with since. It felt like a real beacon at that moment.
NATHAN CORRIGAN: 'Conjurer' doesn't quite sound like anything we had ever written
before, and it's always really exciting when a song like that comes along because it can send us in a totally different direction.
1120: 'Conjurer' also marks the band’s first new music since the 2021 EP, ‘A Mantle for the Lantern.’ Does your new music represent any type of change in direction, whether musically or in subject matter/themes explored, compared to ‘A Mantle…’? We’re wondering how the time between the two releases impacted TOB creatively, if at all?
MATTHEW: Yeah, absolutely. Some big changes happened between those releases. We
solidified a full band line-up for the first time in our history and it’s been a very invigorating process. It’s changed the way we write, perform, and record. I’m really proud of ‘Mantle,’ but it’s been freeing to find this new way to work.
NATHAN: 'A Mantle for the Lantern' was recorded almost entirely in isolation, and it's definitely a product of the time it was made. The music we've been working on since then has been more collaborative, and I think the process has been a lot more fun.
1120: In TOB’s bio on Spotify, it mentioned that your 2019 album “The Old Great Lakes,” pushed the band beyond traditional folk music to “encompass the battered shoreline of the Rust Belt and the inner lives of those who call it home.” The reason we point to this is we’ve always had the notion that Buffalo — with its history, characters, even its hard luck — is fertile ground for folk music. Are we off base or is there something to that hypothesis? Is there something about being a Buffalo folk artist, and has the city influenced the art TOB creates?
NATHAN: I think you're absolutely right about Buffalo and the Rust Belt in general being fertile ground for folk music. At the time we made 'The Old Great Lakes' we were feeling a bit hemmed-in by some idea of folk music being rural and acoustic, and we wanted to do something very different from that. That album has a darker atmosphere and some very different sounds than we had ever used before, but in retrospect it's still a folk record, just a different kind of folk.
1120: The new year got off to a rough start for the band when its instruments and gear were stolen when its practice space was broken into. How has the band weathered that challenge and what’s your reaction to the strong response to the Go Fund Me that was set up to help the band regroup?
MATTHEW: It’s been incredibly beautiful and heartwarming and humbling to receive the amount of support we did. I never had any doubt about our future after the robbery. If anything, it made me want to get out and make music even more. I feel very indebted to our fans and supporters for the help. We’ve been able to fully replace our gear and it really feels like these new instruments and the music we’ll make on them belongs to a whole community more than ever.
NATHAN: The response we got from people was amazing. Friends, family, other musicians, total strangers — so many people reached out to donate money or offered to give us instruments. That generosity took a really hard situation and turned it into something beautiful.
1120: Looking ahead, what else does the band have on its agenda for 2024?
NATHAN: I don't want to say too much right now, but 'Conjurer' is definitely not the only new song we wrote and recorded in the last couple of years.
(***‘Conjurer’ was produced by Chris Ploss and Tough Old Bird. It was mixed by Chris Ploss and mastered by Mike Fridmann. The song was engineered and recorded by Chris Ploss at Sunwood Studios, Trumansburg NY)