By Nicholas Jason Lopez
With her mother passed out on the couch from hard drugs, a helpless young child barricades herself in a bathroom, in order to prevent attacks from an angry grown man not far away.
Nashville, Tenn.-based Americana/rock duo The FBR (The Famous Blue Raincoat) are ready to start the discussion on the fact that it’s okay to seek help for both addiction and mental health concerns with their new song “Before I Drown.”
Initially inspired by member Tim Hunter’s own past relationship where they experienced the darkness of addiction first-hand, the song serves as a “cry for help.”
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with them about “Before I Drown” and more.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Tim Hunter – Our style of music is hard to define. We’re sometimes labeled as Americana. Sometimes, Southern rock. Sometimes, blues, but what is often said by most folks who hear us is that we are storytellers. We are storytellers and that’s the cool and exciting thing about our “style” of music. We can move across genres to tell stories. I’d like to say we select what genre we’re going to use to tell the story, but usually, the song itself tells me what it wants to be as I write it and I can’t argue back with the song. If I do, it falls flat. Although we cross genres, our music has a consistent sound, which anchors everything for continuity. I think most fans need that and I think we need that consistent sound. It’s our trademark. I don’t worry so much about production as I am writing a song. It’s just a matter of capturing the story and then trusting the production process.
Malarie McConaha – I’m most excited about the freedom in the style. Each song is like its own creation, with our voices and certain signature sounds being the constant. Playing our tunes live is a ton of fun, too.
Music Bugle – How did you decide the band name?
Tim Hunter – Malarie and I met each other more than six years ago after she had played a Leonard Cohen song at an open mic night in Leipers Fork, Tennessee. She didn’t just play the familiar verses you hear on the radio or in movies. She sang some of the more obscure verses that only a true Leonard Cohen fan would know. When she was done, I approached her and said, “You didn’t learn those verses in church.” A friendship grew out of that chance meeting and as we began to experience life together, the duo became a couple and we discovered a lot of connections we had to Leonard Cohen. He had lived in Leipers Fork in the early 70s to “find himself.” We had a friend who produced several of his later records. We know some of the local characters who hung out with him when he lived here. We thought it only fitting to honor Leonard with our name The FBR, which is a shortened form of “The Famous Blue Raincoat,” another song we hold dear to our hearts.
Malarie McConaha – Anything we’d come up with prior just felt wrong. Neither of us were the type to want our name in big lights, because it was never about that. Leonard Cohen was this connecting force we kept being called back to and I remember right around the time of his death, I’d sat down to the piano and “Famous Blue Raincoat” just sort of poured out of me… which is strange, because I’m not a big piano player. It felt more like a channeling. I sat there singing it with tears streaming down my face and I just remember this feeling of sadness and release and that song has been so close to my heart ever since.
Music Bugle – What made you want to release “Before I Drown” as a single?
Tim Hunter – The timing was right. Our plan to release several singles throughout the course of a year allows us to cross over significant dates on the calendar. April happened to be Alcoholism Awareness Month, so it was perfect timing.
Malarie McConaha – I’d approached Tim and our producer, Matt about releasing in April because it was Alcohol Awareness Month. I needed something to look forward to, as I was feeling this sense of impending doom, probably pandemic-induced. I felt this song stood out as a single for the strong production and the message.
Music Bugle – Do you believe mental health and alcoholism go hand-in-hand?
Tim Hunter – They absolutely go hand-in-hand. The release of “Before I Drown” has certainly been a learning experience for us. It started out with a story about my first-hand experience in a previous relationship with someone who had succumbed to alcoholism initially as a means to numb the pain of horrible things that happened to her when she was a child. As we’ve told the story, we have learned that it’s often the case. Not always, but very often and not only is alcohol abuse a result of emotional distress and anguish, but it also causes it.
Malarie McConaha – Absolutely. However, mental health doesn’t directly always have to do with addiction. Addiction stems from something. It is an attempt to fill a void. It’s a coping mechanism. There are plenty of unhealthy coping mechanisms outside of addiction.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
Tim Hunter – “Before I Drown” was the hardest song for me to write. It wasn’t difficult mechanically, or melodically. The subject matter is real and the song was written initially as a healing tool, but it grew into a song that we were encouraged to record. From writing the words to spending time in the studio putting lyrics into motion with vocals, it has never ceased to be emotional. The day we cut final vocals, many tears were shed in the booth. Even as Matt Sepanic, our producer, was working on mixes, we would sometimes get random texts from him late at night, saying something about the weight he was feeling as he worked alone on the song in the studio.
Music Bugle – What is the biggest challenge in being a musical duo?
Tim Hunter – Much of the beauty of being a music duo is that we share the same address and some of the challenge is that we share the same address. We can easily sit down and work on a new song. Or sing harmonies in the car as we drive to dinner. Or just jam to standards. We love music. It’s why we do music, but at times, because we share the same roof, one partner might bring up music business stuff when the other isn’t in the mood to talk about “work.” It’s not often that it happens, but really is, in my opinion, the biggest challenge we have as a duo. I feel lucky every day that we get to do this.
Malarie McConaha – I agree with Tim on this. I feel like sometimes, I take our life for granted, that at any point, we can stop what we are doing and just get creative.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Nashville to someone who has never been there before?
Tim Hunter – There are really two sides to Nashville. There is the side known by many folks that puts Broadway among the ranks of Bourbon Street in New Orleans as a destination for bachelorette parties and rowdy sports fans looking to have some pre/post-game fun. A lot of musicians pay their dues in this environment and it is hard work. Then, there is the other side of Nashville and it’s not just country music as people often think. The landscape of music in Nashville from a business and production standpoint is expanding. Multiple genres are being represented and a lot of new, quality recording studios are coming into light, as well as new venues in Nashville and outlying areas.
Malarie McConaha – I’ll always love Nashville, but I’m not a big fan of the city itself anymore. The growth is too much, too fast, crime has drastically increased, developers have continued to tear down historical sites and Broadway is is just too much for me. I enjoy a drive around the city once in a blue moon, but I am glad we live further out of the city. Greater Nashville area is full of exciting things to do. Get out and check out the state/national parks, waterfalls, wineries and distilleries… there’s so much to do outside the city limits.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Tim Hunter – It definitely put a halt to the shows we had booked before the pandemic started, but we took the opportunity to write new material and spend time in the studio and towards the end of 2020, we launched “Rain On,” which was also all about timing. Coming off the heels of a turbulent presidency, being stuck in the middle of a global pandemic and the four-year anniversary of wildfires destroying much of a place in East Tennessee that is near to our hearts, we believed it was the right time to release it. The song is about the questioning of one’s belief system, the destruction of ideals once thought to be inalienable truths, ripped out from under a person as new truths are revealed, much like the chaotic and elucidating era we were living in at the time.
Malarie McConaha – Aside from music being put on hold, just seeing the collective trauma the world has faced has been hard. It has given me such a deep appreciation for any sense of normalcy and for live shows.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Tim Hunter – Depending on the mood and how much time we have. If time is limited, we take inspiration drives, where we will take an hour or two to cruise through the countryside. We’ll listen to music. Or run through mixes. Or talk about the next music video. Or song ideas. If we have more time, we go to our property about an hour from home and explore the trails. If we have several days, it’s the beach for us.
Malarie McConaha – Drives, drives, drives! At least once a day, I have to get in a car and take a few country roads and play some Prine or Isbell. Makes everything feel like its going to be okay.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Tim Hunter – I believe it does both. It certainly helps promote a musician, whether it’s releasing a new album or song, or posting show dates to fan groups, but I think musicians often get caught up in image. Worrying too much about number of likes or follows. They also get stressed over the need to produce content or feel like they’re not keeping up with what other musicians are doing to promote themselves. I think it’s easy to start judging yourself too much also and that can kill a vibe. Social media is great if you approach it correctly and use it wisely.
Malarie McConaha – Definitely both. There are artists that thrive on social media, but can’t fill a coffee shop.. and others that are huge, that barely have an online presence, yet can pack a venue wherever they go. Some days, I love it. Most days, I hate it. I love instagram because its photo-based. Feels more artistic.