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An album that covers such varied topics as trapping and trading, Pontiac’s rebellion and the arctic grayling doesn’t come along often — if it ever has — but these and other Great Lakes themes are gathered together with a purpose in the latest work from the formerly Lansing-based band Gifts or Creatures, “Fair Mitten (New Songs of the Historic Great Lakes Basin),” just released on Friday, Sept. 22. City Pulse sat down with the husband-andwife duo of Brandon and Bethany Foote to get a feel for the album’s environmental theme, to chat about its production and learn about their upcoming tour.
How did you get your start playing music together? Brandon: We didn’t really play music before we were married. We became friends, and then we started dating, and then we got married, and I bought a vintage Wurlitzer electric piano for Bethany and gave it to her as a wedding gift. We set it up in our house, and we just started tinkering with it, and six months later, we went in and recorded our first record with some friends. Bethany: It’s been a way to connect and have something to do together because we have other jobs, and it’s kind of a nice shared creative outlet/hobby/activism in many ways.
Speaking of activism, this album in many ways draws attention to the environment. Why did you create an album about the Great Lakes basin?
Brandon: It started with a tune that we recorded for our last album that didn’t make it. That was kind of the catalyst ,and that was “Trapping or Trading.” We rerecorded it and kind of reworked it, and it ended up on this record. It kind of spiraled down from there. The floodgates opened, and I spent a little time at the archives of Michigan. We have a Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad map that sparked a little bit more interest. There’s a watermark of the arctic grayling on it, and this fish made an impact. What was the story on it, and why is it no longer here, and what was so magical about catching them? That became a song. The railroad, there’s a tune called “The Grand Rapids Brakeman.” It just opened up. I just wanted to know more about where I’m from and who was here before me.
What are some environmental issues that worry you today? Brandon: We have Line 5 going through the Mackinac Straits right now, and that’s carrying tons of Canadian crude oil. What if that was to burst? We also have Nestle that’s essentially bottling water for free, making billions of dollars off of it in profit. Those are all things that are important things to Bethany and I, and to our community.
Do you find it difficult getting people excited about topics like the environment? Bethany: I think there’s an element of that. Of making connections with people and disarming them a little bit. Certainly, in today’s day and age, the polarization and the walls that go up with people as soon as they have that perception that we disagree or that they see things differently. I think music has a magical way of disarming some of that.
How long did producing this work take? Brandon: We worked on the record for about a year and a half on and off in the studio. We did three major sessions with our band, the guys that are playing with us: Dan Rickabus of the Crane Wives, Max Lockwood, who plays in the band Big Dudee Roo and he also plays with May Erlewine. So, we had this great rhythm section. Our friend Seth Bernard helped with production. We recorded in Kalamazoo at a studio called La Luna Recording & Sound with a guy named Ian Gorman, who is just an amazing Michigan engineer.
Do you plan on taking this album on the road? We’re going to play regionally throughout the year, but no major touring. We’re just hitting Michigan. We’ve played Chicago over the years. We have coming up — the Robin Theatre, Petoskey, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids.
"Gifts or Creatures" Friday, Sept. 29 $15 8 p.m./Doors open 7:30 The Robin Theatre 1105 S. Washington Ave.
Lansing giftsorcreatures.com therobintheatre.com