The Sweater Set just released their new album "Fly On The Wall" and to celebrate we asked Sara Curtin and Maureen Andary to tell us about the song "Dawn Chorus". Here is the story:
SARA: If I were a quilter, "Dawn Chorus" would be hanging on the big wall in my living room. It would have amateur techniques alongside intricate geometrics, and there would be memories of squares replaced years ago. This song took me almost 10 years to complete - rewriting lyrics, forgetting lyrics, experimenting with different strum patterns for the guitar, and even changing the time signature. It finally came together for this record in large part because of what this album represents for us. Fly On The Wall was recorded as a celebration of over 10 years making music together as The Sweater Set. The songs are reflective of the journeys we've been on, together and separately, of self discovery, and of the ways we continue to move forward.
"Dawn Chorus" begins in my New York apartment where I lived in my early twenties. It was a 4th floor walk-up, and my bedroom window faced 8th Avenue in Brooklyn right above a B69 bus stop, and across the street from a hospital. I was young, new to the city, and taking advantage of as much of it as I could at all hours of the day - some nights coming home to go to bed just as the sun was coming up, other days waking up before sunrise for my job as a fishmonger for Blue Moon Fish at the Grand Army Plaza farmers market. In both cases, the leak of light or sound into my room at 5am was unwelcome. I first became aware of the phrase "dawn chorus" in the novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon. It describes the moment when birds start to sing at dawn. At that time in my life, I found the sound irritating! I was busy, scattered, working too much, traveling a lot between NY and DC to play shows, losing my voice, and feeling generally run down. I recorded a demo, and put the song "Dawn Chorus" away.
Over the next seven years, a lot changed. I moved from Brooklyn to my hometown of Washington, DC; The Sweater Set toured a bunch and released a number of albums; I started a new job teaching yoga which I incorporated heavily into my life as part of my vocal therapy; I met my husband, and we started to look for a house to buy. (Side note, Maureen was our realtor!) It was at this time when we decided to put together 10 new songs for our live recording album, Fly On The Wall. Feeling familiarly overworked and tired, I tried to find the old demo of "Dawn Chorus," but I couldn't. I stitched together what I could remember, wrote new lyrics (the second verse), and brought the new version of the song to Maureen. It was there together in rehearsal where the big picture began to take clearer shape. We added her playing the flute in the first verse as the character of the bird, and then her finger-picked guitar part in the second verse to carry on the bird song.
MAUREEN: Recording this album was completely different then all of the other records we've released. We wanted it to be a unique celebration of our decades-long collaboration - so we had a party that was also a performance that was also a recording session! The room was decorated with photos from our decade of performing together. It was really fun preparing for this tune in particular. There's a riff at the beginning and at the end that took a bit of practicing - not just the notes themselves, but being in sync with one another, since we recorded it live and in one or two shots. We tracked all guitars and vocals together. The flute was done separately, and I played the parts in octaves. We only tracked flute and tambourine separately and only on three tracks. The other seven were all pure live takes. We wanted an album production that was spare - that would highlight our vocals - and we also wanted an album that was going to be low-cost for us. We were both planning on having families in the near future (I was pregnant with twins at the time), and we anticipated that the experience of having a family would put a strain on our resources - so we weren't about to sink $20,000 into a record. Our wonderful friends, fans, and colleagues actually made it possible - by buying tickets to the Fly on the Wall event!!
SARA: In the year after recording the album, Maureen and I both gave birth to sets of twins! We think it must have something to do with the fact that our lives have been so closely intertwined for so many years. Now, as a mother, I view "Dawn Chorus" through a new lens. In the first few very difficult months of motherhood, I used to dread the nighttime. Everything seemed harder. I remember the feeling of relief when I would wake up with the babies and finally start to see the first hints of sunlight leaking through the shutters. When I sing "Dawn Chorus" now, I cling to that feeling of hope instead of exhaustion. The feeling that we're given a new chance every day.
MAUREEN: My favorite part of this song and, to me, the most important - is that it has the word "chorus" in the title. Sara and I grew up singing in a church choir. Our roots are in chorus. I love that "Dawn Chorus" starts out the album and it carries on - no matter how old we grow or where life takes us. The music we make together carries on.
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen and watch for yourself below and learn more about the album here