The last few years for the everybodyfields seemed productive enough—the band relocated from Johnson City to Knoxville, the 2007 album Nothing Is Okay slowly earned them recognition from national media outlets like NPR, and they were in the studio last spring and summer working on a new album. They had survived the break-up of singer/songwriters Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews, who had been romantically involved when the band started; much of Nothing Is Okay, in fact, was written after the break-up, when the future of the band was in doubt. It seemed like the hardest days were behind them.
Then, in the summer of 2009, the everybodyfields announced that they were breaking up. It seemed abrupt, even though Andrews and Quinn had both been working on solo projects. But in retrospect maybe the title of their last completed album together was a not-so-subtle hint.
"Jill and I dated for five years," Quinn says. "Right after our first record we broke up, and the band stayed together another five years. There was a lot of stuff going on. Some of the pieces of the puzzle weren't very fun. Jill wanted to do something different, and I wasn't all that happy myself. It wasn't so much because she got married and had a kid. She was just tired of playing stinky little beer halls."
Andrews quickly regrouped; her self-titled solo EP was released last fall. Quinn's taken a more circuitous route to his new album, the fake that sunk a thousand ships, out this week on the everybodyfields' old label, Ramseur Records.
"I've been biding my time, waiting to see if I wanted to do this or go back to school and chase that dream of being an English professor I've always had," he says. "I played about 25 shows last year, which is majorly scaled back from years prior. I just thought I'd take a breather and then get a head start on something else."
On the fake that sunk a thousand ships, recorded in South Knoxville last fall and winter, Quinn is backed by the Japan Ten (Josh Oliver, Megan Gregory, and Brandon Story), a band he's been working with since before the everybodyfields ended. It's a dark, desperate, depressing record, fitting for the circumstances. Quinn's songs, a handful of which date back to the everybodyfields' never-finished last album, recall Whiskeytown—moody, elegant, deliberately paced, with hints of '70s folk. The arrangements are full but spacious, with fiddle, piano, and steel guitar, as well as exquisite but understated harmony vocals. The title is Quinn's idea of a grim joke, playing on the album's downbeat tone. (Capitalization doesn't seem to be a priority for him.)
"I thought I'd get a good laugh," he says. "I made this kind of ridiculous downer of a record and figured it deserved nothing less than a melodramatic title. ‘Let's put a whale on the front!' Okay, I'm down with that."
The months off may have interrupted the momentum of Quinn's career, but the late recognition of the everybodyfields has given him some traction to support the new band and new album. He's got the support of a label (Ramseur released the Avett Brothers' breakthrough album Emotionalism), a big-name publicist, and, most of all, experience.
"One of the good things is having my background," he says. "It's been a lot easier to have that in my back pocket. It's meant some feet in doors. I've been doing a lot of leg work—getting a new van, playing with new folks, lining up tours, changing booking agents, stuff that's not really much fun at all. That's mostly behind me now, and I can start reaping the benefits of this lucrative career playing depressing tunes for people."