The Roots of Fort Frances
by J. Scott Bugher
There's something romantic about the road. And by the road I mean the queue of madness a lot of musicians stumble into. When a musician chases a career in music, the road is inevitable; it's a requirement of the industry. When a record label or booking agency or management firm takes interest in an artist, they want to know about their history on the road to make sure there is a true commitment made by the artist. In other words, the potential and success of an artist can be measured in mileage. Although the road can be fun, it's work, and our bodies and psyches can only take so much at a time.
"It was just me and an old Volvo," says singer-songwriter David McMillin on his career prior to the development of his band Fort Frances. McMillin was alone on the road for two and a half years making a name for himself. "It was a blast. I got to open for and meet several of my favorite singer-songwriters including Shelby Lynne." It was a good couple of years for McMillin, but there was a downside. "It can be difficult alone."
The most difficult aspect of life on the road is maintaining your health both mentally and physically. McMillin reached a breaking point at a Chicago airport. "I returned to Chicago completely worn out after
How to Turn Back Again
An Acoustic Performance
playing a show with Third Eye Blind in Aspen." McMillan passed out at the airport's baggage claim area. "All I know is I woke up with an ambulance waiting on me." McMillan told the paramedics two things: "Where's my guitar?" and "Don't take me to the hospital!" Most musicians can empathize with these statements. A musician cares very much for their instrument and, more often than not, a musician does not have the most ample health care coverage.
At that point, McMillin reevaluated his situations in both life and his career. He had a desire to do things better for the sake of his well-being. The first step was to stop doing things alone, and that was solved almost by accident. While making his third solo record, he met drummer Aaron Kiser, who McMillin got to play on the record. In the studio, he met Jeff Piper, the session's sound engineer, who wound up playing bass. As the three worked together David's solo act turned into a full band effort. "The songs evolved from me and a guitar into more of a full band type of sound. It just sort of happened. And, ultimately, it was good. I was at a point in my life where I felt good about doing something different." The result of David's third record was the album The Atlas by Fort Frances.
The collaborative process of record-making flowed over into the band's second record, Harbour. Each member played an important role in making the record. McMillin remained the primary songwriter of the band, Kiser played drums and did the artwork for the album, and Piper played bass and engineered the record. "It was very democratic and collaborative." The members of Fort Frances all participated in the production and arrangements of the music. Instead of tracking the record in Maine, where they did The Atlas with producer Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Langhorne Slim), they recorded Harbour in their hometown Chicago and produced it themselves. "It was nice to be home on our own for Harbour. It made things feel like we had more ownership over the record."
The rest of 2013 is looking good for Fort Frances. They are working on a new 7" for October on top of another project due to release in early 2014. "I'm starting to realize I want to be steadily releasing music." And that's the strategy Fort Frances plans to maintain. "With the way people buy and listen to music now (a few songs at a time), there's no need to pressure ourselves into making 12-song records. I'd rather put out a handful of five songs or so at a time." On top of the new upcoming releases, Fort Frances has tours lined up for summer and fall 2013. To keep up with and find where they will be playing near you, visit www.fortfrancesmusic.com.