Name: Adam Bernard Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States About Me: Entertainment journalist with 20 years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, and B-movies. Part time ninja. Kicked cancer’s ass. My memoir, ChemBro, is out now!
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During Fife & Drom’s infancy as a band they were performing on an especially frigid night in NYC. Their brand of blues brought people out, bundled up for the weather. What the band remembers most from the evening, however, was what one person wasn’t wearing.
“There was a huge blizzard outside,” Fife & Drom singer Abby Ahmad recalls, “It completely incapacitated the city, but of course New Yorkers come out and drink when there’s a blizzard. We were playing for hours and hours, and there was this girl who really, I guess, felt at home in our communal blues family, and decided to sit down and start playing the piano, and then proceeded to take her top off.”
Mark Marshall, who plays guitar in the band, and is Ahmad’s husband, adds the topless pianist did one other thing that night, “She drank the band’s beer. We had a pitcher of beer for the band, and she proceeded to, as we were playing, refill her glass with it.”
It was a wild scene, and one that reiterated something Ahmad, Marshall, and the rest of the band (Adam Minkoff on bass and backup vocals, Sean Dixon on drums, Jackson Kincheloe on harmonica) were beginning to realize. “The blues,” Marshall explains, “is a lot more universal than we thought.”
When Marshall and Ahmad began their blues journey they had some reservations regarding who they’d reach. “When we started doing it we didn’t really know what to expect,” Marshall remembers, “We thought that maybe people considered the blues outdated, and we weren't going to get a very big crowd, and maybe they weren’t going to be very diverse.” Those concerns, he notes, were quickly quelled by local audiences. “Since we’ve been doing it, in New York specifically, we’ve been finding every age group, and all different walks of life, really connecting to the blues.”
Fife & Drom began as a creative outlet for Marshall, Ahmad, and a few of their friends, all of whom had been working, and touring, as members of other projects. Ahmad remembers, “We created this night called Blues on Tues, which we tried to do at least monthly, it not twice a month, where we would get together and play some of the great blues music, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf.”
All the money from the shows went to charity, as Ahmad notes the events were “really just an excuse to get together and lighten the atmosphere a bit, because when you’re a self-promoting, self-fulfilling, musician in New York City you can take things a little too seriously sometimes.”
Ironically, things became serious when the band realized how much they were enjoying these nights, and how well they were working together. Ahmad remembers, “We found this really organic chemistry. Mark and I had been playing together for almost seven years at that point, and we had never had a means to creatively collaborate in terms of writing. Through this new blues atmosphere we started writing songs together, and that’s how Fife & Drom began.”
The name Fife & Drom is derived from a combination of paying homage to some of the early pioneers of southern blues, who performed a style called fife and drum, and the Dutch word “drom,” which translates to a group of people moving together with a purpose.
Fife & Drom released their debut album, Introducing Fife & Drom, last month, and one of their goals was to capture the immediacy of the genre. Marshall explains that when it comes to the blues greats of the past, “I think at the time all those people were making records they weren’t sitting around for a month deliberating various takes, and splicing takes together. It was really just a moment. It was a photograph in time.”
This was the ideology the band took into the studio with them when recording Introducing Fife & Drom. For the album’s first song, “Wicked Tongue,” the recording process lasted a grand total of two takes.
Ahmad, who is also an accomplished singer-songwriter, notes that her writing style also changed for the project, saying, “For me it was definitely a lyrical tangent because I was writing third person style for the first time in my whole life, which was pretty cool to not make it such an individualized experience.” She adds that although the style differs from her work as a singer-songwriter, “It was still harnessing that same emotional depth, and intensity.”
All of this has led to a deeper connection with audiences, as Ahmad explains, “It’s kind of relating in a way that’s really universal, which I think that we found audiences really react, and get excited, about, because they can make it pertain to their life a little more accessibly.”
While Fife & Drom is at the forefront of what Ahmad and Marshall are working on now, Ahmad says working with the group has also inspired her to write for a new solo project. “Art is so beautiful that way,” she explains, “It doesn’t matter if you veer path, it continues to forge the creativity inside you, and make you more connected. It’s pretty cool, actually.”
Right now that connection is to the blues, and the occasional topless beer thief, as Fife & Drom continue to explore the universality of an underrepresented genre.