Charlie Muench: That’s a good question. The answer isn’t as romantic as your oxen and yoke. It’s a weird thing… How can a bird be stray if it’s free to fly around? Doesn’t make for a great story, honestly (laughs). At first we were going to roll with the May Birds because two of us have birthdays in May, but that ultimately didn’t work out. There’s another band with that name or something…
In regard to our “spirit” animal, it simply has to be the bird because of the whole singing thing and the work we do with vocal harmonies. I wish there was a more dreamy answer for you, but yeah, there it is… (Laughs).
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
Muench: We’ve all played music since we were very young. I’ve been playing bass since I was nine as a member of the public school orchestra. We all have classical music in our background, and then the folk, rootsy stuff around the dinner table. Oliver (Craven) grew up as a piece of the Craven Family Band, which is still very much a touring entity. In 2012 we sort of all just came together to form the Stray Birds. In terms of playing music and having it as a working piece of our lives, it’s always been something that we knew was going to happen in some regard inevitably, but now we’re working hard to assure it remains a fulltime thing.
B&L: You guys have nailed the art of harmonizing vocals. Does that have to do with whole “bird” theme?
Muench: First of all, thanks, that’s really nice. Yeah, singing and working with each other to harmonize our vocals is a very conscious thing. Singing harmonies is all of our favorite thing. Our songs will always have vocal harmonies because of our love of the physical feeling you get when singing together. Maya (de Vitry) and Oliver are the primary songwriters of the band… Once we have the tune written and sort of figured out we then try to flesh out how to piece our voices together in a unique, fun, and memorable way.
B&L: What’s the making of a great show? What do you look or hope for as the folks setting foot on that stage?
Muench: That’s a great question. For me it’s pretty obvious when an audience is engaged in a performance. It doesn’t really matter the size or demographics of the crowd to us, it’s all about how they are engaged and in tune to feeding their own energies into the overall feel of the show. As long as people are loving it and feeling great, that’s all we’re looking to accomplish as a band – a shared, wonderful experience. From festivals to small clubs like the Stone Church, we enjoy the unique challenge that every stage throws at us, and are just hoping that the audience sitting in front of any of them is ready to participate and give back.
B&L: We’re particularly fond of the tune “Best Medicine” which also serves as the name of your latest record. Can you expound a bit on how that song came to be?
Muench: That’s a song Maya wrote. So she could probably speak the most honestly towards it, but I’ll give it my best (laughs). The song deals with the town of Schenectady, New York where a massive GE plant sort of ruled the town for much of its existence. They’re also a huge manufacturer of diesel trains. Both of those pieces have sort of fallen by the wayside and the town certainly feels like it’s suffering for it. In an age where the postmodern re-imagination and redevelopment of these types of properties are concerned, Schenectady hasn’t had any of that happen there yet, and it shows.
We have some friends that live there, and we walked around exploring with them. One of them has a record store there – it’s more than just a record store, there’s a lot of stuff in there – but you know, his dream is just to sell music, and I think that sort of inspiration fueled the tune for sure. Pushing through the downtrodden landscape and doing what you want to do in light of all that… I don’t know. Music is the best medicine to get you through just about anything in life. If you’re ever in that area, go down to Jay Street and meet Kurt – the shop is called The Re-Collector. We actually made our music video for that song there too, so go pay him a visit, and think about us. Check out the video, you get a real feel for all of this…
B&L: Is songwriting a relatively easy thing for the band? How does that process unfold?
Muench: I wouldn’t say it comes easy. Songwriting is a difficult job. It’s a fun job, but it does take a lot of work. What’s nice is having the three of us willing and able to add to the tunes it makes sense to collaborate on. We’re familiar and comfortable enough with each other’s strengths and styles, which in turn feeds the existing trust and respect that has been fostered within the band, enabling us to make each tune we tackle as good as it can be.
B&L: While we’re talking songs, what’s one tune that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written?
Muench: Hmm… Oh, man. Well, I have a particular affinity for John Hiatt’s “Crossing Muddy Waters.” It’s more than just that one song; it’s the entire record. IT’s filled with just these amazing pictures and amazing stories that leaves me wanting to know, ‘what are you talking about, John Hiatt?’ You, know? (Laughs.) ‘What does this mean?’ But I could also list about 50 other ones… That’s just the first that came to mind.
B&L: Has anyone ever tossed birdseed (or anything else of comedic interest) on the stage you were playing?
Muench: (Laughs). No, no birdseed. If that happened we’d probably have to stop and consider what had just happened. I think we might view it as a taunt – in a weird way. We do endure bird puns all day long. Any reference to birds that can be conjured up is thrown our way for sure, but no birdseed. I accept your apology for the inevitably of this event right now. Just don’t get any in the instruments, please (laughs).
B&L: What can folks expect when they come out to see you kick off the inaugural Bright & Lyon show at the Stone Church on April 17th?
Muench: It’s coming right up! Harmony drenched bliss? We all sing around one mic. Multi-instrumental magic all tied together with swirling vocal harmonies? How can sum this up neatly? Make me sound good, will you? We’ll see you soon.
The Stray Birds will be at the Stone Church in Newmarket on Friday, April 17th. Get your tickets here…