Metro Detroit's folktronica duo Bird Fight channels Head and the Heart on debut EP

Feb 12, 2021 at 4:55 pm
click to enlarge Metro Detroit's folktronica duo Bird Fight channels Head and the Heart on debut EP
Courtesy of artist

Folktronica fans and lovers of Head and the Heart, Of Monsters and Men, and Gregory Alan Isakov might have a feathered friend in metro Detroit's Bird Fight.

After years of collecting dust, the words of singer-songwriter Christian Ohly and sounds of producer John Katona have been realized on Hugshake, the pair's first EP as Bird Fight.

The five-song EP, which swells with relatable — yet deeply personal — lyrics about doubt, togetherness, and other rich imagery against a painterly electronic landscape, came together during the pandemic but had existed, in some form or another, long before. Katona had composed much of the EP nearly a decade ago using instruments and percussive objects (pens, mugs, and cigar cutters, to name a few) but was hesitant to release the project as he hadn't found the right vocalist for the project.

Cut to 2015, when Katona and Ohly end up in the same prayer group — which is when Ohly's musical world was cracked open a bit wider and Katona met the missing piece to his compositions.

“He introduced me to recording music, and has helped with my songwriting ability, and also led me to people who've made a huge impact on my music,” Ohly says. “Though John's array of music interest is broader than mine, we have a very similar taste. It's often that we'll both have the same favorite song on an album, or even the same favorite section/lyric of our favorite song, which makes writing vocals with him pretty fun.”

The songs that would become the duo's Hugshake EP wouldn't become fully formed until 2017 when Ohly revisited Katona's compositions and began experimenting with vocal takes, running vocals through guitar pedals and tube amps to achieve what Ohly describes as “a unique organic sound” to pair with the organic music samples. The music, all recorded pre-pandemic, sat untouched until the pandemic, which is when Katona and Ohly began collaborating on mixing and editing through email. When the pandemic eased up last summer, the two added some synth looping and recorded a few performance videos.

“We're really looking forward to the day we can play these songs live,” Ohly says.

Ohly cites Thom Yorke, Ben Gibbard, Peter Silberman of the Antlers, and the Avett Brothers as being vocal inspirations for this project, as well as his solo work, which he performs under his last name. And, as for the most story-driven track, “We Don't Speak,” Ohly channeled another local musician who has been known for making personal folk tunes.

“Those were some of the first lyrics I wrote,” Ohly says of “We Don't Speak.” I was listening to a lot of Frontier Ruckus and wanted to be as upfront and detailed as I could, similar to how Matt Milia does it.”

Ohly says the song was spun from reflecting on doubt after having moved away from close friends who had appeared to also be moving on. To come to terms with these feelings, Ohly turned to memories shared with those people, including a trip to The Basin in New Hampshire, famously lauded by Henry David Thoreau as “perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.”

“I honestly didn't come to terms with the fact that life has stages, and different people are in different stages, and that is OK, until recently,” he says. “I used to get a lot of anxiety thinking about that, and saying it out loud I'm not sure why? Good friends will always stick around in one way or another, and I'm thankful to finally be at peace with that sentiment.”

As for the EP, which was admittedly cathartic for both Katona and Ohly, Bird Fight hopes that listeners take a moment to interpret and relate to Hugshake in their own way.

“The lyrics are about personal things to us, but I think they're displaying the same feeling many others are going through with the strange year we've had. There are highs and lows that the lyrics and music cohesively construct. I hope listeners will turn to it during their highs and lows and, in some way, remember we're in this together.”

Hugshake is out now on all streaming platforms.

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