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Inside the Warped Americana of F.G.S.

Web Of Influences

The former Odwalla1221 musician turns show tunes and YouTube artifacts into bugged-out country.

By teddy rosen


What does one do after being one half of the most forward thinking, possessed-child-mantra chanting, punch-to-the-face duos of the past ten years? Make some surrealist country western music, of course! At least, that’s what songwriter and visual artist Flannery Silva, formerly of noise-chant expeditionists Odwalla88 (or Odwalla1221) with Chloé Marratta, decided when she embarked on a solo turn under her initials, F.G.S. For those who followed Odwalla’s unforgettable run, Flannery’s sharp left turn into more traditional songwriting is the exact obliteration of expectations you’d have hoped for.

On her forthcoming record, Tinker Bell’s Cough, Silva embodies the role of hypermodern Dorothy wandering towards a strip-mall Oz, Dolly Parton blasting in her AirPods as she makes her way along the yellow concrete sidewalk. Along with multi-instrumentalist Chase Celgie, F.G.S. has created a poignant cartoon world that pairs perfectly with her laser-sharp, imaginative wordplay. The record offers one of the most profound mutations of Nashville glitz and twang I’ve heard this century. “Passions” idles in with its Fisher Price, backyard barbecue groove; “I’m Growing a Cross Around My Neck” is almost certainly the sweetest and most sinister ballad to ever reference Shrek. The most recent single from Tinker Bell’s Cough, “American Shield,” offers a whimsical and fragmentary trip through American Roots music, pedal steel and finger-picked acoustic guitars commingling with oscillating drones and audio from a survivalist YouTuber.

F.G.S. - Passions
F.G.S. - Passions F.G.S.

I recently had the chance to pick Flannery’s brain about the wide-ranging set of influences that inspired her shift to hi-def outsider-country balladry. Turns out she was inspired by everything from her early experiences singing in a ragtag musical troupe to Hank Williams Jr.

What was the first album or song you remember making a big impression on you artistically?

Flannery Silva: I saw Follies on Broadway when I was 20 and witnessed Bernadette Peters sing “Losing My Mind,” one of Stephen Sondheim’s greatest songs. Bernadette’s husband had tragically died six years prior and it was one of the most romantic and heartbreaking performances I’ve ever seen.

I became obsessed with the song and later performed a cover version with a karaoke instrumental as a backing track at a show in Baltimore. When I was working on my last album with my collaborator, Chase Ceglie, he knew and loved the song too, and we often returned to it as a reference. I love that the lyrics are simple but leave you gutted—paired with the dramatic orchestral moments.

Who is someone who helped you develop as an artist?

Chase taught me a lot about how to write in a more pop-structured way. I didn’t really understand verse and chorus and traditional order until he articulated it to me. It helped me formulate my fragmented bits of writing into more cohesive ideas and the songs started coming out of me very quickly. Using the structure and disrupting the structure has been fun.

Who is an artist that you feel is a touchstone for the music you make now?

Liz Phair’s Girly-Sound tapes have always been seminal for me. I love her crass sense of humor mixed with an earnest tenderness. She’s really good at role-playing in her storytelling—playing the dude character and then switching to the Liz character. Her songs feel like she’s driving cross-country.

The first song I ever performed a cover of was her original version of “Flower.” My friend Filip Olszewski made a midi version of the song for the backing track and I performed it while standing in 5th position (ballet). I worked with a vocal coach in preparation for the performance so I could get my breath right.

Is there an artist or album that has recently made a big impression on you?

I heard “A Song for You” by Leon Russell for the first time ever recently. A timeless and relatable classic, no wonder so many people have covered it. It feels like it belongs in A Star Is Born. It makes me so sad.

Who would be your ultimate dream collaborator?

My fantasy is a duet with Hank Williams Jr. We would sing his song, “The Blues Man.” I’d sing the part where he goes, “Hey baby, I love you. Hey baby, I need you. Hey baby, you ain't got to prove to me you're some kind of macho man…”We would perform it at the Grand Ole Opry and I’d be sitting on his lap.

Were there any subcultures/scenes that you were into when you were younger?

When I was in Junior High I saw a production of Hair that was performed by a community theater group of high school kids from different towns. They were like, actually hippies and all of them were really good at singing. It didn’t feel like quintessential theater kids - it was kind of a motley crew. I auditioned for their production of Godspell by singing “Everything’s Alright” from Jesus Christ Superstar.

We all became family. I did a couple musicals with them as well as a cabaret where I sang “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” by Randy Newman. I was so emo.

Who was the first person in the music world who you put you on?

When my bff Chloé Maratta and I were making music as Odwalla1221 we were sort of ushered into the LA music scene by Dean Spunt of No Age and B Fowler of Barr. They were both huge supporters of us—releasing our albums and including us whenever possible. That was definitely formative for the support I still feel today.

John Chiaverina (formerly JUICEBOXXX, currently RustBelt) was always a big supporter during the Odwalla years—also releasing our music and putting us on. When I was working on my record for F.G.S. he was one of the first people I shared my demos with. He has been a huge cheerleader for my new music and has given me the confidence and encouragement to release it into the world.

What scene, if any, do you feel like a part of now? Who do you see as your peers?

My scene is my best friends. They’re all extremely talented and help me realize my vision. I don’t like making things without them. Chloé Maratta—creator of the jewelry brand Chloe and renowned graphic designer. Kelly Infield—creative director genius and prop princess. Angelina Vitto—expert costumer and reference head. Van Robinson, custom finish carpenter, engineer, and video guy.

Who is an artist working today that you see as kindred in spirit artistically?

I love Sam Buck. His EP Out of Control is timeless, I’m always returning to it especially when I’m driving on the I-5. He’s sexy and he knows how to write a banger. I want to do a duet with him that sounds like “Leather and Lace” by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley.

I have my own thoughts but I wanted to know if in your opinion there is an overarching narrative to the record or a central character or an avatar for yourself that you’d like listeners to be clued in on?

Many of the characters I’m referencing have been with me for a long time—characters from pop culture or film or literature that I’ve used as vehicles to explore autobiographical elements throughout my practice. It’s an amalgamation of sentiments and personalities and direct quotes, ranging from Luanne Platter to King of the Hill to Beth March from Little Women

A lot of the lyrics on Tinker Bell’s Cough are reworked writings from something I wrote for my website in 2013 called “My Monologue” (that page has since been deleted) that was full of footnotes from references like “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor, The Little House on the Prairie TV show, and Friday Night Lights. At that time I transcribed the YouTube closed captions from episodes of The Little House TV show. They were often incorrect translations and yielded perfect poetry. The lyric “I wish I had a classroom full of good” from “I’m Growing A Cross Around My Neck” is a product of that.

I love the way you juxtapose traditional acoustic sound with what sound like software instruments or heavily processed acoustic instruments, in particular on the title track and “American Shield.” What goes into your sonic decision-making process?

F.G.S. - American Shield
F.G.S. - American ShieldF.G.S.

The instrumentals are produced and performed by my collaborator on the record, Chase Ceglie. We worked on the melodies and arrangements together and he plays all the live instrumentation as well as the sprinkled manipulated software sounds throughout.

Before we started working on each song I’d send a list of song references as well as visual mood boards to get the feeling right. I wanted to finesse the spoken word/interlude moments throughout the record so we often returned to songs like “Why Should I Love You?” By Kate Bush and “What it’s Like” by Arthur Russell. There are audio samples throughout the record ripped from my favorite YouTube channel—it’s run by a survivalist woman living in the south.

I love the quality of karaoke backing tracks and it’s something I’ve used in the past when covering songs, so that was a reference I often returned to as inspiration. I wanted the record to have a tinge of a musical feel—genres and main characters converging.

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