For the past few years, Ian Fisher's had something of a routine when returning home to Missouri from his European base. In addition to whatever tour stops he may have in the U.S., there's typically a weekend in St. Louis, with one show in the city proper and another in his hometown of Ste. Genevieve. That was true of his most recent return trip, with a stop at the Watertower Winery in Ste. Gen on Friday and a next-night gig at Off Broadway. The latter was celebrating a pair of album releases, with Fisher's Idle Hands and St. Louis stalwart David Beeman's Music Epiphora both making their official debuts, complete with shared band members bringing the songs to life.
Fisher's connection to Beeman came via the latter's Native Sound Studios, which was involved in the construction of Idle Hands. Really, though, it was just one of many locations that the album was tracked; it was actually a transatlantic affair.
"We recorded the lead vocals, drums, keys and bass live together at Wolves in Sound Studio in East Berlin last May," Fisher says. "We then recorded backing vocals, guitars, pedal steel, horns and strings through the summer and fall of 2017 all over Germany, from Munich to Hamburg and Leipzig to Wuppertal. It was mixed on Cherokee Street at Native Sound Studios by my old friend Ben Majchrzak and mastered across the river by Dan Mehrmann."
The end result mixes Americana and folk traditions with bright pop sensibilities, often driven by piano and incorporating plenty of string arrangements and pedal steel in the mix. Fisher's clear and direct vocals are deployed with a tastefully soft touch, making the whole affair seem to float freely from your speakers and out into space.
The ease with which the music flows belies the amount of work Fisher put into its creation. In addition to an active touring schedule throughout Europe, in particular Germany and Austria, Fisher's never far away from writing a new song. "Prolific" almost doesn't do justice to the amount of tunes Fisher creates, at a pace that well outstrips his ability to release all of them.
"This is my lucky thirteenth album," Fisher says of Idle Hands. "I've written over 1,500 songs, so I would love if I could release an album every month. However, I don't have enough money for that, and I think it would be more annoying for my fans than enjoyable. I don't think there is such a thing as a 'good pace' to release anymore. No one really knows what to do with the music business since streaming came along. I guess the best rule of thumb is to release a lot when people are interested and only release strategically when people aren't."
On different days, Fisher was very direct, if not strident, in his lyrical concerns, which often touch on the problems in contemporary society. Though Fisher is removed from day-to-day life in the U.S., this country's unique qualities still provide him material.
Well-read and well-traveled, he says he continues to grapple with politics — only now he's presenting his ideas in a new light. "More than ever," he says. "I, however, am not so in-your-face about it as I once was. Now, instead of saying blatantly that modern corporate consumer capitalism is the root of most of our problems, I dig that idea out of songs of self-reflection. I say that because I don't point fingers so much at the world around me anymore. I don't do that because I see those problems in myself and realize that if I want the world to change, then I have to be that change first."
He's beginning to garner attention for his work, with a prominent publication already weighing in on the album's title track. Just last week, Rolling Stone included it in its list of ten best country and Americana songs of the week.
"Written and recorded overseas by an American-born ex-pat," Robert Crawford writes, "'Idle Hands' is a slow-moving, soul-streaked pop song about the troubled times that always seem to find the broken-hearted. 'I've been moving earth to get down to hell, to find some work to do,' sings the song's desperate narrator, while a piano pulses in the background. When a string section swirls into the picture during the song's final stretch, the effect is half Americana and half Abbey Road-worthy pop."
It's a response that Fisher says is "an honor, to have such respectful things written about your art by a source that you respect."
With his star ever rising, it certainly won't be the last time that happens.
Examples of Fisher's work, including videos, merchandise and background info on Idle Hands can be found at ianfishersongs.com. Meanwhile, his entire digital catalog can be purchased at ianfisher.bandcamp.com.