Fellow Hollow explores the strangeness and commonality of grief

Joel Oliphint

“When our friends die, I think that we will, too/We’ll make them new and put them online,” Andrew Gavin Williams sings on “Where Can I Buy Fresh Berries at Night?” — one of the first songs he wrote in 2017 with Fellow Hollow bandmate Luke Elliot Fleeman for the local indie-folk duo’s just-released album, Violet Paper Wings (Diversion Records).

The record is a beautiful meditation on and exploration of grief, and “Fresh Berries” came in response to a story about an unconventional approach to grieving, in which a woman used artificial intelligence and a digital cache of text messages to create a bot version of her best friend after he died. It’s a bizarre, haunting concept, and one Williams used to illustrate how strange grief can look from an outsider’s perspective.

“Fresh Berries” and another early track, “Blue” set the tone for the rest of the album. The latter grew from a bit of prose written by Williams’ sister-in-law, Julia Kindall, who used a mosaic of images (a blue moon, paint chips, rabbits) to wrestle with the loss of a family member. “Every gloom I ever knew/Gnaws at my skin and rips up the glue,” Williams sings, his voice layered in gorgeous harmonies. It ends on a hopeful note: “I’m not so alone.”

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While the songs on Violet Paper Wings were written prior to the widespread struggles that seemed to come prepackaged with 2020, the album’s thematic through line has taken on added weight in present times. “Some of the songs became more poignant in the season it’s being released now, because there’s a lot more common grieving happening in pretty much every community. A lot of people are experiencing real loss,” said Williams, who also has written and performed in Deadwood Floats. “That’s what I tend to write about a lot.”

For the songs on Fellow Hollow’s debut EP from 2016, Fleeman usually brought a mostly finished guitar framework, which Williams would flesh out with lyrics and melodies. But on Violet Paper Wings, Williams would sometimes write songs from scratch using keyboard and synthesizer, which gave the album a fuller, more lush sound compared to the straightforward, singer-songwriter vibe of the EP.

Fellow Hollow finished most of the recording by the end of 2019, laying down live drums and piano with Andrew Dodson at Relay Recording. The sonic scope of the album widened even more in the hands of Glenn Davis during the mixing process.

"Glenn really made it even more lush than it deserved to sound based on the stuff I sent him,” Williams said. “All my preliminary mixes that I worked on are pretty dry and pretty safe, and he made some really specific sonic choices that made it so much more interesting. I just love the play between the acoustic guitar and live drums and the electronic drums and synthesizers. He blended those two worlds together, and they jelled so nicely.”

Pipe organ-like drones anchor the appropriately titled closing track, “Hymn,” which Williams wrote in response to his distaste for celebratory songs about hometowns and home states, along with his frustration with geography and politics in the early days of the Trump era. “I don’t think I’ll ever write a love song to Ohio,” Williams sings, though he admits the statement isn’t quite that simple.

“When you first hear it, on its face, it almost seems like it lacks any sort of nuance or understanding of nuance,” he said. “But it’s supposed to be a little bit cheeky. It’s like, ‘You’re protesting a little too much.’ And it ends up being a love song.”

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Andrew Gavin Williams (left) and Luke Elliot Fleeman of Fellow Hollow