Floyd Thursby’s new album The Fuller’s Field is a collection of songs from the long dark days of Melbourne’s lockdowns, featuring a number of self-produced recordings and remote collaborations with artists from Vietnam, Indonesia and the US.
During lockdown bike rides were a key reason for him to escape confinement at home. The title track was inspired by Fawkner Cemetery’s new Northern Memorial Park, with its mostly empty fields stretching away from where the Upfield bike path meets the Ring Road. Those fields are awaiting new burials but during the dark days of the pandemic it seemed like a sea of unmarked graves. Floyd takes Hi Fi Way through The Fuller’s Field track by track.
The Fuller’s Field
This song came from, literally, a very particular viewpoint: over Fawkner Cemetery’s Northern Memorial Park, stretching away from where the Upfield bike path meets the Ring Road. I did a lot of riding during lockdowns and this area was an interesting discovery. It’s a new cemetery with a lot of empty space and something about that was even more unsettling than older more rundown graveyards.
A ‘fuller’s field’ (also ‘potter’s field’) is a Biblical term for a pauper’s burial ground (Isiah 36:2; 2 Kings 18:17). A fuller is someone who cleans and whitens cloth using clay known as fullers’ earth. The field from where that clay was mined, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, was later used as a burial ground so that the souls of the poor, like the cloth of the fullers, might be cleansed and purified.
In the last 50 seconds, the piano is doubled with a second track that plays the same figure but a few BPMs slower. This was inspired by the tempo fugues of Conlon Nancarrow, an avant garde composer who has always fascinated me. I used the same tempo variation technique on my score for the dear departed Cris Jones’ feature film The Death and Life of Otto Bloom.
This song was written in Porto, Portugal back in 2018 whilst I was on a long trip that took me from Iceland to Iran. I had been invited to a wedding in Wales by good friends. I couldn’t attend but I decided to write a song for the couple instead. Exploring cities on foot is one of my greatest loves so I thought it apt as an image for romance in this lyric. I’m hugely grateful to Los Angeles’ producer Rob Kleiner for his work on this song – he’s given it just the right amount of sweetness and light.
This is a home recording – when Melbourne’s lockdown laws were at their strictest there was no other option as leaving the home to go to a studio was forbidden. It comes out of a dark place – mid-2021 – by which time lockdowns were starting to have a toll on my mind and my sleeping patterns.
I wanted to create something about leaving town and just driving, going nowhere in particular. I had a clear image of trees passing the windows of the car, silhouetted against a grey day.
I used overdriven timpani samples during the chorus as an act of deliberate perversity: they seem obviously inappropriate to me, whch is why I like them there. I had recently been singing a lot of Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee which starts in Baton Rouge, and I think that’s why Ragged Star ends there. The Louisiana setting reminded me in turn of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces which inspired the ‘parliament of fools’ from which the singer escapes.
Fahrenheit is a deliberately mysterious and obscure lyric – I don’t know exactly what Fahrenheit is here but I know I like it. This song was the first time I worked with Rob Kleiner and he perfectly captured the atmosphere I was going for.
Another person who had a big input to this song is Marty Brown from Art of Fighting. He has produced a number of my albums and it is his drum work featured on the song, as well as his idea to add that rhythmic delay to the keys as a central motif.
When I meet Jesus
Another home recording (and a mono recording – one mic, one take) recorded on my Gallato Angelo DeBarre model manouche guitar that I use when playing with my gypsy jazz group La Mauvaise Réputation. I’ve always been a fan of the Mills Brothers so you can blame them for my human trumpet solo before the key change. A friend took me to a prosperity gospel evangelical church service once – an enormous auditorium full of beautiful people, with charismatic orators and a big, professional-sounding live band on stage. This song was the result.
Seven Greetings is ultimately about farewells, and about yearning for freedom – not the only song I wrote about that topic during the lockdowns. It was indirectly inspired by John Eliot Gardiner’s wondrous recording of Percy Grainger’s interpretation of the traditional sea-shanty Shallow Brown where the orchestra conjures up the ocean to glorious effect. That, and the lush string arrangements for 50s and 60s crooners like Andy Williams.
For the second verse I had written an ostinato figure on flutes to evoke the birds ‘wheeling circles in the setting sun’ but it was too busy so I condensed the figure into a cluster chord and sent it through a Leslie cabinet emulator to get a shimmering effect I quite like.
I was lucky enough to have film composer Thomas E Rouch take my orchestral arrangement and do some expert samples programming to bring it to life.
Đóa Hồn Say
My previous album The South Lands – a bilingual collaboration with Vietnamese singer-songwriter Mademoiselle – had given me a following in that country so I wanted to challenge myself to try and sing a whole song in Vietnamese.
I gave the lyrics to Fahrenheit to Yen, a Hanoi-based poet introduced to me by a friend. Working with her on the translation of the song was a fascinating process that taught me a lot about Vietnamese culture and particularly about the Thơ Mới poetry movement of 1930s Vietnam, which influenced the style she used for the translation. Having to fit the melody of the song to the tones of the Vietnamese language was also particularly interesting.
I then spent months taking lessons on Vietnamese pronunciation from Hanoi beatboxer TuanSS – all done remotely by videolink. For the recording session I had Tuan on videolink in the vocal booth during the recording session providing feedback on my accent.
Just as the word ‘Fahrenheit’ acts as a cypher in that lyric, the phrase ‘Đóa Hồn Say’ is obscure and difficult to translate but can be approximated as ‘drunken soul’ or ‘drunken flower’.