David Lamb started the band in 2003. By the time MorganEve Swain met him on tour in '08, while a member of another band, Brown Bird had already gone through a few lineup changes. It wasn't long before the two decided to stay together.
"We realized very quickly that, musically, we worked together," Swain said during a recent phone interview. "As we got to know each other, we realized we hold a lot of the same beliefs and listen to a lot of the same kind of music."
Sonically, their first record together, 2011's Salt For Salt, is steeped in backwater folk and blues. It's an effort that caught the attention of National Public Radio, which named it one of the best folk albums of 2011. Problem is, Lamb and Swain don't think of themselves as a folk act.
Lamb's upfront acoustic guitar and foot percussion, along with Swain's violin, cello and upright bass, make such comparisons seem natural.
Nonetheless, "We got tired of being called a folk band," Swain said. "We never really thought of ourselves that way in the first place."
Fans may be surprised when they hear Fits of Reason, the new album due out April 2 on Supply & Demand Music. The biggest change? Brown Bird has gone electric for this set. Lamb is playing electric guitar now and Swain has added electric bass to her arsenal, though the upright is still very much part of the mix.
It's just a better fit to who they are. Turns out the music that initially connected Lamb and Swain includes '60s and '70s international psych-rock and even stoner and doom metal.
"We hear that in our music," Swain said. "I don't know how many others do." Brown Bird already displayed their new amplified sound at the legendary Newport Folk Festival, in their home state of Rhode Island, last year. It didn't prove to be nearly as controversial as a certain famous troubadour's performance there in 1965. If that seems like too much mercuriality for one band, other aspects of Brown Bird look to stay the same, at least for now. One of which is that Lamb and Swain plan to remain a duo.
"We made a conscious decision to strip it down to just the two of us," Swain said. Aside from having multiple instruments they could utilize on their own, there were previous band members who didn't even dwell in Rhode Island, while Lamb and Swain live together.
"The two of us were always writing and bringing it to the rest of the band," Swain said. "During the process we'd often think, 'This already sounds good the way it is. I don't hear so-and-so's instrument.' We realized the writing process was a lot easier with just the two of us. We definitely don't feel like it's holding us back in any way. It also makes touring a lot easier too."
As well, much of the scorched earth soul-searching on Salt For Salt carries over to Fits of Reason. On Salt For Salt's "Bilgewater," Lamb sings,
"When every day is like a war
You find no strength from your usual source
There's no peace, there's no rest
Your fortitude is feeling put to the test
When everyday is like a war between the will to go on
And a wish that the world would spiral into the sun
Turn your head toward the storm that's surely coming along."
Lamb is Brown Bird's chief songwriter. He cites writers like Plato and Christopher Hitchens as inspiration, but it's also his upbringing in Illinois - as the son of a preacher - - that influences his lyrics. Swain said he left the church after graduating high school. "He realized the beliefs they were teaching weren't the ones he held," she said. "That's paved a way for him as far as what he's attracted to lyrically and spiritually. He's always researching stuff like that and learning about different religions and cultures - - how our stories weave together in different belief systems."
A lot of the motifs permeating Salt For Salt are also on the new record, but, "I don't think it's as apocalyptic," Swain said. "A lot of those themes are a running thing with us."
She adds those who swoon over Brown Bird's existing discography shouldn't fret over the new direction undertaken on Fits of Reason.
"I don't think it's so drastic that it doesn't sound like Brown Bird anymore," Swain said. "It's definitely in the same vein as Salt for Salt. We just hope it features more of our other influences. It's more of an evolution than a departure."