Digital let-down

Megafaun’s Phil Cook talks about the state of modern music and his band’s place within it.

Megafaun; Joe Westerlund, Brad Cook, Phil Cook, photographed in Durham, N.C., June 15, 2011.

Photo courtesy Megafaun

Megafaun; Joe Westerlund, Brad Cook, Phil Cook, photographed in Durham, N.C., June 15, 2011.

by Griffin Fillipitch

What: Megafaun

When: March 24, doors open at 8 p.m.

Where: Turf Club, 1601 W. University Ave., St. Paul

Cost: $15


   “Freak-folk” has all of the connotations and trappings that come with any one of the many almost-too-clever music subgenres of the past few years. And like “glo-fi,” “hash-tag rap” and “nu gaze,” it definitely was not invented or applied by the musicians themselves. Especially not Megafaun, the three-piece North Carolina-based band that will perform this Saturday at the Turf Club in St. Paul as part of what may be their last American tour for some time. Megafaun is often branded with the freak-folk scarlet letter.

It’s clear that Phil Cook, the group’s keyboardist and vocalist, doesn’t confine the way he thinks of his band to any one genre —especially one so recently contrived.

“The journey of trying to sift through the endless pile of what there is to discover in music is really humbling,” Cook said. “You can feel small and insignificant real quick. We’re just one of millions and millions of artists to pass through. The tour van is like a museum for us. We’re all showing each other music and listening, digesting stuff. How it comes out the other side is what we don’t think about.”

It might be hard to believe that it all comes completely naturally, considering that Megafaun weaves in and out of so many genres and sounds. They do tend toward the traditional and organic feel of classic folk, but there’s much more to them. The opener on their most recent, self-titled release, “Real Slow,” is an easy-going, guitar-driven stomp with a southern tinge. The next song begins with the sound of electronic glitches and a dissonant keyboard.

Megafaun recently finished a European tour and plan to return for another.

“In America, touring and popularity can be kind of fickle. You don’t know what’s gonna happen each time you go on a U.S. tour. In a place like Minneapolis, you can play the Triple Rock and have a great show. Then the next time you come back and you play the Whole Music Club and four people show up.”

Cook feels this uncertainty about Megafaun’s existence in the industry in general, not just the U.S.

“There’s nothing predictable about anything in the music business. It’s changed so drastically,” Cook said. “Critics are just scrambling to document what the hell is happening, and chart the meaning of it all. And now it’s become this subverted triangle where critics are at the top for some weird-ass reason. It’s so easy for people to stand with whatever megaphone they think they have and say, ‘This is what is valid right now that you should listen to and pay attention to.’ It’s no wonder that it happens for five minutes and then it’s gone. It’s because the whole format is [expletive] up.”

Megafaun’s growth is important to Cook, but only if it comes the way they want it to.

“We’re the kind of band where, even though we get coverage, we’re never gonna blow up or be a huge hype band, which is a blessing in every way possible,” Cook said. “It’s like lighting a match that becomes a huge flame that can go out just as quickly.”

Megafaun was formed after the dissolution of DeYarmond Edison, which also included Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, in 2006. Watching their old friend and bandmate blow up and receive mainstream attention has been strange for Cook and the rest of Megafaun.

“It’s all about timing. It comes down to timing and coincidence. I think Justin’s an amazing example of it,” Cook said. “Because of how honest and real the sentiment was when he came out with that music, the timing was right for it to radiate through people no matter what. But still, it’s not about talent. We all know people that should be more famous than they are, we all know people that shouldn’t be as famous as they are. I think that with Justin, it’s pretty awesome to see that timing and coincidence just map itself out right in this day and age.”

It’s difficult to tell exactly how they feel about Megafaun’s association with Vernon and Bon Iver. They are at least a little sick of hearing about it, but also have an understanding and patience that some might not have.

“Our story, by now, is attached to the coattails of Justin’s story, and Justin’s story isn’t necessarily attached to the coattails of ours,” Cook said. “His story definitely couldn’t happen in reality without ours, but people don’t necessarily think of Megafaun when they think of Bon Iver.”