If nothing else, 2021 has offered a fresh start from the trials that 2020 presented. There’s better times in the not so distant future, and instead of dwelling on those trials, Simon Flory shifted his focus towards love and positivity on his newest album, Haul These Blues Away.
Release at the end of February, Haul These Blues Away features a largely folky, bluegrass feel, something the Indiana native says is less of a sonic departure, but instead a truer representation of himself and his live performances. From the opening of the album’s first track (and also its lead single) “Peter Mack Built a Semi-Truck” to the closing of “Spanish Fandango,” an instrumental tune that was one of his first learned on the banjo, the album’s sparse instrumentation allow Flory’s stories to shine.
We chatted with Flory about his sonic approach to Haul These Blues Away, many of the songs on it, the encouraging response the album has received, his positive outlook on 2021 and more!
Pro Country: Your new album, Haul These Blues Away, features more a largely acoustic, singer/songwriter, and at times, bluegrass feel than either of your previous full-length albums, and sonically follows your last EP, Songs From Paper Thin Lines. Can you talk about taking that sonic step with your newest releases and why you felt it was right for you?
Simon Flory: Haul These Blues Away is less of a departure as it is a true representation of my musical experiences, influences and live sound. While I listen to a wide variety of music styles, and have even tried to create music infusing a mixture of those styles, my lifelong love and understanding of acoustic folk, country and bluegrass inform how I write and play.
PC: The title of your newest album, Haul These Blues Away comes from a line in the opening track, “Peter Mack Built a Semi Truck.” What was it about that line that you felt encapsulated the album and drew you to make it the title?
SF: Haul These Blues Away could be my ethos coming out of 2020 to start anew this year. With the release of the record, after so much heartache and loss, I wanted to focus on the positive messages found in this collection of songs. Each one tells a story of pain or strife, but also of redemption and strength through the power of human relationships and resilience.
PC: What went into the decision to release “Peter Mack Built a Semi Truck” as the lead single from Haul These Blues Away?
SF: “Peter Mack” was a simple choice as a lead single; it encompasses the album’s themes of resiliency and human struggle, and leaves the listener hopeful in the power of love. Having someone “standing next to” you can be interpreted in many ways. That someone who could be on the other end of a video call or across the fence, six feet away or even in your bed, they are all there in love. They can take your troubles away like no truck or train or song or any brand of bourbon can.
PC: “Walking Stick” is the only duet on Haul These Blues Away, and features Daisy O’Connor. How did Daisy get involved with the song, and why did you feel she was the right voice to join you on the song?
SF: Daisy O’Connor and I wrote “Walking Stick” in the Chihuahuan Desert around Terlingua, TX while on tour together in 2018. We wrote it in one afternoon overlooking the border with Mexico, the sorrow we felt about the construction of the border wall and the policy of placing refugee children in cages weighed heavily on us (as it still does today), yet we spoke of love having rescued us in our darkest times. We wanted to write our own stories into the allegorical tale of a walking stick (Daisy had one on her door all weekend!) who persevered through the worst to try and make it home, which is wherever love resides.
PC: “Atoka” is our favorite song on Haul These Blues Away, and is a song that features a more singer/songwriter, James Taylor-esque sound than the rest of the album. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
SF: Thank You! Being a part of the Texas songwriter community has really expanded my scope of writing and expression through guitar and banjo playing. I could never have written that song without spending a decade travelling extensively throughout the state and hearing the incredible artists that live here. I was already a fan of Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Steve Young, Hayes Carll and Rodney Crowell (to name a few) before I got to Texas, but really fell in love with the great tradition of songwriting when I started meeting and playing alongside folks like James Steinle, Noel McKay, Brennen Leigh, Vincent Neil Emerson and Mando Saenz (to name a few). As for the lyrical content of the song, we’re all just trying to get home.
PC: “Have Your Adventure” is a song that drew inspiration from your late Granny’s mantra and encourages resiliency, having a free spirit and maintaining a sense of adventure. Would you say recording the song was a message to yourself in any way? And given the current global circumstances over the last year and a half or so, has the song taken on a deeper meaning?
SF: I’ve lived and learned so much from my late Granny’s words. This one sure has been a favorite since her passing a decade ago. Through personal tragedy, loss and the continuing degradation of civility in America, topped only by a global pandemic, I’ve learned that you can only try. Trying is what she was talking about, because that’s what she knew. Born during our last pandemic in 1918, raised in the Depression, multiple wars and the loss of my grandfather in a farm accident, she stayed on the farm until her adventure ended, and never stopped trying.
PC: “Spanish Fandango” is an instrumental track that closes Haul These Blues Away. Why did you decide to include an instrumental on the album and have it serve as the closing track?
SF: “Spanish Fandango” holds a special place in my musical journey. It was one of the first songs I learned on banjo from my mentor Ed Tverdek at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. I was young and green and trying to play everything faster and harder, trying to live faster as well, and paying the price. I was tired. Ed kept urging me to play the song slower and start to really listen as I played, and it worked. It’s now been a song of solace for me, and I wanted to share that sense of peace with folks who listen to this record.
PC: Since its release, you’ve posted a handful of positive press and fan responses to Haul These Blues Away to your social media channels. How encouraging has the response to the album been in the two months following its release?
SF: The response to the record has been nice. I appreciate those who’ve taken the time and virtual space to write about the record, not only to spread the word and promote the project, but to interpret the songs in their own voices. Self-promoting is a very difficult part of being an independent artist. I took some much-needed time away from social media in 2020, focusing on connecting with my community instead of promoting myself. Coming back to social media for the record release, working with publicist Sarah Frost (whom I met at Folk Alliance in 2020 just before the pandemic), and reconnecting with fans and friends has been nothing short of rewarding!
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Haul These Blues Away after listening all the way through?
SF: First off, thank you for setting the expectation that folks will listen to an entire record straight through. That’s the intention. I make albums because I love the process and ritual that listening to an entire album lends itself to. Folks go to shows expecting a pre-determined setlist that makes sense as a realized expression, there’s artistry in creating a cohesive album of music in that same way. I think records are more like realized art projects, from concept to photos to design and art direction, all combine to send a single message or vision. My hope is for interaction with the music and album art, that someone takes a line or a melody or word of solace or solidarity along with them to keep or to share. I can’t tell you what they’ll take away, in the way we’re all living our own realities, but I hope it finds a memorable moment for someone, now, or years from now if a copy of this captured moment is found in a dusty record bin.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for 2021?
SF: 2021 is a mixture of clean slate optimism and pensive planning for me. This past year of seclusion in quarantine, loss of work, sickness, death and inimitable challenges of the pandemic were hard, but in reality, I am incredibly fortunate to be healthy and accomplish more than I thought I could without the stressors of everyday life in my way. A major source of this energy came from staying sober from alcohol in 2020, something I hadn’t done as an adult. I worked on releasing this album and paid more attention to every detail now that I had time and energy. I helped write and create the video to “The More You Talk (The Less I Hear)” with the incredible film crew at Make Something Beautiful film productions, and we are still developing a short film version while Bonnie Montgomery and Zach Moulton (Mike and the Moonpies) score the film. I’m also currently pre-selling the vinyl album of Haul These Blues Away on Bandcamp and plan on releasing that with a show and subsequent tour later this year. I toured steadily for the past five years, to have this time away from the road has been both inspirational and deflating. In reality, I’m not going to plan for anything like I used to, but I am going to make it a priority to reconnect with the giant family I’ve gained through music over those years, and continue to have my adventure.
*All images by Brooks Burris*
**Simon’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!**