Brian Holl recognizes that the best music tends to spread organically — not only because that’s how he finds music that moves him but also because that’s how others continue to find the work of Foreign Fields.
Holl and his longtime friend and songwriting partner Eric Hillman first released the music on Foreign Fields’ debut just last Christmas. Without any real fanfare or publicity push, the band has enjoyed the steady build that comes from music fans recommending the songs to their friends as they discover the beauty of Holl’s music.
Perhaps the most notable fan to randomly stumble upon Foreign Fields is Adam Duritz, the frontman and principal songwriter for Counting Crows. Duritz has become an ally for the band and even took the Wisconsin natives out this summer on the Crows U.S. tour. Communion Music is now getting involved and it’s only a matter of time until you find them, too.
SSv: I talked to Adam [Duritz] a couple weeks ago about the tour, he was talking with excitement about all the bands involved with this summer’s tour. I’m wondering about your end of things. Had you played something like this tour before?
Brian Holl: Absolutely not. No, this is our first bigger tour as Foreign Fields. It’s been amazing. What’s so cool is that Adam is really, really interested in new music and showing it to his audience. He found us randomly online and he loved it and got in touch with us right away and we played. The Outlaw Road Show had a SXSW showcase, so we played that, and Filligar was there, too, actually.
It’s amazing because he was giving us this opportunity as a baby band to go in and expose ourselves to thousands of people every night, and we don’t really have much to offer him other than just a big thank-you and a hug.
Lots of these bands go on tours with at least bands that are playing for a couple hundred people in their markets and they bring those people out and everything. And we don’t have anything close to that, being a new band within six months of putting out our first album. So it’s just been an amazing opportunity and we’re really grateful to be on there.
SSv: Tell me about the interaction there. Does Adam get with you and say, “Hey, this is why I want you on here’? Or are you able to talk about the industry? I’m just wondering how much interaction there is with so many bands involved in the tour.
Brian: Adam has been the closest thing to a manager for us, like in these early stages. Even before I knew we were going on tour with Counting Crows, we would talk on the phone or I would ask him about some certain emails that would come across and ask, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ He was just kinda helping us out in a business sense.
So he’s just been amazing for that and he always finishes the conversation like, ‘If you need more time or you have any questions, always feel free to call me,” and he always picks up his cell phone whenever I call him. He doesn’t have any like primadonna personality traits at all. He’s just a really, really good guy who really wants to help new bands that he thinks are putting out great records.
He’s not like a manager in the typical sense, you know? But we like really look up to him. We spent like five or six days in his apartment in New York when we were sound-checking and all of that. “Yeah, don’t worry about grabbing hotels and trying to find that, you guys can just stay with me.” It was just a really eye-opening experience being able to stay with him, and insight on how he writes all of his amazing songs.
It’s really a unique thing, I think, being someone of his caliber, to just be so welcoming to new bands and everything. Filligar came over one night and I know he’s meeting Good Old War a bunch, and he’s just a really, really good guy to us.
SSv: How much were you aware of Counting Crows or into Counting Crows before you got this message saying, “I like you guys”?
Brian: Well, I’m 22, so my Counting Crows experience came through my brother and sister who are both older than me. Growing up through the 90s and everything though, I would hear “Mr. Jones” or “Long December” or just any number of his hits on the radio; if I hear them now, it just brings me back to this summer vacation and all of that. I definitely had August and Everything After on cassette, I remember that.
That’s the other thing about Adam. He’s just got this amazing poetic sense about his lyrics and really telling a story. On this tour, they start off with “Around Here,” which is the first song on August and Everything After, and it’s like a fifteen minute epic novel that he goes through and you’re so into it, and it’s amazing to me to witness and kind of try to pull some things that he’s learned throughout the years and everything with them.
Yeah, this wasn’t a tour where “We’re going on tour with this band, we don’t know much about them” – like everyone in our band is a Counting Crows fan, and we are so excited to have this opportunity to open up for a band of their caliber.
SSv: What’s interesting is that I didn’t know you were on tour with them when I first found Foreign Fields. A friend’s recommendation led to one song and then I found another and finally stumbled on the Bandcamp page. Are you finding that a lot? A lot of organic, word-of-mouth sort of stories like that?
Brian: Yes, absolutely. To back it up, we put this album out, it was just Eric [Hillman] and I who wrote the whole album over the course of a year, and we finished 75% of it in an abandoned office warehouse in the middle of Wisconsin. We actually didn’t have heat in that building, and you can really hear our coats rustling in the background in some of these tracks. Then we moved down to Nashville and finished the album.
There was really no urgency at all on our end to put it out. No one even knew, not even our friends knew that we were making an album. I think like one day we wrote on Facebook, ‘Hey, we’ve got something here that we’d like you to listen to.’
I was just in Wisconsin in my parents’ house over Christmas, and I just called up Eric and asked, ‘Hey, should we put the thing up finally?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ so we put it up.
It only took like a month or so to start circulating on blogs without much [work]. We definitely didn’t have publicist working for us. We definitely didn’t have band experience. I mean, I’ve been in a couple of other bands, but I was never really the one reaching out to press that much. I think I sent out maybe 30 emails via blogs and it just started getting around.
I think that helped a young band really start a career is just having people discover you instead of pushing it onto others, because then they’re gonna be fans for life. If they discover you, and they love it, and I remember how it happened with Adam; he had no idea who we are, he discovered it and got in touch with us instead of us constantly trying to shove it under his door. In that sense, it’s been really organic.
We’re still completely independent, although with all that’s happened in the last six months, we’re definitely talking to labels and management and booking agents and all of that just to kinda help us out with everything that’s going on. But we really wanna keep it – just keep our music on like a discovery-basis where people come to us, and we don’t push too much on their door to be able to have them listen to it and to really fall in love with the album. It’s been great.
SSv: I’m curious about this jump. You say, ‘You know, our friends didn’t even know that we are doing this’ and then suddenly you’re telling me, ‘Yeah, I got an hour ‘til sound check when we’re playing here in this amphitheater –’
Brian: I know! It’s amazing! I mean, are you asking about our take on what’s happened?
SSv: How do you catch up to that?
Brian: Yeah, absolutely, that’s a great question. I mean, there are a couple ways to answer that. You know there are times where I am kinda freaking out in the van thinking, ‘Omigosh, we’re gonna come back from this tour, and what are we gonna have?’ You know, ‘What’s gonna be the next step and all that?’
Thankfully, it’s not only Adam who has gravitated towards this album. Really genuine, good people in the music industry still exist. And they pass around to their friends, and we’re really surprised every single day when we get emails from labels and booking agents saying that they heard our album and really liked it.
I guess that’s the biggest thing that helps us settle down a little when we’re thinking, ‘Is this going too fast for us? Do we have a net to fall back on?’ Our net right now is the music. Because we put out this album and it’s obviously working with people, and no one can really take that away from us.
As long as we can keep getting this album into the hands of people who wanna help us, I think we’ll be alright.
SSv: I’d love to hear about that ‘life before.’ You made an allusion to that. What’s your musical history? What’s life before Foreign Fields?
Brian: We actually just changed our name from “Flights” to “Foreign Fields” a couple months ago, when we knew that this thing was getting more serious, and there was another band from the U.K. called “Flights,” and they were on iTunes and Spotify and all that, so we had to change it.
Eric and I – I’m the guy without the mask and Eric’s the guy with the mask in any kind of press picture that’s out right now – but Eric and I made this whole album together and we’ve been writing together for like eight or nine years, and we met when I was 14 or 15, and we started a band then and we’ve been the same band together. All these years we’ve been the main songwriters, so our musical history is really rich in that sense. We’ve got a long history of writing together – Eric and I do.
And let’s see…when did we get down to Nashville? [Laughs] I guess we were living in Chicago at the time and it was just too big of a city for us. We’re not really city guys ourselves, and it was too expensive: the rent was too high and too hard to practice, too hard to write an album. That’s actually why we went back up to Wisconsin to that office warehouse that we found to be able to record the album.
So we both definitely have experience writing new music and writing new songs, it’s not like we just picked up a guitar a year ago and made this. But nothing at all to this amount of success has happened. We’ve also been in a couple different bands as well, but this is by far, the most successful.