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Oklahoma reverie

Kalyn Fay finds closure with her new album

Singer-songwriter Kalyn Fay explores home and heartbreak on ‘Good Company.’

Justin Rucker

Kalyn Fay’s sophomore album, Good Company, is rooted firmly in the present. The 28-year-old Cherokee songwriter has moved past the heady spiritual questions that dominated her 2016 debut, Bible Belt, and now she’s just trying to figure out what the word ‘home’ means.

The cover of Good Company features a polaroid of Fay next to the lake by her parents’ house in Verdigris, brushing the hair away from her face under a grey-blue sky. A storm is coming. The dark trees behind her bend in the wind. Depending on your first impression of the photo, she seems either very tired or very calm.

There’s a softness and focus in the tone of the picture which matches the feel of the music on this new record. The songs are steeped in the past three years of Fay’s life, revealed in brief imagistic flashes, like a dream. Good Company marks the end of part of Fay’s life. She’s not the same person anymore.

The album was recorded live to tape at Fellowship Hall Sound in Arkansas. This studio has become a mainstay for singer-songwriters in recent years, home to recordings by notable Oklahoma performers like John Moreland, John Calvin Abney, and Lauren Barth, to name a few.

Fay’s band recorded the album in just three days with a list of remarkable players. Jesse Aycock is on lap steel and electric keys, and he also mixed and produced the project. Cooper Waugh plays lead guitar; John Fullbright adds some keys; Bo Hallford plays bass; and Paddy Ryan rounds the album out on drums and percussion. The cumulative effect is a record which pushes closer to the rock side of Fay’s folk-rock formulation.

Good Company is a gentle indie folk-rock record, but the drums and pulsing bass riffs still push many of the songs. Fay’s voice is smoky but melodic. There’s a more direct pop sensibility to the placement of her alto voice in the mix of these tracks. The sweetness of her voice is on full display in these live performances. Fay credits Jessie Aycock’s production choices as a big inspiration in this musical direction.

“I write most of my songs sitting alone with my acoustic guitar,” Fay said. “Jessie sees music so differently from most people. I feel like his perspective really contributed to this record. He’ll take a random chord or an odd change in a song and get the whole band to focus on it and turn it into something really interesting.”

The production on this record is warm and muted. You can hear the analog texture of the tape and the room. Much of the sonic direction on Good Company was inspired by the work of Canadian singer songwriter Doug Paisley. His 2010 folk record Constant Companion was what Fay gave the band as a template when they first started working out the new songs. The band had to work quickly to generate this sound. The recording sessions for the album were 10 to 15 hours a day for two days. On day three she and the band overdubbed parts. Their ability to craft an album this pretty and musically dense so quickly is a testament to the talent of these players.  

The rich production on Good Company mostly serves as a backdrop to Fay’s topical songwriting and plainspoken imagery. The topic here is Fay’s life, and the incident that occasioned these songs is Fay growing up. She tells that story with simple images: the Arkansas River and smokestacks, pale moonlight and the Oklahoma hills. The album’s opening track begins with Fay singing:

“Staring out the window of this beat up old Camry
wondering how I get anywhere at all
and I’ve been working really hard but the money don’t come easy
So I’m looking for a new job in the fall...
I’m getting tired of these of all these flashing TVs, the flicker of my iPhone screen.”

In the next verse Fay describes a conversation with a friend who dreams of finding a husband and starting a big family. Fay responds simply: “I’d rather not.” Here Fay treats marriage and family like another job, another identity that doesn’t seem to fit in a way that’s exhausting. Lonesome lovers and limitless highways are the images that persist in these songs.  

On her second album, Kalyn Fay seems to be looking at her life in Oklahoma without the lens of her parents’ mythology. Her earlier music was often lively with the metaphor and language of her father’s Cherokee traditions or her mother’s Christian faith, but this album isn’t about the past. Good Company is Fay’s attempt to let go of a bunch of former selves and embrace the person she’s become. Through these 11 tracks Fay is a feminist, a cynical romantic, an artist, and sometimes she’s a person who wants nothing more miraculous than friends.    

The past few years of her life have required a lot of growth. Fay and her family have had to confront some serious challenges. “Last year was really tough … My dad was hospitalized for high blood pressure, and the treatment they gave him was like chemotherapy. It weakened his immune system pretty badly. So he got meningitis. It was definitely rough seeing him struggling, but now he’s doing better,” Fay said. “That situation was really terrible, but it brought me a lot of clarity. Going through all of this really made it clear who the people are who really care. There’s the family you’re born with and the people who prove they’re your family over time.”

Fay also ended a relationship she described as pretty unhealthy while writing towards this record. “I knew that he and I weren’t good for each other, but it was like we’d known each other for so long and been in each other’s lives so long I couldn’t imagine living without him,” she said. “I couldn’t let it go. When I finished making this record, though, I honestly feel like I’d left all of those things behind me. I’m ready to move on.”

On one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Fools Heartbreak,” Fay explores the challenges of moving on:

“Feels like I’ve been working hard but I’m not sure what for.
What’s the point of fighting if you don’t want the war.
So I’ve been thinking on redemption I could use a glimpse of grace
because you’ve been on my mind oh God every single day.”

She paints an honest picture of herself here: a workaholic 20-something stuck between past relationships and an uncertain future. With Good Company, Kayln Fay has managed to peel back the curtain of expectations and demands that shaped her identity, and to simply be herself.

Kalyn Fay – Good Company Release Show
Sat., Feb. 16, 8 p.m.
The Colony, 2809 S. Harvard

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