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It can be rough being a singer/songwriter in the Midwest. You’ve got the chops, the songs, the desire to share what’s up in your head and down in your heart. Yet, you don’t have Brooklyn. Or the East Village. Or the Vic or Metro. You don’t have taste makers and deal makers coming out to the club and hearing you spit your heart and soul out into a beer-stained mic. What you have in the Midwest is a McDonalds every three blocks and a church every half mile. You’ve got highways and two-lanes, Malibus and buggys. It’s tough being a bloke with songs to sing but no one to sing ’em to. Or is it?
Despite these geographical stumbling blocks, this great city has seen some amazing boys and girls step out of the shadows of mediocrity and give Williamsburg, Portland, Nashville and San Francisco a run for their money. Folks like Sunny Taylor, Lee Miles, LLC, Kevin Hambrick, Mark Hutchins and Thunderhawk, just to name a few, have proven that the Midwest can produce some pretty amazing original artists without the help of east coast hipsters or Pitchfork reviewing your record.
A mere hour south of the Fort is a little spot on the map called Summitville. Within its city limits grew up a lad by the name of D Ferren. Who, you ask? Oh, well let’s fill you in.
With the release of his newest album, For Glare and Gun, Ferren has earned a place amongst the best of what Fort Wayne has to offer the music world. A mix of Jayhawks country pop confections and a melting pot of 60s and 70s classic rock, it’s a bona fide gem of an album. And on Friday, August 3 at 9 p.m., D Ferren and his backing band, the Sad Bastards are throwing a CD Release bash at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits. You’ve still got a couple weeks to get a babysitter lined up or ask for the night off. In the meantime, let’s talk D Ferren.
“I grew up about an hour south of here, in a town called Summitville, Indiana. The neighboring town is Fairmount.” Yep, the same Fairmount where a certain rebel without a cause grew up.
“My grandpa had a used car lot in Fairmount and most of my friends lived there, so that’s where I used to hang out. When I graduated high school I moved to Fort Wayne to attend the University of Saint Francis for commercial art.”
With all the small town living, when does a guy like D Ferren get the itch to start a band?
“After graduating there in 1990, I got married and started a band called Hipnoses. In 1990 there were very few stages in Fort Wayne that a band could even play. Columbia Street West was considered the “alternative” club, and they somewhat encouraged playing originals. In the basement they had a small club called The Underground on Sunday nights only. It was an open mic thing that would allow young bands to play as well. We became pretty popular there, so Columbia Street West let us have a Wednesday night upstairs. Then weekend nights. Eventually we became one of the three house bands. We played about 50/50 covers verses originals. The other bands were told to only play originals in the last set only. We were never instructed to do this. This, of course, gave us confidence.” With Hipnoses, Ferren says he learned the art of writing songs. Not long after, Hipnoses broke up and Ferren went on to co-found the band Sockmonkey. The band was short-lived, but together long enough to record the long player Unusual as Usual at Temple Recording Studio. It was also at this time that Ferren and his wife split.
It was also at this time that D Ferren met someone that would play a huge role in his musical future.
“Sometime in 2000, I was at the Dash-In and ran into an old friend of mine who was dating Jason Davis at the time. He told me he had this old recording equipment, and I had been writing a ton of songs since the divorce. We recorded Saint of Life and the Morning After Cavalier on eight tracks of 1/4-inch tape in a tiny room of a house on the southeast side of town. It was just Jason and I, playing all the instruments.”
Davis – the man behind Off The Cuff Sound recording studio, as well as the band Streetlamps For Spotlights and his own recently released solo album, the excellent Flatline Movements – became Ferren’s silent partner in what would begin his jump into the role of solo artist. But before Ferren could truly make the jump, he decided to take a detour. After finishing his first solo effort, he decided to say adios to the music scene and go back to school. He quit his job and moved to Muncie, where he nabbed a fine arts degree before moving to Phoenix to pursue painting for galleries. Along the way he established gallery connections in Portland and Chicago as well. With hands covered in paint, the guitar sat in the corner collecting dust.
But in 2006, Ferren found his way back to Indiana and left the art world to bake in the Phoenix sun.
“I was painting as a full-time job in Phoenix, and sales were steady, but the lifestyle was catching up to me. I needed stability.” So Ferren got a job at Envelope Service Inc. making, well, envelopes. After a year of re-connecting with old friends and getting his life in order, he met his current wife Jaimie. After nearly 10 years of not keeping in contact with Jason Davis, Ferren got a hold of his old friend and told him he had a handful of songs and wanted to record. That began what would become For Glare and Gun.
“When I finally reconnected with Jason, I had about 30 songs that I felt really comfortable with. I knew I wasn’t going to record some of them and that I would want to write some new stuff as well. This was right about the time that Jaimie and I started dating, and I was extremely happy.”
So how does it work in the studio with D and Jason? “Jason and I have a really productive working relationship. We basically respect and trust each other’s ear. Some of the songs I could completely hear already, like “Ballad,” “Phoenix,” “Miles,” “Boomtown” and the last three tracks. So half were already fleshed out. We just tried to produce them the way I heard them. The remaining five we would simply allow the songs to dictate to us or grow before our ears. I kinda think of these as children … you can only teach them so much, control their actions so much. But sooner or later they start thinking for themselves, making their own decisions, doing what they want. Just nudge them in the right direction and let them loose on the world.”
Besides Ferren and Davis, For Glare and Gun has a who’s who of Fort Wayne musicians playing on it. With musicians like Bob Craven, Andrea Harvey, Felix Moxter, Scott Kern and Jethro Easyfields, plus a whole horn section comprised of friends of Davis, this album is brimming with incredible local talent. “The musicians on this album were just rock stars to me. I really love them for doing this. Honestly, I had a short list of people I knew, had jammed with on stage but had not known very well, and some I’d just seen live. I ended up getting every single one of them which really surprised me.”
Since Ferren released the album earlier in the year, he’s gotten nothing but great reviews, but up to this point no official release show. That is about to change with the August 3 show which also has Easyfields and Cootie Crabtree on the bill. “I really wanted to bring in some artists who haven’t played Fort Wayne at all or haven’t played in a long time … all three artists have new releases out for purchase.”
Even though he’s gearing up for a CD release show for his current album, I had to ask if he’s got something already cooking for a new long player. “I am writing for the next album now. I have a lot of material accumulated, but for the next one I want to write very current stuff and go in the studio with them. Since my writing has changed a little, I am really enjoying the process. Some days I write an entire song at work without an instrument – just hear it in my head. ‘The Ballad of Gram Parsons’ was written on the lawn mower.” Maybe we could get some tracks written shoveling snow, or raking leaves next time around.
So there you have it. You don’t have to be from a huge metropolitan area to get your music heard (or to be a causeless rebel, either). You just have to have the drive, the talent and the heart to give the world all you got. D Ferren, 9 to 5-er, husband and father of three, living in Harlan has proven that.
Mark your calendar for August 3 and head out to CS3 to hear these amazing songs live.