This feature originally appeared in Songlines #135 (March 2018) p15. Download a pdf here.
Alexandra Petropoulos speaks to guitarist and singer Griffin Sherry about the trio’s unique Maine-grown holler-folk sound
‘Listen, my children, and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.’ With those words, familiar to any American schoolkid, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow evokes a chilly New England night when a revolutionary war figure became a folk hero. A silversmith-cum-revolutionary from Boston, Paul Revere gained his legendary status thanks to Longfellow’s poem, which recounts the evening of April 18 1775. ‘Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous night’ when Revere rode through Middlesex County, Massachusetts sounding the alarm that the British were attacking by sea. So the story goes.
The poem, ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’, was written in 1861 and is steeped in misinformation – mainly that there were two other men who rode alongside him who were left largely to be forgotten – but the legend lives on and Longfellow himself is recognised as a local hero in Portland, Maine, where he was born.
I ask fellow Portlanders, Ghost of Paul Revere, if this fact lies somewhere behind their name. Guitarist Griffin Sherry explains there’s a bit more than Maine pride behind it: “Everybody knows Paul Revere for the poem, but first and foremost he was a creator, a really brilliant silversmith and pewter-smith. He was an artist first, and then he had this calling to do something a little bit more with himself.” With a chuckle Sherry continues, “he also was the only one arrested that night. So, he wasn’t very good at it, which I feel also could very well describe us.” More than that, he explains, “[Revere] rallied a community, which is one of my favourite aspects of performing, and something I think our music does well.”
Ghost of Paul Revere are a trio of Mainers – Sherry on guitar, Max Davis on banjo and Sean McCarthy on bass – who label their foot-stomping Americana as ‘holler-folk.’ Not because the music is particularly shouty, but as Sherry explains: “We felt we grew too loud for folk music.”
Their third album, Monarch, marks a new approach to music making for the group; their previous records were recorded live in the studio. “When we started talking about Monarch, the thought was: if people are coming to the live shows, why would we perform them in the studio?” Monarch grew into something very different, working with lush soundscapes impossible with three live instruments. “It was an ambitious goal of making a record that we literally couldn’t perform live.”
The music treads water somewhere between indie rock and folk with lush arrangements, wailing harmonica, churning banjo and tight vocal harmonies. “We’re just three friends who discovered folk instruments, and listened to Radiohead a lot.” You can certainly hear the Radiohead influence on tracks like ‘Need Somebody’ and ‘Kings Road’ on the album.
But a folk ethos rests at the heart it. “I adore folk music,” Sherry says. “It’s meant to be played by the people for everyone to sing along. There’s a big community aspect to it. That’s why I fell in love with making music, because if you have a room where everybody is singing along to the same song and participating, it’s so powerful.”