Chanting and Crowd Interaction Flourishes; A Trend That Recalls Folk’s Roots
If you’ve noticed the chanting “hey!” trend that’s infiltrated the indie-folk scene, I urge you to read on. If you haven’t noticed, then you should definitely read on. Over the past three years, popular folk musicians have employed a novel approach to revive the genre: re-use old and forgotten traditions in a non-traditional setting. In a world where the banjo has become the new electric guitar (courtesy of the Mumford bunch), campfire-inspired sing-along chants have been largely accepted as the natural progression for folk music. Let us not only explore why; let’s explore why now?
The most transparent example of this trend is the infectious and endearing tune, “Ho Hey,” by The Lumineers. The song was first released in June of 2012 as a single off their eponymous debut album and received immediate commercial success, capturing the number one spot on Billboard’s “Top Rock Songs” chart for eighteen non-consecutive weeks. The monosyllabic-punctuated song embraces the notion of musical simplicity, using the barking interjections as something of a vocal percussion.
In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, The Lumineers drummer Jeremiah Fraites noted, “Our songs are about people on a ship, singing arm-in-arm, all singing the same note.” The Denver-based trio has exploited the key attraction in chanting: unison vocalization. In other words, you do not need to know how to sing. Tone-deaf fans can sing along with the band and actually experience a primal connection of sorts, which, considering that live performance dominates the current music scene, is now the primary way for bands to connect with their fans.
Further evidence validating this trend comes from overseas, via Icelandic indie-folk outfit, Of Monsters and Men. Although they’re not pioneering the campfire folk revival, the six-piece band has been a major contributor to the movement since the 2012 release of their debut album, My Head Is An Animal. The album as a whole is practically a Bible for fans of indie-chant. “Little Talks” is the most obvious example, and also happens to be the band’s hit song, reaching #20 on Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart.
Much like The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men use frequent “hey!” interjections as a percussive force, as to alert the listener that the next section of the song is approaching. Many of the other tracks from My Head Is An Animal, such as “From Finner,” “Dirty Paws,” and “Your Bones,” feature choruses that don’t actually have real words. The band simply chants soaring and powerful melodies in unison, making for a warm and welcoming sing-along atmosphere.
Whether purposefully or not, Of Monsters and Men recognize that when it comes to evoking emotion in the listener, music is far more powerful than lyrics. Jimmy Tomasello, director of various songwriting and guitar programs at Old Town School of Folk Music, explains, “It’s in the DNA. There’s a need for a tribal experience that people have to have.”
It’s tough to say whether this emerging “hey!” indie-chant sub-genre is simply a phase that will eventually run its course, or if it’s actually a new brand of folk music in its infancy. Only time will tell. However, it is not a coincidence that this folk revival is happening now; the easiest way to think about it is as a simple chain of events: major record labels dominate digital sales, which results in artists making music that’s festival-ready and easily relatable (i.e. being able to “chant along” to a song without actually being able to sing).
A brief glance at the history of pop and rock music provides similar evidence. In 1960, Sam Cooke released his hit single, “Chain Gang,” which blatantly emphasized “huh! hah!” chanting to mimic the sound of forced labor. In 1982, new wave band, The Pretenders, came out with their own rendition titled, “Back on the Chain Gang,” which was the band’s only top five song in the U.S.. Coincidence? I’ll leave that up to you.
Article by Josh Cranin