Wind and the Willows releases final album before parting ways
By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR
BOZEMAN – The paradoxical story of young adulthood is that of heartbreak and opportunity, dreams and transitions, blooming and wilting. Impermanence is the thesis of youth, and it is appropriately that of the vernal band Wind and the Willows’ final triumphant album, “Chamomile & Kerosine.”
After rising from coffee shop performances to regional celebrity in the five years since its formation, the Bozeman folk band is facing such impermanence as each of the five 20-somethings and one 30-year-old find themselves churning in a different cycle of life. Their third and farewell album is their parting gift to the world, they say, all in one a vulnerable reflection on the trials and tribulations of youth and a celebration of an internal bond fused by sound.
They tell me about “Chamomile & Kerosine” over a Zoom call on May 17. Last time I met them to discuss their second album, “Ode to Shady Grove” in 2020, we were together in Jereco Studios in Bozeman’s northeast neighborhood. It feels somberly fitting that this time, while talking about the out-of-state moves, new jobs and engagements that are drawing them apart, we aren’t sharing a couch but instead a screen. As an outsider, it feels like the beginning of the end.
“I think there is something beautiful … about ending something at its height,” said percussionist Sarah Budeski, who grew up in Bozeman. After graduating this spring, she’ll head to Nashville for a print-making summer internship.
The band released its first album, “Bloom and Fade,” in 2019. The debut composition is a love story told through the metaphor of blooming and wilting flowers, and in reflection, songwriter, mandolin player and vocalist Ryen Dalvit says her lyrics about falling in love for the first time feel more like a description
Now, Dalvit is engaged and her fiancé is an active duty officer in the military. That relationship has required more depth than what’s described in the tracks on “Bloom and Fade,” and often more consequential decisions.
The song “Gray and Green” explores Dalvit’s personal reckoning on if that relationship was worth it, knowing her fiancé would be deployed, knowing the sacrifices she would need to make. Throughout the entire track, Budeski performs a steady snare drum beat that places the listener in the ode’s true context. The snare is one of several new percussion pieces Budeski was able to include on this album, alongside maintaining her traditional post at the djembe, a West African drum.
“Emotionally and lyrically, it’s just more of a complicated experience that I had never had before,” Dalvit said about the subjects of the new songs. “But it’s much more developed, both musically and from a life perspective this go around than it was when we first started.”
They all characterize the new album as “layered” and “textured,” and it certainly is. It would be impossible to listen to any song performed by the Wind and the Willows passively. You don’t listen to their music, you inhabit it. Originally an eight-member group now down to six, the swell of trance-inducing vocals, nontraditional folk percussion and various strings surrounds you. This is entirely intentional, according to the band’s sound engineer for all three albums, Luke Scheeler.
“I know when I’m sitting here mixing the album, I almost want it to feel like … you’re getting hugged by the sound of this band, because it’s really immersive,” Scheeler said. “It kind of envelops you because there’s so many instruments, and so many layers of parts and counterparts that are happening all at once.”
The band members themselves describe their unique spin on folk “as if you were sitting in the clouds listening to it.” To say the least, it’s an experience.
The final album may, indeed, be the height of the band’s sound complexity, the group suggests.
“What struck me those years ago when I first started working with them is that they’re tremendous songwriters and very talented in all their respective instruments,” Scheeler said. “…Now [all] these years later, every album, the songwriting and a level of production just increases.”
Maren Stubenvoll, the band’s other vocalist and songwriter, tapped into some of her own emotional depth when penning tracks for “Chamomile & Kerosine.”
One good example, she says, is the song “Hot Air Balloon,” a love song in a nontraditional sense.
In a slithering, trance-inducing tone, Stubenvoll opens the song singing, “Take me on a hot air balloon ride. I’ll fantasize about the fall.”
“When you listen to it,” she said, “you’re like, ‘Are you talking about jumping out of a hot air balloon, or is it a love song?’ And it’s both.”
In contrast from the dewy ballads of the first album, Stubenvoll said this song is about the beauty of being your most vulnerable, complete self in a relationship.
She says the song is equivalent to a sort of proclamation. “I’m not perfect,” she said. “I have depression and anxiety. And it’s part of me for the rest of my life. So, buckle up boy, we’re going on this ride together.”
The song is periodically punctuated by a line that touches on the complex reality of relationships and life that marks the band members’ self-proclaimed personal evolution since they started playing together: “Is there anything that’s more romantic than to wish to spend my darkest days with you?”
The title of the album itself, “Chamomile & Kerosine,” named for one of the tracks, is a metaphorical expression of that same complexity. From Montana State University students playing jam sessions together to young adults navigating personal evolution and consequential decisions alongside one another, the album title is a picture of the polarizing beauty and intensity that is life.
Even over Zoom, the band members tear up talking about their brief but legendary time together. While reminiscing over sold-out shows, recording together and the group chat they say will never die, they’re the picture of that beautiful impermanence of youth; the flame that burns bright and brief.
They joke about reunion tours, and its clear if any band were to make it happen, it would be them. But mostly they’re just grateful; for the opportunity to make music, first for themselves, then for others, they say, and grateful for the chance to find community, as they told me years ago when I first met them, among other “misfits of folk.”
Wind and the Willows will play their final show on May 26 at the Filling Station in Bozeman.