Life Is Short, But Fiddlehead Is Forever

Mitch Wojchik

Life Is Short, But Fiddlehead Is Forever

Mitch Wojchik

Pat Flynn on grief, nature, and his band's new album Between The Richness

By some luck of the draw, Pat Flynn was living in an apartment that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean while writing the lyrics for the sophomore Fiddlehead effort, Between The Richness. “It was incredibly cheap but had a million dollar view,” he tells me over the phone in early March, reminiscing with astonishment in his voice. “We’re not there anymore, but that was pretty dramatic to face every day. I couldn’t help but consider the grandiosity that is Mother Nature.”

Flynn formed Fiddlehead in 2014 with Shawn Costa, his former bandmate in the Boston straight edge hardcore band Have Heart, plus Alex Henery of Basement, Alex Dow, and Casey Nealon. On their 2018 debut album Springtime And Blind, he began unpacking years of pent-up feelings about the death of his father, LTC Richard Flynn. The followup, set for release this May, captures the complexity of reckoning with something that is much bigger than you, including life, death, and the vague space in between that’s populated with growth and loss.

The writing for the new Between The Richness began two weeks after the birth of Flynn’s first son, Richard, named after Flynn’s late father and born around the 10-year anniversary of the elder Richard’s death. “Now he’s almost two, and I’ll just be staring at him,” Flynn says. “I was doing it two hours ago. Like, ‘Oh my god, how are you here!?’ It’s mesmerizing. And that’s exactly what I was doing after my father died. I’d just be staring into nothing and thinking, ‘What the fuck? How am I here? What is being here?’ I just became this existential philosopher in these moments.”

This awe is the feeling at the crux of Fiddlehead; it’s in Flynn’s purging yells, in the introspective instrumentals, in the uninhibited energy of their tight-knit live shows. It’s a nameless sensation, but a familiar one that can be both inspiring and intimidating. It’s a reminder of how small we, humans, are in the endless stretch of the universe.

“When you recognize the true mystery of our being, I think that the pressure to get things right is significantly lessened,” Flynn ruminates. “The unity between every human being seems a little bit more obvious. We’re totally united in our smallness. And it’s an attempt to kill the ego in a positive way. I only found it incredibly empowering. I recognized no one’s gonna help you. You’re just this little, tiny person and your problems don’t really matter in the greater perspective of things.”

In the context of grief, there’s a gradual development where people are no longer grieving with you. No one is saying “I’m sorry for your loss” anymore. Everyone continues to live like everything is normal and like nothing happened. “It’s oddly devastating but even more weirdly liberating,” Flynn says of that moment of change. “You’re like, ‘Yeah, life moves on.’ It’s been moving on before you, and it’s certainly moving on right now, and it definitely will move on after your three-hundredths-of-a-second existence ends.”

Fiddlehead in many ways is a documentation that will live longer than any of us. Flynn envisions songs like Between The Richness lead single “Million Times,” out today, as “little time capsules that will be buried into the metaphorical ground of punk subculture.” The last song on the new record, “Heart To Heart,” is a letter to Flynn’s son: “You can find me in the springtime afternoon/ I’ll be the sunlight on your face and blinding you,” he sings. “I definitely did write the record so when I die, my son can go to that,” he says, “In the same way that I went to my father’s office and found all of his wonderful things from his life that seemed like little messages to me.”

That song continues a consistent Fiddlehead pattern of communicating through nature. Flynn attributes it to his father’s love for poetry and this idea that “poetry isn’t just about reading — it’s about finding it in the very present moment of the universe you exist in.” He continues: “I would listen to the sound of wind through the trees. I always found it calming in the most intense moments of grief and stress and anxiety after losing a close loved one.”

Between The Richness feels as if it was crafted in those moments; it’s like the musical embodiment of experiencing a deep catharsis in nature. There’s a sonic weightlessness and lightness that was scarce on Springtime And Blind. The anthemic “Eternal You” feels victorious and free in its loudness; “Joyboy” is peaceful and accepting in its pain. The dynamic is wider than the last album — the noisy songs leaning into the band’s post-hardcore edge, the slower songs quiet and paced like indie ballads.

The album begins slow and soft, peaceful waves gradually accelerating until they’re crashing. The chaos of “Grief Motif” spills into “The Year” like a waterfall, the transition natural and breathtaking. That second track contains one of the most important lines of the record: “Nothing can change the pain/ And I don’t want it to.” “You get closer and closer to that 10-year anniversary of someone passing and this weird alienating thing emerged for me where I realized I definitely wasn’t where I was 10 years ago,” Flynn says. “Does that mean that I’ve moved on from this massive source of love in my life — my father? I’m in a different place, more in control for sure. It’s empowering for me to be the one calling the shots. I would hope for people to have a similar experience.”

The pain is still there, but it’s manageable. And even though that can evoke guilt, part of Flynn’s philosophy is that he has to be in control of his feelings. He firmly advocates for this idea of self-mastery — of not letting your emotions be the ones making the decisions. He laments for people who’ve been absolutely torn apart by grief, mentioning his own father. “I remember my mother one time saying, ‘Your father was catatonic when his father died.’ I’m really grateful to be in a position where I’m not destroyed,” he says. “I’ve seen it happen to people. It’s tragic. You get a loss of one life and it’s a domino effect on the other person’s life. There’s no stopping death. It’s gonna keep running through. Whether or not you want to be run down by it, that’s the question.”

Flynn was on a ferry to Sweden with his friend J.D. Dowling of the band Shipwreck the first time he really considered our smallness in the universe. “We were 22 at the time and our lives were more or less just beginning. It was the giant growing-up moment for me,” he says about the conversation. While a lot of people interpret our smallness as an excuse to “live it up and have a good time,” as Flynn puts it, to him it gradually became “a signal to say, ‘Alright, I gotta make things happen. No one’s stopping the show for Pat Flynn’s sorrow and grief.'”

In The Crying Book, author Heather Cristle ponders on the way men often resort to violence to create an occasion for their grief. Loud music like hardcore is often thought of as violent because of this intense release that happens in the songs and at the shows. Fiddlehead, though — no matter how badly Flynn wrecks his voice in screaming or how hard people push each other in a pit — are empathetic at their core, far from violent or ill-intentioned. Flynn is not just creating an occasion for his grief but for everyone’s collective grief, turning it into a place for open expression. It is a brief moment where the unity between all humans is shown and acknowledged. And he takes no credit for the way his music affects people: “If there’s any type of catharsis, it’s not the result of me or my lyrics. Ultimately, the immediate, instantaneous, direct causal factor of anyone’s catharsis is the individual who decides to come to an understanding.”

With Between The Richness, Fiddlehead have made the sort of album that will unlock heavy feelings and thoughts and revelations within listeners if they let it. The tragedy that Fiddlehead grapples with is specific, but this album, more than anything, radiates the energy of healing — the power of being okay in the midst of a storm.

Between The Richness is out 5/21 via Run For Cover. Pre-order it here.

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