The science of folk

Last fall, I ran into two-fifths of Lake Folk, an Ann Arbor/Ypsi “folk noir” band, at an Abigail Washburn show, and was blown away by their debut CD, Feels Like I’m Home. Since they’re going to be at the Top of the Park on Tuesday, June 28 at 6:30 pm, I thought it was a great time to do a Q&A with them. The band is composed of Eric Anderson (banjo, mandolin, vocals), Danielle Gartner (cello, mandolin, vocals), Bryan Mayer (guitars), John Nipper (Percussion) and Erin Shellman (vocals, double bass).

You’re all science-y types by day. What kinds of science?

Danielle Gartner:  Environmental Justice, Physical Oceanography, Bioinformatics, Epidemiology and Apple Creative Professional…well, this is most recently what we’ve been up to. There is also some economics, engineering, math, evolutionary biology and jazz in our collective background.

Did you all meet at work, or in school?

Gartner:  Eric, Erin and I met in Cleveland, where we were all students at Case Western Reserve University.  As it turns out, the three of us sort of unknowingly took banjo and mandolin lessons at the same music store, around the same time.  Our friendship didn’t really come to be until we relocated to Ann Arbor for graduate school or work at U of M.  Here, we joined up with Bryan, who was dating Erin.  When we decided to go into the studio last spring, we started looking for a drummer because we knew we wanted to expand our sound in that way. We actually found John through a Craigslist ad.  I’m pretty sure we must be the one in 500 success story for finding an amazing friend and talented bandmate through Craigslist!  While in the studio last spring, we pretty quickly realized what a natural fit John was for Lake Folk, both in terms of the sound he added and his style of humor.

What interested you in folk music, and how do you feel creative lives balance with scientific worldviews?

Gartner: I think our interest in the folk rock, roots genre or whatever you want to call it, comes from our diverse musical training and finding some common ground among our different backgrounds. Eric started playing guitar and bass at a young age with a number of rock bands and picked up banjo and mandolin in Cleveland.  Bryan started playing guitar in college and is influenced by classic rock, folk rock and alternative rock. My background is in classical French horn, although I grew up with a lot of old time and bluegrass my family played. Erin and John have backgrounds in Classical and Jazz.

Do you think it enhances the music to have such a (stereotypically) less passionate career?

Gartner: I think we all have a certain amount of passion for what we do for a day job, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. But does that mean that we wouldn’t love to be paid (well!) to play music? Hell no! I think our passion for our day jobs just gets expressed in a different way — a less easily recognizable way. I get really passionate (actually, I’m a total nerd) about the map-making or environmental issues work I do, but it is more difficult to point to that passion than it is to listen to a Lake Folk tune and readily hear that emotion in our playing. On the other hand, I almost always look forward to coming home to work on new tunes or to go to rehearsal. And, when I have challenging days at work, I’m thrilled by the opportunity to escape and do something not science-related when 5 o’clock rolls around. But it goes both ways. When we have a crummy show, I’m pretty thankful to have a stable day job. I think there are a lot of opportunities to be creative in the sciences, it’s just a different context where creativity takes on a slightly different form. In general, I don’t think science is commonly presented as a creative field, but without creativity in science, we’d be struggling as a society.

Besides Abigail Washburn, who are your musical idols?

Gartner: I think I can safely say that Lake Folk is influenced by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Vocally, Erin draws a lot from the styles of older generation female jazz artists like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. But we definitely find inspiration from other genres like rock, classical and old time.

I really liked your debut CD, “Feels Like I’m Home.” How can our readers snag themselves a copy?

Gartner: We encourage everyone to stop by one of our area shows to pick up a physical copy and spend a little time chatting with us. Plus, you can get a copy of the beautiful artwork on our cd case. But, if you can’t make it to a show, you can always purchase a physical copy from our band website ( or digital copies from Itunes, Amazon, CDBaby, eMusic or

Anything else that you really want Current Readers to know? 

Gartner: We’re really excited about a new collaboration we have in the works where we’ll be writing the soundtrack to a movie. I can’t tell you too much about it now, but it is shaping up to be pretty amazing! You should also look out for some new recordings from us this fall.

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