The Deer’s Cry are a four piece – augmented on this song with a string section – of Celtic Harp, percussion, upright bass and banjo. An unusual combination which lends itself to gentle and reflective folk with a dollop of pop sensibilities. Today’s song is a good example of that, and it is the title track of the band’s new album which will be released on September 30th. They are a diverse bunch of musicians who have an astonishingly wide range of musical credits between them – banjoist Will MacLean also plays with the Cleverlys; bassist Patrick Atwater mostly plays in jazz groups; percussionist Bryan Brock has worked with Leonard Cohen, Melody Gardot and Dr. Dre, whilst Karen Ballew has a classical background but became immersed in the Irish music scene in Dallas which led her to take up the Celtic harp.
Americana UK quizzed Karen Ballew, songwriter, vocalist and harpist for the band, about the new song and the album that it comes from.
What was the writing process like? Did the song come easily, or did you have to work on it for a while?
The melody flowed easily, but I found writing the verses to be more difficult. At one point, I was calling the song “A Loving Word,” but once I focused on the heart as the central image, the lyrics began to connect more and fall into place. Arranging songs with my bandmates is a lot of fun, so once we got to that stage, it was just a matter of brainstorming and combining our different ideas. I had come up with some ideas on the harp, and our bassist Patrick Atwater guided us through creating the structure for the song—I love the rhythm and chord progression he established at the intro as well as the instrumental section that musically explores the theme of a healing heart!
What made you title the album after this song? Did this song feel like the centrepiece for the album, did its message feel like the album focus, or did the title speak to you for other reasons? How does this song fit in among the songs on the album?
This album represents a journey, and as you listen, our ‘Heal the Heart’ track comes in at the halfway point. In a way, this signifies the heart as the central symbol, and it also represents a turning point in the journey of healing and transformation. Oftentimes, I create art and music as a means of dealing with tough questions, such as: Why do people, after years of war and injustice, keep making the same mistakes? And the root of this question: Are we capable of hearing the truth as told from someone else’s experience, and can we recognize the dignity in another person’s heart (even someone who is markedly different from ourselves)? If you watch the news and follow social media, you might think the answer is no, but I have witnessed people whose actions and kindness attest otherwise. ‘Heal the Heart’ emerged as the theme of the album, as it faces head on the things that have hurt our hearts: toxic, dehumanizing thinking, lack of respect, and the heartache of loss. Our song explores this and ultimately offers hope in a different future.
Your band’s name is interesting – how did you come up with it?
Our name, The Deer’s Cry, comes from a translation of the old Irish prayer, “Fáed Fíada,” attributed to Saint Patrick (c. 433 A.D.). When I was about 13 years old, I came across this prayer in a novel by Madeleine L’Engle, ‘A Swiftly Tilting Planet.’ The Deer’s Cry prayer is a central part of the story! I hadn’t lived much life at that point, but the beauty and strength of this prayer stuck with me, and how it called upon such awesome power in the face of evil. I soon realized that the universe was much bigger than I had previously thought. I wasn’t sure where it would lead, but I wanted to follow that path of wonder and mystery! This is what our band’s music explores, and what I most enjoy writing about.