The A’s: Fruit | Psychic Hotline: Friday, July 15
Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Meath have spent years exploring the almost cosmic good fortune of their kindred vocals as two-thirds of the folk group Mountain Man (along with Molly Sarlé). Yodeling was something they always did on the side; on long tour drives, they’d listen to singers like The DeZurik Sisters, a duo from the 1930s, and try to figure out how they could achieve that lovely yip or warbled trill.
When their fascination didn’t quiet, it became clear a new outlet might be necessary to capture the stunning clarity of their intertwined voices. Like on a loom, these were clearly two threads that wanted to be woven together.
As The A’s, they’re set to release their debut album, Fruit, on July 15 via Sylvan Esso’s label Psychic Hotline Records. Fruit features the original song “When I Die” alongside covers of early country and folk. It’s a collection that feels transplanted from the past—equal parts whimsical and worshipful.
The traditional song “Swing and Turn Jubilee” sits alongside Harry Nilsson’s moony-eyed “He Needs Me” (from the 1980 film Popeye) and Patsy Montana’s 1930s country song “My Poncho Pony.” Sauser-Monnig and producer Nick “Sandy” Sanborn brought the original’s trot-like rhythm alive by turning kalimbas upside down and tapping on the back to create the titular pony’s clip-clop.
That sense of play turned into a found-sound feast, even though The A’s didn’t set out to make that kind of record. They went roving around Meath and Sanborn’s recording studio, Betty’s, grabbing clips of gravel, birds, and shorts (yes, shorts) to frame their warm, dulcet vocals and impressive yodels (see especially “Why I’m Grieving”).
As the birds chattered, the dogwood blossoms slowly dropped, and a new resident turtle made itself comfortable near Betty’s back porch, The A’s spoke with the INDY about the seeds of their project, the sheer fun they had recording it, and what they love most about each other’s voices.
INDY WEEK: How did you narrow down what you wanted to cover?
ALEXANDRA SAUSER-MONNIG: The list of songs came from the sphere [of early folk music] that exists in a child-friendly realm of silliness and play. I think that was sort of a touchstone in a way.
AMELIA MEATH: Eventually, we realized that the songs that didn’t make it on the record weren’t full of glee enough.
SAUSER-MONNIG: They didn’t elicit strong feelings in us, despite being beautiful melodies and lyrics and cool songs.
MEATH: The whole recording process of this record was so full of joy. I haven’t belly-laughed casually about a band more.
What was the rehearsal process like?
SAUSER-MONNIG: We’d go for morning jogs or have solo morning time and then around lunchtime, we’d come out [to the Betty’s porch] and bring our notebooks and instruments.
MEATH: We made a lot of extravagant vegan meals.
SAUSER-MONNIG: And tiki cocktail hour.
MEATH: Yeah, Alex’s roommate’s parents had filled the back of their car with fresh mangos from their yard. We made fresh mango mai tais.
How did you want the original track “When I Die” to fit into the larger tapestry of the album?
MEATH: It was a song I’d written during the pandemic and it felt like it fit.
The production’s so distinctive compared to the others—much more contemporary.
MEATH: It was something I wrote and demoed with Sandy.
SAUSER-MONNIG: I was obsessed with it.
MEATH: Then we flipped it. It didn’t feel like a Sylvan Esso song. It fits into the world of The A’s in that there’s a lot of whimsy and a delicate tinge of menace.
Mountain Man seems like it could have been a natural outlet for this project. Why develop it as a duo?
SAUSER-MONNIG: The beginnings of this project were really these stunt yodel songs. They didn’t make sense for Mountain Man because Amelia and I were like, “We should sing these crazy songs and learn these insane yodels.” And Molly was …
MEATH: Not down.
SAUSER-MONNIG: Was not into the yodels, which is so completely fair. But we were also like, “We love the yodels. Can we though?”
MEATH: So we did.
How did you first discover The DeZurik Sisters?
SAUSER-MONNIG: They were on a German compilation of American folk and cowboy songs. We would listen to the first yodel, then pause it and practice, and then relisten to the yodels.
MEATH: We wanted to learn.
SAUSER-MONNIG: “How did they do that hiccup?”
MEATH: Alex wrote out [the songs] phonetically and that really helped, just reading a bunch of nonsense syllables.
SAUSER-MONNIG: It’s like, “What does that sound like? It sounds like a dee, followed by a doodly-daa, followed by a brrrrr, followed by a hiccup sound.”
You two sound like sisters, though you’re not. Was that quality always there or did it develop the more you sang together?
MEATH: I think it was definitely always there. The first couple of times we sang together, it was like a new-love feeling or something very magical, so much so that we couldn’t really stop doing it once we figured it out. As we’ve both gotten better at singing and better at singing together, it’s gotten smoother. If anything, I think we’ve gotten more confident in our individual voices and that makes it more interesting.
What do you love about the color of each other’s voices?
MEATH: All I can really think about is two barn swallows doing the swoops together. It’s hard to articulate. The coolest thing that happens is when you’re both doing it together you lose time and all of the trash of existence, and you get to simply be with somebody.
Kind of like a flow state?
SAUSER-MONNIG: I think that’s when it’s at its best, when we’re both fully present. It’s easier to arrive at with [Amelia] in some ways and something to aspire to always. In terms of Amelia’s voice, she’s very emotive and I’ve always found that inspirational, being able to channel emotion and compassion and feeling in a way that translates very immediately to anyone that’s listening.
MEATH: For me, Alexandra has a clarity of note that almost feels like a Möbius strip, because she can take this beautiful, clear bell and then there’s a crack moment [Snaps.] where it looks like it just disappears, and then you see the underside of the note, which is so … it feels textural like you could lick it. [Both cackle.]
You’re going to have to unpack that later. You mentioned whimsy in the recording process. Tell me more about the found sounds you pepper throughout the album.
MEATH: We weren’t like, “We’re going to make a found-sound record,” but we’d be like, “Well, we want it to have this percussive feeling that’s also …” and then Sandy would start doing something on his shorts, and we’d be like, “Let’s get that.”
SAUSER-MONNIG: “Let’s mic your shorts.”
MEATH: Once we’d done it, it became the rule, like, “The first thing we find that sounds like what we want will be the thing.”
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