Chicago-via-Madison alt-country quartet Flame Shark has reached new artistic heights with their new song, "A Fossil." If this tune is any indication, they've got many more peaks in their future.
The lead track on the band's new album Farm Life, "A Fossil" begins with a lovely, lonely-sounding slide guitar. Soon a shimmering melody enters, sung wistfully, with a touch of the blues. Its quiet beauty gets you pondering the lyrics that follow, especially the heart-tugging lament, "Oh, the future, it's not what it once was." This line evolves into a dramatic chorus, buoyed by a stunning surge of guitar and piano that recalls Wilco and the Flaming Lips while looking, ironically, toward the horizon.
"I think 'A Fossil' is a great representation of Flame Shark as a band," says bassist, vocalist and songwriter Mike Meske. "This song speaks to all those who have identified in one form or another with loss, regret or the changing occurrences of what was and what has become."
Guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and amateur philosopher Justin Jahnnke has a different take. "The fellas in Flame Shark, myself included, are sort of armchair philosophers. We do sit around and talk about emotions and the future and the state of our chi and all that stuff," he explains.
"When I hear Mike sing, 'Am I not of substance or of blood, am I just a print beneath the mud?' in the opening line of 'A Fossil,' that's a powerful message. He's saying, from my perspective, 'Am I of any consequence, where do I fit in, can I even get in?' I don't think the song is just about loss of a relationship. I think it's more about loss of one's self. Mike is asking for recognition and remembrance of who and what he is or is supposed to be."
Meske got the inspiration for "A Fossil" several years ago, when he was applying to chiropractic colleges in California. He was having doubts about his relationship with his girlfriend and exploring the possibility of trading life as he knew it for a full-time music career with band mates Justin Jahnnke and Rusty Lee.
"One day, I was sent to pick up my much younger sister at the elementary school. I got to reminiscing about youth, innocence and how it was as a kid, when responsibilities were nonexistent and the toughest decisions revolved around trading cards and whether we'd purchase white or chocolate milk for lunch," he recalls. "That's when I started humming the chorus, 'Oh, the future is not what it once was.'"
So, what happened to our pensive protagonist? He opted for change: deciding against school, parting ways with his girlfriend and moving to Madison to pursue Flame Shark. It felt like a new life, with his former existence fossilizing in the distance. The lyrics began to flow, and "A Fossil" was born.
Meske's musical path hasn't been lined with roses and million-dollar contracts, but Flame Shark's members are proud they've grown into something worth pursuing for the long haul.
"Flame Shark has grown from being a really shitty yet energetic bar band to a robust purveyor of deceptively swampy tunes," remarks Jahnnke. "We love this music and care for it like a Japanese gardener would care for his prized Bonsai trees."
Listen to an MP3 of "A Fossil" in the related files at right. More music by Flame Shark is available on its MySpace and Facebook pages. Listen to this and other songs from Farm Life when the band plays at the Frequency on Thursday, January 20.
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