You never quite get over the loss of a parent. And really, why should you? No matter how formative or destructive a role they played in your life, a parent has ties to your foundation that are hard to shake long after they’ve passed. The best you can do after losing them is to accept the memories and pain left in their absence — a process that takes far longer than most people will admit. Even for a band like Fiddlehead.
Patrick Flynn’s father, LTC Richard Flynn, passed away peacefully in his sleep on March 30, 2010. He was only 63 years old. Richard Flynn grew up in Hyde Park, the son of children of immigrants, determined to make the most of his family’s relatively poor income. After attending the US Military Academy at West Point to pursue a free education, he received a Master’s Degree in English from Indiana University. Because of his West Point enrollment, he briefly served in the Vietnam War. Then, after 25 years of service, he retired from the US Army and returned to teaching poetry and literature, this time at a high school level. His death occurred in the middle of a school semester. It was unexpected by all. Patrick Flynn and his aunt had to pick up all of his belongings in the classroom. They both cried throughout the day.
Richard Flynn served as a role model in more ways than one. He was poetic and well-versed, stern but forgiving, the type of man who chooses his words with care and his silences with even moreso. Or at least, that’s how Patrick describes him to me, a bittersweet smile on his face, in the upstairs corner of Crema Cafe. He drove here straight from Lexington, where he teaches AP History in high school. His eyes light up as he talks about his father. Over the course of nearly three hours, Flynn rushes through words as if each sentence is the next best part of the story, all while taking his time so that each detail can contextualize the stories to a deeper level.
“My father was incredible but also an asshole because he was a human being” Flynn says with a side grin. “My favorite memory of him is from the very first Have Heart tour, back when we were all 18. I had a break between the fall and spring semesters of freshman year of college. The van me and the friends we were touring with fell out, so we had to fit everything into two shitty cars and drive down to Baltimore where someone was willing to lend us a van. We were all at my house. That’s when my father told everyone to stop. He sat us down in the living room and asked, ‘What are you doing? What is the plan? I’m getting the impression zero adults have asked you this.’ I was sitting there with my head down. It was humiliating because my father was infantilizing me in front of all of my friends. He was talking about it in a way as if he wouldn’t let us go. It was dead silent. Then he stopped and said we could all go. I was so pissed that this was how the tour was starting off, as if he had almost ruined the tour itself. Right before we drove off, he said, ‘You know, Paddy. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.’ Which I now understand. But back then, I was like, ‘Fuck you, cool, bring up some Shakespeare bullshit.’ I got in the car and sat there with a merch bag shoved in my face. I thought about it that whole ride and realized that he was trying to tell me I’m the leader in this situation; of course it will be shitty because I’m the one doing all the hard work, but I should revel in the fact that I made it all happen. And here I am, still thinking about his words some 16 years later.”
That tour was the start of Flynn’s musical career, an outlet that would extend from his young teenage years all the way on through to where he’s at now, a 32-year-old Massachusetts native weeks away from getting married. He founded the iconic Boston straight edge hardcore band Have Heart in 2002. That soon turned into Free, and off stemmed other punk side-projects like Sweet Jesus and Wolf Whistle. By the time he reached his mid-20s, Flynn unintentionally became the role model for droves of Boston hardcore kids and, as they shared his bands’ music with friends, listeners throughout New England. The music was aggressive and fast on the surface, each notated by Flynn’s reckless yells, but careful at its core. His mother and father were just glad that he joined an anti-drug and alcohol community.
So it’s funny that Flynn ended up in Fiddlehead, a band that’s more canorous and dynamic than anything he’s ever been in before. With Basement member Alex Henery on guitar, Casey Nealon on bass, Shawn Costa on drums, Alex Dow on guitar, and Flynn on lead vocals, the five-piece work their way through melodies more in tune with post-hardcore and alt-rock than anything else. Their 2014 debut EP, Out of the Bloom, bears direct comparisons to artists like Slint and Fugazi. The band’s debut full-length, Springtime and Blind, released last month via Run For Cover Records, continues that musical trend, but leans into influences like Samiam and Archers of Loaf as well.
The band came together when Flynn was living with Dow on Saunders St. in Allston, both looking to create new music beyond the hardcore scene because they recently hit a low point in their lives. Basement had just broken up at the time, so Henery would swing by the apartment to hang out, play board games, and chat. In the summer of 2013, they decided to jam together and invited Costa over to drum. They turned one riff into “My Arboretum.” Then another stringy guitar line turned into “Birdnest.” They tried their hand at a Mission of Burma cover. Flynn doesn’t play instruments, so he acts as a director, offering input by only seeing songs through the lens of the lyrics, stripping away the technical elements to push boundaries to high, and oftentimes unrealistic, expectations. Soon, they had amassed a demo and decided Ned Russin of Title Fight would record it. But once Basement reunited, Fiddlehead had to put things on hold. The following year, they started making music again in an easygoing, patchwork fashion. They put out their debut EP that fall.
If you’ve seen Fiddlehead perform live before, congratulations. The band is pretty hard to track down even if you keep your eyes peeled for concerts. Because all of the members live in different cities and, in the case of Henery, different countries, it’s difficult for them to line their schedules up for a show, nevermind a tour. It’s been seven weeks since Springtime and Blind came out and Fiddlehead have yet to hold a proper record release show in Boston, the city they cite as their hometown. The band will play alongside Self Defense Family, Sannhet, and Weeping Icon this Wednesday, marking their first proper Boston show since the album came out, even though it’s technically an opening set. The fact that Fiddlehead were able to find the time to record an album is a feat in that sense. Between 2014 to 2016, the period in which they wrote Springtime and Blind, the band only practiced as a unit five times, each session clocking in around four hours.
With a new outlet like Fiddlehead to share his thoughts, Flynn realized the band’s proper album could be a chance to try more personal material. Because Fiddlehead already stuck out as the unlikely artsy outlet he was in, he decided to push things further by discussing something he had yet to tackle in music: the death of his father. Instead of focusing on the personal and private aspect of losing his father, Flynn decided to focus on arguably a much harder aspect of loss: watching, questioning, and wanting to comprehend his mother’s grieving process. “This album is me essentially ferociously trying to understand someone’s pain while knowing the whole time that you never will,” he says.
It’s hard to do for many reasons. For one, his parents had a fairy-tale marriage. They were the type of couple who wrote letters while separated by distance during the war, prioritized education above all else, and raised a family on happiness while hiding the struggles they had to handle. But before he could analyze the way his mother handled the death, Flynn had to move past his own memories first. He began replaying memories on loop. The way he saw it, he had to get to the point of exhausting the emotional side of loss, but not the importance of it, in order to move beyond the pain it caused. If he wanted to retain these memories forever without feeling the extreme emotional tax they tolled each time, he had to.
On its surface, Springtime and Blind addresses what it’s like to watch a loved one lose someone. What makes the record standout in the way it handles death, however, is the details built into the record beyond its lyrics. In the middle of “Poem You” comes an old answering machine message Flynn’s father recorded, one that remains on his family’s home phone to this day because his mother couldn’t bring herself to delete it. The story his mother tells on “4/17/70,” where she recounts his father returning from the war a week early, was a recording Flynn secretly captured on his phone during a dinner conversation. Songs swap effortlessly between his voice and hers, be it in her words or her delivery. There’s a lot of duplexity in the music because there was in real life. It’s why the album’s title—Springtime and Blind, riffing on the idea that blindness resonates more deeply with someone if it occurs during a vibrant season—is juxtaposed with the album cover: a photograph taken by Flynn’s father of his mother, her arms spread wide and eyes closed, while on a roadtrip through the south. One of the album’s most commonly misread song titles, “Widow in the Sunlight,” came from Flynn realizing the weight of this juxtaposition in real time.
“My father passed away on the eve of March 30th, and it was a perfectly gorgeous spring,” says Flynn. “I remember one time, I pulled into my driveway and my mother was sitting in a chair in sunlight. She was sitting there, right in the middle of the lawn. And it was fucking sad. Seeing her sitting there, taking it in, the warmth, and yet you know she’s just terribly, terribly upset deep down. I’ll never forget it.”
It’s been eight years and only now is Flynn learning how to grapple with the proper aftermath of his father’s loss. He doesn’t want to throw away the memories he has of his father. He just wants them to lose their emotional baggage so he can finally look back on those times with a happy, reflective nostalgia — an important distinction if there ever was one. His lyric-writing process became twice as hard because of that. Flynn doesn’t write lyrics the way most songwriters do. There’s no romanticized moment of the pen hitting the paper while at a restaurant. There’s no frantic iPhone note filled with ideas. There’s no trash bin filled with rejected poems he crumpled into balls. Instead, his lyric-writing process centers around total isolation. At home, he waits for everyone to leave the house, lowers the blinds, turns off the lights, and then yells a melody, waiting for the words to form themselves. The method’s on par with a sensory deprivation tank, but it works.
Flynn waited until the band was in the studio recording Springtime and Blind to come up with the album’s lyrics. So he locked himself in the studio’s soundproof room—a tiny, pitch-black space whose only light filters in through a small window—because he could scream inside it without a peep being heard by the rest of the band. It was the closest he could get to emulating his dark home environment. “It was the most intense situation I’ve ever been in,” he laughs. “Just me in complete darkness, finally, letting out massive screams that nobody could hear.”
But the clock ticked faster than Flynn anticipated. While he was able to figure out lyrics for the majority of Springtime and Blind in that room, a few songs remained untouched, requiring him to come up with lyrics while literally in the process of recording. Album opener “Spousal Loss” is the most vivid instance of such. The unscripted sentiments that appeared were unfiltered truths: “Can’t feel the pass of time / Or any warmth above / Or the sun’s light / Then here’s a son’s love: / All your loss of love, just leave it on me.”
“Thankfully I’m comfortable with my emotions in life, but singing like that [on “Spousal Loss”] was hard,” says Flynn. “I was in front of two guys, Alex and our engineer Jesse, trying to articulate how my mother grieves the loss of my father. After 10 minutes, I started yelling through the lack of lyrics—not while crying, but somewhat teary—and conjured up some honest, reflective, and thoughtful lines. Those lines introduce what the record would be about.”
For those wondering (like I was), Flynn’s mother hasn’t heard the record yet but she knows it exists. “I told her that some of her audio would be on the record, that the photo Dad took of her on vacation would be the cover. She just responded, ‘Oh. Oh cool.’ So I told her, ‘I think you might like the music this time around because it’s not only yelling, so it’s kind of nice?’ and she said, ‘Oh cool, cool,’” he says with a laugh.
He told her this about a month ago. They were gathered with family at a memorial service for his uncle who passed away from heart disease. The record had just come out. At one point during the memorial service, she went outside for a cigarette break and Flynn followed. He showed her the album cover and played “4/17/70” off his phone, marking the first time she would hear the voice memo Fiddlehead turned into a beautiful, instrumental-like track. He said they shared a short conversation and some silence. In a way, that was all he needed to hear. Flynn isn’t looking for a thank you from his mother or any kind of praise. He just wants her to know that he’s there.
“She hasn’t heard the record yet. No, not in full. I don’t know. I told her that the record is about Dad and her dealing with the passing. But no, she hasn’t heard it. She’s funny like that,” he says. “My mother has only ever been to one show of mine: the last Have Heart show, which was a benefit for the women’s shelter my mom runs. There were over 2,000 people there and [my parents] were both like, ‘What the fuck?’ Kids flew in from places like Japan and London. But no, I don’t know if she will listen to this. She doesn’t have to. And if she does, I just want her to know that I want to understand. I want her to know that I care.”
SELF DEFENSE FAMILY, SANNHET, FIDDLEHEAD, WEEPING ICON. WED 5.30. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 HARVARD AVE., ALLSTON. 8:30PM/18+/$12. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM