By day John Stirratt and Patrick Sansone sell thousands of albums, tour the world with indie juggernaut Wilco and lend their writing, playing and producing abilities to dozens of high-profile recordings. But by night these renowned pros are able to sit down, relax and create something special that comes straight from the heart of why they pursued music as a career - and that’s the Autumn Defense.
After releasing 2007’s The Autumn Defense on their own Broadmoor label, Stirratt and Sansone have teamed up with North Carolina’s Yep Rock Records to release their latest full-length effort, Once Around. For the past nine years, this pair of Southerners-turned-Chicagoans have quietly been nurturing the reverent, classic pop of the Autumn Defense. Though the outset of the band saw Stirratt handling the bulk of the songwriting while Sansone lent his talents to production, the duo has steadily evolved into a partnership in both respects. From 2000’s debut effort The Green Hour to the critically lauded, salt-of-the-earth folk rock of 2003’s Circles, the Autumn Defense developed its late afternoon kickback sound like a fine wine develops and deepens – with time. Once Around is a formidable tapestry of thoughtful, intricate sunshine wrapped around a core of timeless, experienced songwriting. It’s the kind of record that needed to be made, for the audience but also for the artists.
But that part didn’t come easily.
“I think the possibility of an Autumn Defense album after the self-titled LP was a little bit in question,” Sansone says. “It wasn't explicit...but I think we needed a little bit of time to reconnect with why we do this, and realize how much we enjoy it.”
The majority of that reconnecting occurred while Stirratt and Sansone were in New Zealand last year to record the Seven Worlds Collide charity LP with singer/songwriter Neil Finn and a host of other talented musicians. “The experience in New Zealand was instrumental in this,” Sansone recalls. “We were spontaneously writing new songs, having other musicians that we really respect recording with us and reacting so positively to the Autumn Defense material.”
The result is a distinctly Autumn Defense record, full of lush melodic textures, invitingly delicate pop arrangements and frequents nods to the AM gold, soul and radio rock that dominated the group’s formative years.
But the band has also had its ear to the groundswell of modern independent music. “Seeing a lot of the newer, vocal based groups like Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes makes me appreciate the vocal sound that we’ve always had,” Stirratt notes. “It's prompted me to highlight the harmony aspect of our group even more than before.”
While those groups are currently selling out theaters and headlining festivals, the Autumn Defense is content to quietly lead the resurgence of the Laurel Canyon folk movement, much as they have for nearly a decade. Trends in pop music come and go like the fashions that accompany them, and rare is the outfit that knows itself well enough to hang its hat on the belief that melody, harmony and a healthy record collection are the foundational elements of great music. The Autumn Defense embodies a sound that doesn’t worry about fitting into the current independent cannon, chiefly because it’s a sound that never goes out of style.