“Everyone knows the character of Eve from the bible, and everyone has their own ideas about her. But if she was wandering around America in 2019, what the hell would she say?” wonders Siri Undlin of indie-folk band Humbird. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and inspired by the crystalline chill of the state’s Northern winters, Undlin creates experimental folk and environmental Americana tinged with the sophistication of classic orchestral compositions. Her upcoming album Pharmakon, out August 30, focuses on women and the female body in folklore as a poetic way to explore the human experience. Working with engineer Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens) and producer Shane Leonard (Field Report), Undlin’s newest release joins the leagues of masterful indie storytellers.
Growing up the child of a Lutheran preacher and a trial lawyer, Undlin witnessed the power of stories in her childhood home and began writing music and performing in her church choir from a young age. Her voice, which contains the unwavering fortitude of hymnal melodies, reveals her traditional background. Paired with Undlin’s knack for eccentric musical arrangements and unpredictable, fresh modes of storytelling, Pharmakon bounces between two worlds, never lingering in one for long.
It’s no wonder that this dynamic, oscillating motion inspired the creation of Undlin’s upcoming release. “When I was writing these songs, I was moving between extremes and trying to look at things differently,” says Undlin. “I was exploring the black and the white and then the gray.” The word “pharmakon,” defined by Plato, is the concept that something can either be the poison or the cure, depending on how much one consumes. “I love that idea, of the two polarizing sides of something that could either be the answer or kill you,” says Undlin. “And I think the concept is suited to the album. It was written over an intense period of a couple of years, where I was redefining my own power in music.”
Dotted by highs and lows, this period of time didn’t always feel victorious. However, the final product is a resolute album that brings attention to the universality of women’s experiences throughout time. Inspired by myths and stories such as the legend of Persephone, a modern retelling of Eve’s ancient dilemma, and Angela Carter’s heroine-themed fairytales, Undlin crosses centuries and cultures. “The track ‘Wolf Alice’ is inspired by Carter’s version of the fairytale of the same name, which became a vehicle to talk about the attempted ‘civilizing’ of women’s bodies as an oppressive force throughout human history,” says Undlin. “On ‘Eve Boards A Train,’ I imagined Eve getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden and into America in 2019. In this story, Eve has boarded a train and is writing a letter to someone .”
Just as the characters in these tales didn’t always know which turns they were going to take, Undlin is coming to enjoy the mystery of the creative process. “There's this myth that comes with being an artist that there's gonna be this one defining moment of success where everything suddenly makes sense,” says Undlin. “And I think that's actually a crock of shit.” Though she admits that the process of creating a brave album can be fraught with pain and disappointments, Undlin’s upcoming release is nothing short of triumphant. Along with the heroines of the fairytales that inspire her, Undlin is fearlessly blazing ahead, no matter where the winding forest path might take her.
1. 48 Hours
2. Wolf Alice
3. Eve Boards A Train
6. Sea Shells
8. Low Tide
9. Bone Hide