I never had the privilege of meeting Dave Lamb before his death last year after a valiant battle with Leukemia. Brown Bird was always this pseudo-mythical force, spoken of with a certain gravity that never suggested, but insisted upon a greater importance. No one ever name-dropped them in conversation with a wishy-washy “this band called Brown Bird.” It was always just confidently “Brown Bird,” and as a non-native resident to Providence I took that to mean that they were more than just “this band,” but indeed something greater.
On April 28, their latest and final album, Axis Mundi, will be released just over a year after his untimely death, a fact that makes it hard not to project more potent meaning on its content.
“Dave was clearly influenced by his experience,” says MorganEve Swain, Dave’s wife and partner in Brown Bird. “He did a lot of reading and writing about spirituality, facing his mortality and the struggle of waiting for his body to heal.”
Roughly a third of what ended up on Axis Mundi was written before Dave’s diagnosis in May of 2013. “Dave would write and record parts. Then we’d discuss it and the songs would morph into their final states.” Dave would record his parts over and over again, inching them closer to some kind of perfection. At the time, MorganEve realized that for Dave this was all therapy. “It may sound cheesy,” she explains, “but music really did keep him going.”
The plan was to get to a bigger, more rock-inspired sound. The signs had always been pointing towards this, but after his diagnosis the idea of getting back to their rock influences took on a new significance.
“We didn’t want to make an album that was about his illness, or how hard the year was,” MorganEve says. “We wanted to come back with a bang. We received so much love and support from fans and friends and family. This was meant to be a victory record, and it still is.”
Those demos are Dave’s contribution to the record, which MorganEve set out to finish after touring with Joe Fletcher and The Devil Makes Three – her therapy, she says – in the wake of Dave’s death. She describes moments where she’d fight through takes, only to have tears soaking her instruments, but also moments on certain songs that could only make her smile. “Throughout it, I had the profound sense that I was doing something of utmost importance. This record would keep him alive.”
“Axis Mundi is a phrase I found written in Dave’s lyric notebook,” she explained in a post on Brown Bird’s website. “Upon looking it up, I learned that the ‘axis mundi’ represents the place where heaven connects with the Earth.”
The title is only too fitting. Axis Mundi will be the last time any of us hear Dave sing something new for the first time. It will at once be both a bitter farewell and a reminder that no one who has ever left an impression on us ever truly leaves us behind.
Axis Mundi will be released on April 28 on Supply & Demand Music