Meet Field Medic, the West Coast freak-folk poet who will capture your heart at Everybody Hits this Thursday - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Field Medic | photo courtesy of artist

If the term “field medic” only and immediately conjures a mental image of medical personnel tending to wounded soldiers in combat, you’re probably wondering who this ginger-bearded DIY lad is that’s currently staring at you from the picture above. At least those were my thoughts a couple of months ago when I first soaked in the bill for the now-upcoming gig at Everybody Hits with Kississippi, Field Medic, Shannen Moser (replacing Harmony Woods), and Cherry. Three of these names I knew, of course — they’re the shining scene stars of Philly. ‘Twas the red-headed string bean who stumped me.

So I took to Field Medic’s Bandcamp, where the hardcore metal-esque black and red profile reading “freak folk/bedroom pop/post-country,” began spinning out a bluegrass-level, live-recorded traditional folk singalong called “do a little dope” — complete with whistles and pup-like howls and hollers. Utterly confused but in a happily surprised sort of way, I chuckled through the array of meme aesthetic titles (e.g. “p e  g a s u s t h o t z,” “NEON FLOWERZ,” “me, my gibberish, & the moon,” etc.) and decided on the track “OTL” next. Harmonica-driven with self-aware, goofy lyrics like the line “I’m at the grocery store buying EBT sushi, wasabi soy sauce one true love,” mixed with true hopeless romantic sincerity, I knew I would be hooked on whatever else awaited me from this refreshing project.

But that left me with the question of who in sam heck is this colorful DIY character who crafts sweet love songs in the most authentic folk tradition? It’s Kevin Patrick, the San-Francisco artist who now splits his time halfway between San Fran and LA, that’s who. He’s had a pretty good year, I’d say, as 2017 brought an induction to the Run For Cover family and the resulting release of his first full-length album, Songs from the Sunroom, with them. But this record is really like a compilation of sorts, as Patrick has been making and sharing self-recorded tracks on Bandcamp for years now — those of which past gems make up this record.

Still left with many questions about the project, I was able to speak with Patrick on the phone last Wednesday morning while he was strolling the streets of San Francisco following his fruitless attempts at thrifting for a boom box to use on tour. Talking with him, I learned that his vocabulary is littered with descriptors like “hella” or “super” and other terms such as “HD” “chill” or my favorite, “spooky” and/or “spooked.” Adding these verbal traits to his meme culture characteristics, it may seem easy to superficially label the project as a big bowl of purposeful irony. But Patrick’s answer was really quite simple: it’s not irony, it’s genuine silliness.

Read more on this in our conversation below, where we further discuss the combo of DIY aesthetics with authentic folk music, along with gentrification in San Francisco, (Sandy) Alex G, and being possessed by demons.

The Key: Can you tell me about the recording of the songs on the record? I heard it was quite literally recorded in the sunroom you were living in at the time.

Kevin Patrick: Yeah so when I was living in San Francisco, my friend had this sunroom in their house and I just approached them and asked if I could move into it. It’s just like this tiny room. So I lived there for about five years, and that’s when I started recording a bunch of lo-fi stuff. So a lot of it was recorded in the sunroom, and then some of it in the kitchen and some of it in the living room – but it was all in the house. Because I don’t really like recording in the studio but I always felt like I had to for some reason. So then I sort of discovered I love recording myself, and I think that’s why I started recording so much, because I was just like “fuck, I can just do this all the time.” So yeah, it was in the sunroom and the kitchen and the living room. 

TK: You should divide the album by that. Like “sunroom tracks,” “kitchen tracks…”

KP: Yeah, it can be like a three-disc – where you can hear the tone from the different room.

TK: The music you create is like a true, roots-y authentic kind of folk – not the commercialized, easy-listening radio kind of stuff. What drew you to making this kind of music?

KP: Well I think it sort of comes from what you just said. Like for whatever reason, folk has been commercialized and become – I feel like it’s almost a sketch genre to be affiliated with at times. Not that I feel that way personally. But telling someone, “Yeah, I play folk music,” in their mind I feel like they’ll all of a sudden think of, I don’t know, just the weird radio stuff. I love Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake. Although sonically their stuff is a little more HD than mine because they were working on like two-inch tapes, I found that when I started recording to cassette it sounded more natural to me. I don’t know if that’s just the tape or the environment that I was in, because I was doing it at home for once. But the tape was what was available to me at that time. 

Overall the cost of producing all the songs on that album was maybe $150 dollars. For someone who doesn’t have hella money – I was working at a shitty customer service job — so I couldn’t afford to be like dropping into a studio and paying like $400 dollars a day. I also don’t like the pressure, you know what I mean? I think that’s another reason I record that way, because I like to just to be able to record basically any and every song that I write, and not be worried that its “the one.” So if I do it at home to tape, it doesn’t matter. If it’s not “the song” it doesn’t matter.

TK: I read in your bio for Run for Cover that you’ve released every song that you’ve ever recorded. Is that true?

KP: For the most part yeah. I have like ten or fifteen super, super lo-fi songs I recorded on not a 4-track, but like a desktop voice memo thing. It’s like a rectangle that has a tape in it. But I have some tracks I recorded like that that I still have. But essentially the mindset I took with this project was too not feel any pressure about making a “big hit.” But I always write a lot of stuff, and I just enjoy it so I wanted to put everything out regardless of if it was going to be commercially successful or marketable or whatever. 

TK: Along with your DIY recording methods, you have a very DIY kind of aesthetic. Like even the song titles on the album make me laugh. And it’sthis mixing of super genuine folk songs with this kind of ironic DIY meme aesthetic that’sso interesting to me. Was this a purposeful choice to mix these personas or did it just all fall into place naturally?

KP: I think what happened is I just sort of embraced every aspect of who I was. I think that there’s a certain — at least I had this mindset — when I was younger, that the songwriter has to be this stormy, tormented emo guy. But then I found when I would experiment with my silly side…I’m a pretty silly person to be honest with you. Like, I keep it silly. So when I started putting some silliness in the tracks, and like not taking everything so seriously, I found that I was having more fun and also people were connecting with it more. I think that a gateway equal to making someone cry is a curtain to making somebody laugh. And those things don’t have to be exclusive. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. 

TK: Yeah, I totally agree with that.

KP: You know what I mean? It was just a matter of embracing myself and realizing that it’s totally chill to be silly and be hella sad at other times because that’s just human. 

TK: That brings to mind the track, “do a little dope,” which, sonically, is one of the lightest tracks on the record and is a very comforting, little singalongtune. But then when you really listen to it, it’s probablythe darkest song on the album. Do you make an effortto combat darker lyrical material with a silliness and lighter sound? Or like you were saying, does that just come naturally?

KP: I don’t know if it’s on purpose, but I have found that that happens sometimes. Like I find that when I feel super dark, I’ll write a super light, airy song. And then there’s times I’m actually hella jolly and then I’ll write something super evil-sounding. So maybe it’s just a subconscious trick or something where I like to go to the other place when I’m there. Also, I just like really old folk music too, so with “do a little dope” I wanted to write a song that had that kind of vibe. 

TK: Yeah definitely. The first time I heard the track — coupled with the fact that it’s a live recording on the album — I thought it was a cover of some old folk artist I didn’t know about.So you definitely got that across. 

KP: That’s awesome. I wrote that song when I was working at a coffee shop and I was on my ten-minute break and I just came home and put it over that very classic chord progression and the song was just done. It was another one of those songs that – I feel like songs that really stick with people, you don’t know when they’re written.

TK: Your lyrics seem to piece together bits of introspective observations, and Isaw on your social media pages that you’re super into haikus. Has that influenced you in your writing? Like you just jot down mental notes throughout the day and then go record something immediately? Or is it a longer, thought-out process?

KP: Yeah, I mean that’s pretty much exactly how it happens. I just write stuff down throughout the day. Sometimes I get into a discipline of writing every single morning. I always tend to catalogue my dreams. There’s a lot of dreams that come out in my songs because I have these weird, surreal dreams. But if I’m not doing that, I’ll just walk around and if a thought strikes me I’ll just write it down. You know, if I see something in the sky or if I see something happen that I think is kind of cool I’ll just take note of it; and then I also like to force myself to write a bunch of haikus. Pretty much I just write a lot of stuff and then usually there’s like a moment when there’s one feeling that puts it all together, and then I start to just pick over what I’ve written and that’s how I find lines that will lead to other lines.

TK: The track “fuck these foolz that are making valencia street unchill” — which, side note:all ofthese titles are wonderful.

KP: [laughs] Thanks. The original title was “and destroying the mission for everyone who lives there.” 

TK: That was in addition to the current title

KP: Yeah it was added on the bottom. I had to cut it off because I uploaded it to Spotify and was watching the title go by and I don’t know, but thank you. 

TK: That is a super emo thing though. Like the emo pop-punk bands growing up, they always had the longest titles and they were awesome.

KP: Yeah, I really love super ridic, long titles. My only regret with the collection is that I didn’t title it something super long and ridiculous. I couldn’t think of anything because all of the songs were already out, and they already had their own respective like weird titles from the albums that they came off of. But it’s one of those things I think probably once a day, like “fuck I should’ve called this collection something hella weird and long.” But you never know ’til you know.

TK: [laughs] This is true. So about that super-long titled track (“fuck these foolz that are making valencia street unchill”) — rather than the rest of your record which are more introspective and dreamy love songs, this is one that deals with the broader political issue of gentrification — specifically in the Bay Area.

KP: Yeah, you know when all the tech companies came in the whole culture sort of shifted. But I had only been there for about seven years, so I feel like even my opinion on it is even sort of low on the rank of what should be really thought of. But what I noticed is – when I first came to San Francisco I came from San Jose, and in San Jose everyone would make fun of me for how I dressed and yell at me from their car, and I just felt super like I had to hide who I was or something. And when I came to San Francisco, people wouldn’t even look twice at me. You know, no one was accusing me of being hella weird or anything because I dressed weird or [they weren’t] calling me mean names.

And so I was walking down the street shortly around the time I wrote that song. And I hadn’t been down that street, Valencia, probably in a about a year and a half and just like all the shops had changed completely from being cool independent shops to these weird bougie shops that no one I know could afford. And the people walking the street were all of a sudden these sort of bro dudes that I fled from. 

TK: Yeah that’s definitely a thing here in Philly – we’re no stranger to that here. 

KP: Yeah it’s just a worldwide phenomenon. And for some reason I was hella aggravated by it. And I think that the song encapsules a lot of anger that I don’t usually have in my music. And for a while when I put it out, I was sort of spooked. Because that was the first song a lot of people heard from me because people were like either super into it or like outraged by it. 

TK: Ah, you ruffled some feathers.

KP: I ruffled some feathers. But like most of my stuff are love songs or observations from like a silly man. I decided to put it on there because so many people connect with it. And I connect with it as well, but that was sort of my homage to folk tradition. The melody is the same as “With God On Their Side” by Bob Dylan and it’s just a super folky political track.

TK: So let’s talk about the other very long-titled EP if i shout that the revolutions in my blind heart have left me on the mend, would i still have to surrender to the tides to exorcise this possession? These are a little spookier than the Sunroom tracks.

KP: Yeah I was hella spooked at the time. I always forget about that EP because I feel like it got sort of buried in the excitement for the Run For Cover stuff. And also because that EP came from another label none of those songs are on the Songs from the Sunroom – so it’s pretty rare. No one knows about it. 

TK: Are these the kind of sounds you’re experimenting with for the next album? The darker stuff?

KP: That [EP] is definitely an exception for me because I felt like…my house and my mind was like…haunted by a demon that I couldn’t get away from. So I was channeling like some true evil. It might not even have been me that wrote and recorded those songs — I don’t know. The new stuff is not evil. I have a live band on a few of the songs with real drums and bass as opposed to drum machines. Some of it is a little folkier essentially. Some of them have piano – like one of them hella sounds like Counting Crows. Not actually, but that’s how I think of it because it has this emotional piano line. And then this one I did last week is actually a little bit spooky. But it’s not evil.

TK: Is there a sliding scale for these terms? Like “spooky” would be on the left and then “evil” would be on the furthest right? 

KP: Yeah evil is farthest right. Like “I Am Satan” is pretty much on the evil side. Because the track itself is possessed. But like “Crazy Person,” that song is spooky. So I don’t know [about the next album,] I’m piecing a bunch of songs together for this release, and I can’t decide if I want to do a twenty-song album or if I want to drop what I already have and just move on. It’s weird to just put out your first official full length considering the fact I’ve released like hella stuff already. So I’m trying to keep the mentality where I’m not tripping about it. But at the same time like how can I not trip slightly?

TK: Your experience – it’s definitely not exactly the same – but it reminds me of (Sandy) Alex G and how he got started releasing a bunch of stuff on Bandcamp.

KP: Yeah I recently just got into Alex G. I’d listened before but not like deeply. But for some reason in the last couple of weeks, I’ve listened to like all of his stuff. It was when he put out that song “fay” I really got into it.

TK: Yes. That song sounds like a DSUtune so I was like “this is great.”

KP: Yeah throughout reading interviews of him it kind of brought me some solace because he was talking about recording everything into Garageband or whatever. So I was like okay, I guess I don’t need to trip because Alex G is like definitely — his shit sounds awesome. His being like “yeah, I don’t really give a fuck about recording anyways” [brought solace] cause that’s how I felt prior to the label stuff. But when I got signed I was like “fuck, should I be putting out something that’s like hella HD?” But reading his interview, I was like “naw.”

TK: Are you excited for the gig coming up? You know you’re playing at like a real live batting cages with some of Philly’s finest.

KPYeah I heard that that place was really chill. And also the bill is amazing. I’m feeling super lucky to be playing with all these people.

Field Medic will be playing at Everybody Hits this Thursday with Kississippi, Shannen Moser, and Cherry. Find info and tickets here, and listen to Songs from the Sunroom below.

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