Many generations ago, living on the road — or, better, “the rails” — was viewed as a badge of honor for a folk singer. Or at least it was a good idea to manufacture a romantic background of rootless wandering for authenticity’s sake. So when Kevin Patrick — a 27-year-old singer-songwriter from San Francisco who is influenced by Bob Dylan and writes heartfelt, lo-fi dirges that co-mingle personal introspection, political anxiety, and absurdist one-liners under the name Field Medic — casually mentions that he spent the last past few years “being a hobo,” it might be written off as posturing. Only he doesn’t romanticize his recent past. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“About two years ago I just quit my job and moved out of my house and sort of went on infinite tour,” Patrick explains during a recent interview. “And, in between each stop, I would crash at my friend’s house in Los Angeles or at my girlfriend’s house in San Francisco.” Living on the road could be lonely, even demoralizing. A non-stop string of one-nighters populated by indifferent strangers and way too many drinks. Finally, at the end of last summer, he found a permanent base in the LA area. “Just putting my clothes into a dresser felt like this amazing experience,” he said.
This wariness of the perpetual touring life emanates from Field Medic’s forthcoming album, Fade Into The Dawn, in which songs about hopelessness over geopolitical unrest (“Songs R Worthless Now”) and the pull of self-destruction (“The Bottle’s My Lover, She’s Just My Friend”) are dispersed amid Patrick’s caustically witty musings about the banality of small-time indie rock. On the album opening “Used 2 Be A Romantic,” Patrick refers to himself as a “dude in a laminate” who has to hawk band t-shirts in order to pay the rent.
The minor miracle of Fade Into The Dawn is that none of this comes across as whiny or self-pitying, due to Patrick’s offbeat sense of humor and his unerring melodic sense, which keeps his songs rich in hooks even as he sticks mostly to arrangements centered on acoustic guitar, the occasional banjo, and a stripped-back drum kit. The austere music is a nod to the early ’60s Bob Dylan albums that Patrick cut his teeth on — The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is a particular favorite — though to his credit he’s not a slavish imitator intent on reviving a long-gone era. Rather, he’s taken the aesthetic of the road-weary troubadour and imbued it with a millennial sensibility.
Sometimes he does this in an almost literal sense. Take “F**k These Foolz That Are Making Valencia Street Unchill,” a highlight of 2017’s Songs From The Sunroom, which compiled some of the best tracks that the prolific Patrick posted online starting with 2013’s Crushed Pennies EP. At first listen, it sounds like a straightforward replication of Dylan in protest-singer mode, nodding conspicuously in the direction of “With God On Our Side.” But the lyrics — spitefully and hilariously — skewer how tech billionaires have made the Bay Area uninhabitable for anyone who’s not obscenely wealthy. This melding of old music and a young perspective is retained on Fade Into the Dawn, which should appeal to those who fell hard for Cardinal-era Pinegrove.
Patrick recently spoke about life on the road, his childhood love of writing “wacky songs,” and how he transcends the “corniness” of singer-songwriter clichés.
What was it like not having a home for a couple years?
Dude, it was really, really difficult. The strangest experience from the whole thing was, when I wasn’t on tour, I was still on tour because wherever I got back to, I was crashing on a couch still. So it was, like, I didn’t have any privacy and it became difficult to write music because that’s a pretty solitary, personal thing, I didn’t feel comfortable pulling my guitar out and singing and making a whole bunch of noise in someone else’s house.
The first song on the album, “Used 2 Be Romantic,” is about being disillusioned with touring. Have you gotten over that feeling yet?
It’s hard to say. I think I’m honestly still kinda disillusioned, because when I started this project I had another band called Rin Tin Tiger and we toured. And I started Field Medic as a classic side project — I would just record a bunch of songs and release them immediately and I would never play shows unless somebody who knew me asked me to play. It was experimenting, just making cool songs by myself which was fun. So, I never really expected to be a tour fiend, as I became later on.
I have a pretty generalized anxiety sort of disposition, and the only time that I really feel not anxious is when I’m performing. Once I get on stage I finally feel cool. So, in that aspect, touring is really good for me, because it helps me get out of my own head. But it’s everything else — the really long drives and the lack of comfortable places to sleep and the large amount of alcohol readily available and the time on your hands to do nothing. It just kind of gets me wound up.
When did you first start making music?
My friend and I in elementary school actually put out a bunch of wacky songs that we sort of made up on the spot. After that, I put out a wacky rap parody album called Dolla City Cent when I was 11, that I recorded straight to tape, on a karaoke machine. My freshman year of high school, that’s when I first got a guitar and I started just writing and recording folk songs. I didn’t really have any expectations to make it into a career, I just was having fun.
Who were your influences?
I really love Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt. More contemporary artists would be Fionn Regan and The Tallest Man On Earth. I’ve listened to a lot of metal-core music. I listen to just as much non-folk as folk music. I love this band called Every Time I Die, I love this band called Thy Art Is Murder. I love Tupac, I love Future. I like music that hits hella hard, even though I tend to make music that’s kind of delicate.
How did you get turned on to singer-songwriters?
When I was in high school there was like a big boom of acoustic duos on MySpace, just these kind of indie-pop bands that have acoustic songs. So, that got me interested in playing the acoustic guitar. I think it must have been my junior year of high school, [when] I just stole all my dad’s albums — he had a huge CD collection because he’s a classic ’90s dad. That’s where I first discovered Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and the Cure, and then something kind of just flipped in my head. I was like, ‘Oh sh*t, acoustic music is more than this whiny high school stuff, this is like real serious songwriting.’ And then down that path I discovered John Prine, who is also a huge influence for me. But I was super, super hooked on Bob Dylan for like a year straight.
I think that’s a common phenomenon with people who love Bob Dylan. When you first get into him, you’ll only listen to him and nobody else for a year.
Yeah, because there’s so much to choose from and he’s such a fascinating dude. “Girl From The North Country” is one of my all-time favorite songs. I love the kind of love song, ballad stuff, but I also loved how Bob Dylan on that album [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan] and the following album was just down to be super wacky. You could tell he didn’t really give a f*ck about anything.
I’m curious about what your thoughts on the clichés that are associated with singer-songwriters. I feel like there’s a certain set of expectations that people have when they go into a “singer-songwriter record.” How do you transcend those preconceptions?
I sense sometimes people have a weird perception about singer-songwriters or folk. I feel like when I describe my music as folk, people get the wrong impression, they think it’s gonna be super corny. It’s hard to answer that because I don’t really think about it too much. I don’t even really know what it is I’m doing, I just do it. But I think the best way to navigate it is just not care. I love to play wacky folk songs and kind of traditional style folk songs that other people might think are wack. But I like it so I don’t really care.
I love singer-songwriter music, but sometimes where it gets corny is when people are pretending that it’s 1930 or 1960. They’re trying to emulate something that no longer exists rather than writing to the world that we live in. And I feel like your record is thoroughly modern. It’s clearly written by someone living in 2019, and that makes it relevant.
That’s something that I found out early on in some of the songs I had done as Field Medic. I think in my old band, I was semi-trapped in the past, where I didn’t wanna ever mention anything that would potentially be real in this world because I’m obsessed with those old songwriters. I noticed that in the Field Medic songs, like a song particularly like “OTL,” when I talked about actual stuff, that is real, people responded to it more. And just noticing that has just given me more freedom to talk about what’s actually real in this world because we are in this world.
Fade Into The Dawn is out 4/19 via Run For Cover. Get it here.