Piers Faccini describes his fifth solo album Between Dogs and Wolves—to be released in North American by Six Degrees Records (September 10, 2013) and on his newly launched Beating Drum label in Europe—as a suite of songs on the theme of love and desire. “In France, where I live, there is an expression to describe twilight. It is called entre chien et loup, between dog and wolf. I wanted to use this metaphor to transcribe the moment between day and night to the personal landscape of relationships, and to the stories we live, falling in and out of love.” Between Dogs and Wolves depicts the unknowable and indefinable spaces between love and desire, spirit and animal, between the wild and the tamed. For Piers Faccini, it would seem, we are always, somehow, between dog and wolf.
With several albums already behind him—and as he began working on the songs that would become Between Dogs and Wolves—Faccini felt a strong calling to take his music to new places as yet unexplored. Faccini’s previous album, 2011’s My Wilderness—like the self-portrait that he made for the album of cut-up maps of the world—was, he says, about roaming in a kind of imaginary desert, a place where nothing is marked or signposted and where nothing is permanent. “The songs I’d write were a way of mapping the wilderness around me, of finding seeds that would slowly grow into a poem or a song,” he says.
This time around, for Between Dogs and Wolves, he chose to explore a different kind of geography, one that resides within each of us. “I tried to work with several different aspects of the immense subject of love,” Faccini explains. “Some songs deal with the search for love or the quest for unity that we play out seeking a lover, other songs concern nostalgia and memory in the context of desire. I wanted to create a large, existential tableau around the subject of love, relationships, sexuality and desire.
“This album” continues Faccini, “is an emancipation for me. The albums I love by my favorite artists are those that are profound and personal. You feel as if nothing has been kept back, as if someone were telling you a secret. That’s the kind of dialogue I wanted to propose to the listener; that’s the kind of journey that I wanted to take people on.”
The journey is a reflective one, a collection of intimate meditations. Faccini’s low-key vocal performances are front and center in the mix, accompanied variously by double bass, guitar, cello, harmonium, dulcimer, kora and echoes of analog electronica—all acoustic. “To maintain and reflect the kind of intensity in the lyrics, I stuck to a reduced and minimal palate of sounds throughout the album,” says Faccini. “I wanted there to be a bit of repetition in the instrumentation, not changing it too much with each track.” Faccini played and recorded all of the instruments himself, except the bass, which was played by longtime collaborator Jules Bikoko, and the cello, contributed by Dom la Nena (Faccini produced Dom la Nena’s latest album Ela, now out on Six Degrees Records). Both musicians also supply harmony vocals.
Faccini seeks to communicate as directly as possible with his audience. That’s why, he explains, there are no drums or percussion on Between Dogs and Wolves. Faccini felt that the songs would be more powerful if he used other instruments as well as his voice to create the pulse of the music. “Everything I do is really rhythmic; I just didn’t want it to come from drums,” he says. “My studio is full of strange and wonderful instruments, and I use a lot of them on the album. I didn’t want it to be obvious what each instrument was. There’s a kora, dulcimer, tampura, xylophone, Chinese violin, a lot of rhythmic stuff just blending in. I play all of these instruments.”
In addition to spearheading the musical direction on the album, Faccini also created the Between Dogs and Wolves album art on his own, as he did for My Wilderness. A skilled painter whose art brings out other aspects of his personality (see samples at www.piersfaccini.com/art), Faccini feels that his artwork complements the music that he creates. “For the new album I wanted to carry on working with cut-out paper,” he says. “For the previous album I had used cut-up maps to make a self portrait so this time I chose to work with silhouettes using a reduced palette of blue, red and black. As a painter, working with paper is a way for me to create work of a more graphic nature, which is primordial for album artwork and design. I wanted the artwork to be a little like illustrations from a book of fables or fairy tales, as well as being visually and graphically strong enough to imprint an association with the music in the mind of the listener.”
Both his art and his songs leave a lasting impression; Faccini’s gift is to be able bring the listener into his world. There’s at once an intimate familiarity with Between Dogs and Wolves and an eclectic, lived-in vibe. “I wanted the feeling of the record to be like stepping off a plane and finding yourself in a new and different country,” he says. “But for the whole album, you stay in this one country, you don’t go island hopping. The album explores the changing and infinite details of this one island.”
For Piers Faccini, the journey that would take him to Between Dogs and Wolves began in London where he was born and raised, although his family also lived for short periods in France and Italy when he was a child. He first made his mark musically in the late ’90s in London with the group Charley Marlowe, but the desire for a greater level of personal expression led him to leave the band, and he released his debut solo album, Leave No Trace, in 2004. Faccini’s following grew rapidly through touring with artists such as Ben Harper, Amadou & Mariam, Ballake Sissoko, and subsequent solo albums—Tearing Sky (2006), Two Grains of Sand (2009) and My Wilderness (2011)—each widened his fan base. Faccini has also released a DVD, A New Morning, filmed in the Cevennes in southern France, where he lives with his family: “It captures stripped-down performances of my songs shot inside a few hand-picked Romanesque churches in the Cevennes, our idea being to interweave performance with scenes from my day to day family life living in the country,” he says. “We wanted the film to be about how music and songwriting are inseparable from the every day and how they constantly feed one another.”
And there’s also Songs I Love, a project that “began as a way to interact with fans on a level that wasn’t reliant on an album release,” he says. “I would give away a song every couple of months on my website: covers of songs that I loved that I would record and arrange in my own style. It was a way for me to be a fan, just like the fans that follow me. Recording the songs and playing with their arrangements was a way for me to celebrate the wonderful artists and traditions that have fed me over the years.” Faccini will be releasing the Songs I Love project in a book accompanied by a CD; the book features an original portrait drawing of each artist by Faccini and words about each song chosen.
At the moment though, it’s the new album that best reflects his present artistic state of mind. “Between Dogs and Wolves weaves a story of a journey of emancipation from the first song to the last,” Faccini says. “To describe an album as 10 love songs can be so incredibly boring or cliché, but of course it’s not the subject of a song that makes it interesting but how it’s said, how it’s written. How do you show the difference between a love song by Leonard Cohen and a non-professional teenage musician? You need to hear it to know the difference!”
The difference becomes apparent from the lead track on Between Dogs and Wolves, “Black Rose.” The song, says Faccini, “is key for me. I haven’t written about lost love for a long time. There’s often a kind of soft melancholy in my music but somehow it doesn’t deal in regret; despite the melancholy there’s a peace there somehow. With ‘Black Rose’ I wanted to tackle something more thorny and unfinished. The song is about a very painful and physical need to be with someone. It’s about an unrequited burning desire. ‘I was the skin for your thorns, the pale light for your bloom.’”
Each track on the album captures a different take around the theme of love and relationships. In “Broken Mirror,” says Faccini, “I stay on the theme of separation and longing. It’s about seeing oneself in multiple fragments of a broken mirror. It’s about looking and not being clear about what you see.” The next tune, “Missing Words,” is more about the matrix of language and the frustration of missing the moment when words could have altered the course of a story. “It’s about what happens when something is left unsaid.
As the recording progresses, Faccini subtly introduces new instrumental textures. What begins with naked, unadorned voice and guitar ultimately expands its reach, the additional sounds perfectly complementing the rich poetics of the lyrics. “Feather Light,” says Faccini, was written several years earlier but found its home on Between Dogs and Wolves. “It’s a classic love song that deals with yearning,” he says, “when desire consumes one to the point of drifting away like ash into the breeze.” The next, “Wide Shut Eyes,” he says,” explores the possibility that there can be resolution to the conflict and separation suggested in the earlier songs, as if redemption and peace were possible.”
“Reste la Maree” came about, Faccini says, several years after he moved to France. “People say I speak French well and asked me why I wouldn’t write a song in French. For years I didn’t want to because I felt like one should master a language before writing with it. I never felt ready somehow. But then I was invited to play in the island of la Reunion, and I did a couple of gigs there, and I learned a song in Creole by the late Alain Peters. That gave me the confidence to write in French because I’m not French, I’m a foreigner living in France, but I wanted ‘Reste la Maree’ to sound like an old traditional song. I wanted the song to have a very ornate, old-fashioned melody that would carry the particular weight of the French language. The song is about the tide that takes you in, the tide that takes you away, the tide that takes you closer to the shore, before sweeping you back out to sea.”
“Pieces of Ourselves” is the longest song on the album, “basically a long poem,” Faccini says. “It’s about the past, about those pieces of ourselves we leave behind, that we try and find, that we go looking for. It’s about memory and the undying nature of love.” It’s followed by “Girl in the Corner,” which Faccini describes as “a love song in the guise of an intimate portrait. I wanted there to be one song with piano on the album,” he says. “The color of the instrument seemed perfect to accompany the more confessional aspect of the lyrics.”
The final two songs on Between Dogs and Wolves are among the most personal and poignant on the record. “I wanted the album to be a mirror of what I am,” says Faccini, explaining why he included “Il Cammino,” sung in Italian. “I am a multi-linguist, and I have a hybrid background; the album is a reflection of my background. This is the first time I’ve written a song in Italian. I’ve tried to do this in a seamless and natural way; my hope is that people almost don’t notice when I’m singing in a different language.”
Finally, there is “Like Water Like Stone,” about “the moment of redemption, about resolution,” Faccini says, “the moment when you see that all you’ve been looking for has been there all along. I describe someone walking on the shore. He picks up a pebble and throws it into the water. Watching the ripples, he has a moment of epiphany. In that moment he comes to terms with everything he’s lived, good or bad. Like the ripples in the water, the circles form and fade over and over. Watching the water he finds resolution to his unfinished stories; the song is his moment of redemption.”
With that last song, the circle closes, and with it Piers Faccini’s most affecting and powerful music to date. Its 10 songs invite multiple plays and with each airing, new and deeper layers are revealed. “The album uncovers moments of transformation within relationships,” he says, “Lovers look for these timeless moments when there is no separation, just the split second shards of timelessness when there is neither one nor the other.”