Jake Webb and Ben Sheidlower grow an acoustic duo into a wide-ranging local collective with a debut self-titled album
Several years ago, while working together at a local grocery store, Jake Webb and Ben Sheidlower bonded over music, sharing an affinity for some of the same bands, and eventually getting together to drunkenly play cover songs. At a certain point they lost touch for a bit, but when the the two friends reconnected on a whim one night at Woodlands Tavern, they discovered they had even more in common.
“We were both going through breakups and both paying for expensive one-bedroom apartments,” said Webb, seated next to Sheidlower at a Grandview coffee shop.
The solution seemed obvious: Move in together, play more music. “It worked out really well, because I have a terrible singing voice,” said Sheidlower, who’d been stockpiling lyrics and melodies. “So I have all these songs, and I can't sing, and [Webb] has an amazing voice. So we just combined efforts.”
The pair dubbed the project Fables, and on Friday, Jan. 17, the band will celebrate its long-in-the-works, self-titled debut record with an album release show at Rumba Cafe.Andy and Joel met at a local alt-weekly and bonded over their shared love of investor-beholden media companies: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Fables began as a “rinky-dink operation,” Sheidlower said; while Webb sang into the microphone on a pair of earbuds, the roommates would record lo-fi tracks on GarageBand. Around 2015, after the pair had a few folk-rock tunes completed, Fables got a gig playing at an early show at Rumba, and vocalist Ashley Devine happened to be there. “We only played, like, three songs, and I noticed that she was singing along,” Webb said. “We had already been looking for a female vocalist, so we asked her to come over, and then it was like, ‘Oh, perfect.’”
While Webb and Sheidlower have remained the core songwriting duo, the band has morphed into a local collective over the past few years, adding a rotating cast of musicians on drums, bass, violin, pedal steel, keys and horns (13 players contributed to the new album, recorded at Oranjudio with Joey Gurwin). At full-band gigs, Fables tends to perform as a seven-piece, though the crew can also easily whittle down to an acoustic quartet, with Devine and violinist/vocalist Devin Copfer complementing the two founders. “Devin is amazing with harmonies. She can hear things that Ashley and I can't,” Webb said.
The hope is also to incorporate all kinds of musical influences so that a Fables record never sounds like a single genre. On closing track “Simple,” for instance, Webb and Sheidlower wanted to throw together “Tex-Mex” vibes with doo-wop. “I'm huge into ’60s doo-wop, so it's like, ‘How can we sneak a doo-wop section into this?’” Sheidlower said. “You're going from a ballroom swing riff to, ‘Oh, this is a standard three-four doo-wop chord progression,’ and it's like, 'What the hell is going on here?' But you're intrigued. Hopefully.”
Sometimes, a song’s subject matter can heavily influence not just the tone of the music, but the actual structure of the song. “Memory Lane,” for instance, is Fables’ attempt to write a song about the fears of Alzheimer's and dementia. “It runs in both of our families. My grandfather passed away from Alzheimer's not too long ago,” Sheidlower said. “That's my greatest fear — losing my mind.”
“My grandfather had Alzheimer's, and he actually got out of the house and drowned in the Ohio River,” Webb said. “He left the house and, from what we know, it was raining, and he went under the train bridge and slipped, and he knocked himself out and fell in the river.”
The song opens with the lines “A head full of clouds, but I think that I'll walk/I can weather the storm, got my rain jacket on.” (“There were a couple of times when we played that song where I was choking back tears,” Webb said.) Later, in the middle section of “Memory Lane,” the disorienting structure begins to mimic the subject matter. “It's building and building and building, and it's a swirl of confusion, and then the air is sucked out of the song, and it's just an acoustic guitar. It builds into this odd count that starts to do the same thing again, where it feels like you're spiraling,” Webb said.
“It's very beautiful, but it's also all over the place,” Webb continued, inadvertently summing up the type of band Fables hopes to be.