Friday 6/24 – 7:00pm on The Hill Stage
Originally hailing from Boston, MA, Corner House takes their name from the place where the four young band members found musical family in one another – their shared home in Brighton, as students at Berklee College of Music. Emerging from varied genre backgrounds, the quartet’s unique strength is their desire to learn from one another, not only in musical skill and style, but in life experience; such that every challenge overcome by one band member becomes part of the group’s shared musical and personal DNA. On their debut full length album How Beautiful It’s Been the band reveals the sublime result of that growth mindset, with a singular sound that incorporates old time, Scottish, progressive bluegrass and folk.
Originally made up of songwriter and guitarist Ethan Hawkins, Scottish fiddle player Louise Bichan, and bluegrass mandolinist Ethan Setiawan, Corner House are students of a wide variety of musical traditions. In the autumn of 2017, the group debuted at FreshGrass Festival in North Adams, MA, before recording a self-titled EP and touring Scotland the following year. Returning from overseas, the three found the illustrious cellist, Casey Murray, living just down the street and invited her to join the fold, unveiling the new line up on a second EP, Smart Folks, released in 2019. For their debut full length record, which focuses more on lyric based arrangements, they enlisted harp virtuoso Maeve Gilchrist, a past mentor to all four band members, to produce. “We all really admired her musicality, arranging and writing, and Ethan and Maeve bonded over poetry, and songwriting”, explains Bichan.
How Beautiful It’s Been features five songs and four instrumentals, which serve as soundscape meditations between each lyrical offering. Several of the instrumentals, such as “2 Rights Make A Chicken”, showcase the Celtic influence in the band, with gorgeous cello and fiddle melodies calling Alisdair Fraser and Natalie Haas recordings to mind. In this context, however, they are also accompanied by rhythmic and arpeggiated mandolin and guitar, emerging into improvised solos before returning to the melodic backbone of the tune.
Although Hawkins is the sole lyric writer, the subject matter of the group’s songs is a reflection of their collective experience. “What this band really does well is challenge me to be a mirror rather than write songs based on my own life” he explains. “A lot of the lyrics that I wrote were drawn from conversations that I’ve had with the rest of the band, which I think parallels our experiences with each other musically”. One such song is “Angel Falls”, which Hawkins wrote after a long discussion with Murray about her experiences with religion as a queer person. “I am human / I have choices / To love who I want to love / I have a right ” he sings on “Angel Falls”, one of the album’s standout tracks.
On “Young Brother”, Hawkins writes about the birth of the band and the unbreakable bond of coming of age together. “I wanna sing with that little Louisa / Talk all that shit with that Tom / When the chorus connects with the morning / They can keep me from singing it wrong” he sings. The mutual inspiration and joy that the quartet finds in one another seems to radiate from the music with contagion. The song is nostalgic and full of warmth, drawing the listener into magical nights of music made into the wee hours.
In many ways, Corner House is the band we all wish we could be a part of. Mutually inspired, learning from one another, and open to any and all ideas, the group is a beautiful representation of their generation; not only tolerating, but embracing diversity in every aspect of their music making. If we listen closely enough, we may be able to learn just as much from them as they have from one another.