When Boise Weekly caught up with the members of the Austin, Texas-based band Mirror Travel (formerly Follow That Bird), they were in Marfa, a small west Texas town that has become a haven for contemporary art since minimalist artist Donald Judd moved there in 1972. The town means a lot to the members of Mirror Travel; not only did they record their debut album Mexico (2013) there, they feel that the region's landscape has helped shape their sound.
"I think for me, this particular stretch from the Texas hill country to New Mexico is always a really special place for me," said drummer Tiffanie Lanmon. "How the scenery changes--especially right now--with these wildflowers in the hills to mountains and taller mountains... to red and mesa."
Another special place is Vancouver, B.C., where the trio toured with Austin prog-rock band ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead.
"We went to this really amazing beach where you had to walk, I'd say, close to half a mile of just stairs," Lanmon said. "It just went down, down, down through rainforest and then you'd end up on a beach."
"It was a beach when you look one way, and then you turn around and there's a forest behind you," added guitarist-vocalist Lauren Green. "And it was actually a nude beach, which was also pretty cool."
Regardless of whether the influence of those locales can be heard, Mirror Travel's dreamy tunes, driving rhythms, hypnotically droning riffs and serenely detached vocals are popping up in quite a few places. Mirror Travel's mix of clanging garage-rock and moody post-punk has been featured on Spin, Esquire and Impose Magazine's websites and appeared on the soundtracks for the SyFy Network TV show Being Human and the Oprah Winfrey Network show In Deep Shift with Jonas Elrod.
As befits the band's fascination with various spots on the globe, the theme of journeying or exploration recurs throughout Mirror Travel's work. The name Mirror Travel itself comes from a 1969 essay by American artist Robert Smithson, "Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan," in which he describes making a series of small, temporary sculptures using mirrors while traveling through the Yucatan peninsula.
"My girlfriend's an artist, and we both went to the Yucatan retracing some of Robert Smithson's stuff," said bassist Paul Brinkley. "We would kind of try to do his footsteps. And then I guess it was at least a year or so after that--when we were recording the album--that's what was on my mind."
The band's members don't focus consciously on exploration when writing songs, but they recognized its prevalence.
"The fact is that we travel together, the three of us, more than we travel with anyone else, pretty much," Brinkley said. "Especially after I joined the band, a lot of the traveling was just traveling, listening to music together, talking about it, seeing stuff, playing shows. I feel like [you can] hear that in there. It's definitely a part of our growth, maybe."
That growth has been a decadelong process. Green and Lanmon first started playing together in 2004 while they were still in high school. They met Brinkley that same year, but he didn't join their band until late 2010.
Performing as Follow That Bird (the name came from a Dora the Explorer book), the band had already built up some good momentum by that point. Its song "The Ghosts That Wake You" was chosen as the lead track for Matador's Austin-centric indie-rock compilation Casual Victim Pile: Austin 2010, and Pitchfork praised the song as "a propulsive and wiry tune that's agile enough to shift gears gracefully and has its shows of musical force ably abetted by Lauren Green's unfettered belting." Touring with Trail of Dead and Bill Callahan further helped raise FTB's profile.
The band signed to Seattle-based label Mt. Fuji Records in 2011. But after the label shut down in 2012, the three musicians felt that a change was in order.
"We'd all underestimated how much our name [Follow That Bird] had held us back from ourselves," Green and Lanmon told Bryan Parker in an email interview for Pop Press International. "The first practice as 'Mirror Travel' felt radically different. We had permission to sound how a band with Lauren, Paul and Tiffanie would sound."
Mirror Travel spent two weeks in Marfa recording Mexico, which was released in October 2013 by Modern Outsider Records. The band played South By Southwest and Austin Psych Fest earlier this year and will play Austin's three-day Stargayzer Music Festival in September. The trio also hopes to finish another album soon and eventually tour the East Coast.
If it works out, the tour should inspire some new material. As Green acknowledged, her lyrics draw upon "traveling, the people you meet along the way, the places you discover."