For Athens sweethearts Hope For Agoldensummer, the concept of a “folk band” is fluid. The band plays on cheap, easily accessible instruments like guitar and singing saw; they’ll occasionally reframe popular mainstream songs into their own style; and the songs tackle common, relatable themes like love, loss and struggle. So while it may not match up to a purist’s definition of “folk,” Hope For Agoldensummer is a band for the folks. The group’s second album Ariadne Thread, released independently last December, only solidifies that position.
Hope For Agoldensummer played its debut show in late 2002. Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Claire Campbell formed the band after the split of former act Claire & Bain’s Maple Yum-Yum, a duo with Athens songwriter Bain Mattox. She recruited sister Page Campbell and Atlanta buddy Deb Davis, as well as cellist Will Taylor and percussionist Jamie Shepard, and the lineup solidified in 2003.
It didn’t take long for the band’s handcrafted, earthy folk laments—Hope For Agoldensummer has referred to itself as a “junkyard gospel”—to find a niche, though, and the band’s lineup solidified the following year. A number of intimate gigs and the charming sisterly interplay between main vocalists Claire and Page Campbell won over local listeners.
The band’s debut I Bought A Heart Made of Art in the Deep, Deep South was released in 2004, with shows in Athens and Atlanta strongly attended by passionate fans keen on the drama and emotional sweep of the band’s tunes. The band has won the Flagpole Athens Music Award for best folk band several times, and was featured on the Athens alt-weekly’s cover early in its career.
Looking to capitalize on the momentum of the mid-decade, Hope For Agoldensummer set out to record its second album, but that’s when things got difficult. Recording began in 2005 with local engineer David Barbe at his Chase Park Transduction studios. The Campbell sisters, guitarist/songwriter Deb Davis, cellist Will Taylor and percussionist Jamie Shepard tackled the songs at hand with vigor and excitement.
“As soon as the first album came out we were already talking about the next one,” says Page Campbell, “because at that point everybody was writing songs and we were talking about what we wanted to be on the next one, having ideas about recording experiments we wanted to try, stuff like that. We got through a few months and had probably seven songs done.”
During the sessions, though, Taylor left the band and requested that Hope For Agoldensummer leave his cello parts off the final recordings. Shortly thereafter, Shepard also left the band.
The remaining three women reconvened, but before they had much of a chance to reassess the situation, they had to head out on an already-booked tour. Rather than canceling those dates during the time of turmoil, the Campbell sisters and Davis decided to give the trio configuration a shot, and that brief tour to Texas boosted confidence in the band’s ability to continue.
“We weren’t really sure what was going to happen,” says Claire, “but it turned out great. I mean, it was definitely a little weird at first, and at shows people kept asking ‘Where’s Will? Where’s Jamie?’ but yeah, it worked out.”
The band returned from tour and after scrapping everything from the Chase Park sessions except for a few guitar and vocal tracks, Hope For Agoldensummer relocated to Athens producer/engineer Andy Baker’s home studio (known affectionately around Athens as The Bakery), re-recording some songs, abandoning others and coming up with some brand-new numbers.
And oddly enough, stripping down the band’s lineup to a trio allowed for more flexibility while recording, says the band, who invited a number of Athens and Atlanta musicians to stop by and lay down a wide variety of sounds.
What makes Ariadne Thread so enchanting is that at times it feels less like a collection of songs and more like a collection of ideas—a roadmap that points in various directions certain songs could take. The band’s live show backs this up, with the Campbells and Davis switching back and forth on instruments as the songs demand, and what at one show could be presented as a quiet, intimate ballad at another becomes a rousing singalong.
Ariadne Thread is a departure from the woozy sway and martial up-and-at-’ems of Heart of Art. The band utilizes some more minimal, acoustic numbers and plays around with song structure more than ever before. It’s both a backporch burner and a bedroom bawler, and the group sprinkles small musical moments and flourishes throughout. In short, it comes across as a whole work rather than just a collection of songs.
Hope For Agoldensummer assembled 2,000 copies of the album by hand, weaving gold ribbons and threads and extensively illustrated liner notes into the packaging, which contains drawings and paintings by band members and a short story written by Wallace Cochran, a Campbell cousin and member of Kansas band Drakkar Sauna. The band also has commissioned an Athens artist/bookmaker to create a limited edition of 50 hardbound copies of the book and album.
“We had the chance to go back and revise,” says Page, “and with [Heart of Art], we didn’t do that much. I think a lot of people want that opportunity. Of course, it’s only incidental that we had as much time to work on it… if the other two members hadn’t quit, the album would probably have been done and out for a while now, but it wouldn’t have been as good as it is now, only because it’d have been something else. The energy would’ve been completely different. I kind of think of this as our third album.”