“Any song that’s true is a good song in my mind,” says Kevin Patrick, the lo-fi bedroom folk artist better known as Field Medic. “That’s why I never find it necessary to add too much stuff to my recordings. I’m just into songs themselves.”
That principle is the guiding light behind Field Medic’s hypnotically beautiful and fearlessly honest new record, ‘fade into the dawn.’ Patrick’s first proper full-length release for Run For Cover and his first since making the leap to full-time musician, the collection features ten sparse, acoustic tracks that reckon with our perceptions of success and self as they face down the inevitable complications that arise from realizing any hard-won dream. Patrick has always written candidly about doubt and darkness and anxiety, but he digs deeper than ever before here, blending black humor and bold introspection as he weighs fantasy against reality and searches for meaning in the mundane. “I used to be a romantic / Now I'm a dude in a laminate,” he sings of life on perpetual tour, encapsulating at once both the tantalizing allure and endless tedium of the road.
“You always expect that in having some portion of your dreams fulfilled, your life will get better on a day to day basis,” reflects Patrick. “But I discovered that in the process of getting here, my desire to drink ramped up and my own internal self was actually a lot darker than I thought. That felt like something I wanted to work on.”
At the time, Patrick found himself going through a number of tumultuous changes: he relocated to Los Angeles from San Francisco, where he’d lived and recorded on and off for several years; he left the world of day jobs behind in order to tour year-round; and he decided to quit drinking, only to return to it halfway through a particularly grueling run of shows. It was the sort of emotional rollercoaster that he would normally work through in song, but even the simple act of writing seemed profoundly more complicated than ever before.
“I struggled after I got signed because every time I started writing something, I’d get nervous about whether it was good enough, and that went against my entire initial philosophy, which was to record and release absolutely everything,” says Patrick. “I had to learn to let go again, because the best songs are the ones that happen inexplicably, that feel like they come out of me almost against my will.”
While Patrick decided to record this album digitally for the first time (his self-released 2015 debut, ‘light is gone,’ and the 2017 Run For Cover-issued collection ‘Songs from the Sunroom’ were both recorded straight to a four-track), he managed to faithfully preserve his DIY ethos, recording each song in a maximum of three live takes. The result is a collection that feels higher definition and more ambitious than ever before (live drums and lead guitar appear on this record for the first time), but still maintains the raw, spontaneous character that’s defined Field Medic from the start.
“Back in the beginning, I’d record a song a few times, walk away, and then just choose a take and be done with it,” says Patrick. “I tried to take that same approach this time around even though I was recording digitally and didn’t have the same restrictions as I did with the four-track. I just find that if I dwell too much on any recording, it loses the feeling. You have to accept it for what it is in that moment.”
Patrick’s ability to capture specific moments in all their messy, complicated ambiguity is a large part of what’s earned him both his devoted cult following and his widespread critical acclaim. Philadelphia NPR station WXPN hailed Field Medic as a “West Coast freak-folk poet who will capture your heart,” while the San Francisco Chronicle praised his “intensely emotional” voice as a “melodic quiet storm,” and the Chicago Reader swooned for his “charming, unvarnished acoustic bedroom songs.” Patrick’s tracks racked up well over a million collective streams on Spotify, and his captivating live performances (in which he’s accompanied by nothing more than his guitar and an old school boombox) landed him dates with everyone from The Neighbourhood and Wallows to HEALTH and Girlpool.
“With the boombox, I have a few different cassettes with beats for songs on them to back me up live,” he explains. “I played in a band for a long time, but I was always more into lyrics than anything else, so when I started Field Medic, I wanted to find a way to give my songs some rhythm without taking any focus off the words. Now when I’m out on the road, the boombox is my bandmate.”
The road is precisely where “fade into the dawn” picks up, with Patrick recounting a particularly brutal night on tour in the infectious album opener “used 2 b a romantic.” “I swore that I’d quit / But I need a drink tonight,” he sings, setting up the album’s central struggle between restraint and release, moderation and obsession, sobriety and surrender. The woozy “hello moon” calls to mind Jose Gonzalez as Patrick meditates on the nightly loss of control he felt when using alcohol to temper his anxiety, while the waltzing, Neil Young-esque “the bottle’s my lover, she’s just my friend” confronts the ways in which escape can seem helpful even when it’s destructive, and the tender “it helps me forget…” (recorded in a single take into an iPhone’s voice memo app) searches for relief from the pressures we impose upon and the walls we build around ourselves.
“It seemed like alcohol was popping up in every aspect of my life,” says Patrick, “whether it be during my career, which is touring, or during my love life, when I felt like I’d rather be drinking than chilling with a girlfriend, or just in the day-to-day, when I was trying to forget all these things I felt anxious about.”
Rather than succumb to the siren song of oblivion, though, Patrick finds resolve and redemption in human connection. The banjo-driven “tournament horseshoe” draws strength from devotion to a lover, while the charming “henna tattoo” (recorded once again on the trusty four-track and backed by a simple drum machine) throws worry to the wind for a chance at real love, and the dreamy “songs r worthless now” spins a romantic fantasy about baring your soul at the end of the world.
“I had this thought recently that in my songs, I feel like I’m this super version of myself,” Patrick reflects. “In my day to day life I’m reserved and quiet and do my own thing, but in my songs, I can share how I really feel and say all the things that I’ve always wanted to say.”
In that sense, Field Medic isn’t just a stage name for Patrick, it’s a permission slip, an invitation to shed his self-consciousness and become his truest self. And truth is what it’s all about, after all. It’s where love and satisfaction and all the best songs come from. ‘fade into the dawn’ is proof positive of that.