Telling stories through music

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Selwyn Birchwood is committed to the craft of personal songwriting and storytelling. 

“My favorite music is just honest songwriting,” Birchwood says. “And that’s what we’ve done with all of these songs on this record.”

A guitarist, lap steel player and singer/songwriter, Birchwood’s new record “Exorcist” is out today. It marks his biggest departure from the simpler arrangements on previous albums. Birchwood describes his music as “electric swamp funkin’ blues,” which now includes backup vocalists, additional percussion and a grand piano.

Selwyn Birchwood
(Images courtesy of Alligator Records)

“This is definitely my farthest reaching sonically… it just really fills the entire spectrum of musical sounds,” Birchwood says. “We’ve really stretched the boundaries of influences, and yeah, I couldn’t be happier with what we came up with.”

Birchwood will stop at the Abilene Bar & Lounge in Rochester on July 6 while touring this new album. 

The lead single for “Exorcist” is the energetic and playful “FLorida Man.” The shouting electric guitar, funky rhythm, and sturdy chorus reflect the unpredictability and outlandishness of the song — a reference to viral headlines and news stories of the chaotic behavior of Florida residents. Birchwood collages these stories into one “FLorida Man,” a reflection of the outlier culture of Florida, a culture that Birchwood is all too familiar with as a Florida resident. 

“I’ve lived here my whole life and it’s not until I started traveling more than I realized how crazy it kind of is over here,” Birchwood says. “And everybody that’s here has kind of embraced it: yeah, we’re crazy. And then everybody outside of Florida is like, yeah, Florida is crazy, so it kind of works on both sides.”

Another song on the album, “Plenty More To Be Grateful For,” was written during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, a depressing time for performers like Birchwood. He wrote it to break away from a feeling of hopelessness. 

“You feel useless when you can’t do the one thing that you feel like you have to contribute to the world, and that (song) was me just trying to get my head right,” Birchwood says. “We close a lot of shows with that one, and a lot of people seem to relate to it and really enjoy it.” 

Performing in front of an audience is a vital aspect of Birchwood’s music, and when that was taken away from him, it was a blow. 

“I was losing my mind pretty quickly,” Birchwood says. “Instead of being able to be in front of audiences and sharing energy and making music, I was sitting in front of a laptop. It feels like you’re performing for a stapler, you know, it’s a very strange feeling.” 

Birchwood started touring again in 2021, which revitalized him and his band. They have been on the road as much as possible ever since.

“For us, it’s like breathing again, that’s what we live to do. That’s what we’re passionate about is traveling and performing music and, you know, it feels like we got our lives back,” he says.. 

Birchwood gives back the energy that he receives from the crowds he plays for. 

“When you see us, you see a band that’s as happy to see you as you are to see them,” Birchwood said. “We come to share a night of music and entertainment with you. I think that’s why it feels a little bit different.”

Jess Williams is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a student at Ithaca College. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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