Mia Hughes talks to Kevin Patrick about vulnerability and the challenges of touring alone.
by Mia Hughes
photo: Tyrone Delaney
fade into the dawn, Kevin Patrick’s third and latest record under the name Field Medic, opens with a song called ‘used 2 be a romantic’. “I need a cigarette / Those fuckers talked over my whole set,” he laments. He wrote the song on the train to Boston the day after a particularly terrible night of tour – 550 people, and not one of them was listening. “I’m on the road with no one I love in sight / I swore that I quit but I need a drink tonight.”
Kevin tours completely alone – just him to play the show, sell the merch, settle with the promoter and drive to the next show. It’s a tough regime, mentally and physically, particularly as he is not in a position to turn any tours down as a growing artist. “I don’t know what else I would do, but there’s definitely some days where I just don’t wanna do it anymore,” he says. “I was just talking to my friend this morning, and I said I was gonna quit after I finish my next two records. But I’ve been saying that forever.”
Perhaps more tellingly, he’s been playing music forever too. As an elementary schooler, making up and recording songs with a friend; as a high schooler in San Jose, under numerous different projects and names; with his brother in San Francisco – where he moved at 18 – as an Americana band called Rin Tin Tiger. Field Medic began as a side project to Rin Tin Tiger, when Kevin was writing more songs than would fit on the records, and took on a life of its own as he started to experiment with fusing folk songwriting inspired by John Prine and Bob Dylan with drum machine sounds based on his love for new wave. He self-released his first record, light is gone, in 2015, before signing to Run For Cover to release the follow-up songs from the sunroom in 2017. “They kind of took a chance on me at a time when I didn’t really have any sort of clout or whatever,” he says of RFC, a label that’s been steadily proving itself one of the most exciting and discerning in the indie circuit for the past few years.
The process of making fade into the dawn was new since, for the first time, he was making a record around a rigorous touring schedule. To complicate things further, he had moved out of his house and was couch-surfing between LA and San Francisco. He recorded sporadically, whenever the timing worked out, with a friend who lived down the street from his girlfriend in San Francisco; the songs on the record came together over the course of a couple of years.
With the nature of recording being different from what he had been used to, Kevin’s approach to writing for this record changed too. “I used to sometimes be dwelling on a song and really chipping away at it for a long time. I used to be more into a lot of poetic phrases and masking the message of the song in beautiful, floral language. And lately, I’m just sort of more blunt with the way that I write,” he explains. “I’m not worrying so much about making the language beautiful as much as I’m worried about just trying to make it as honest as possible.” Those blunt moments can make him uncomfortable, he says, “but I kinda just believe that music, or art, whatever the medium is, is where the dark truths should go to live so that it doesn’t have to manifest itself in your day to day life. Exorcise the demon, in theory.” With all its emotions out in the open, fade into the dawn’s journey is a raw and affecting one, from its darker moments like ‘henna tattoo’ and ‘the bottle’s my lover, she’s just my friend’, to more hopeful ones like ‘i was wrong’ and ‘tournament horseshoe’. It’s that, combined with the songs’ focused and gorgeous composition, that makes it likely the best Field Medic record yet.
But because he’d been sitting on the songs for such a long time, Kevin found himself, for a while, unexcited by them. It was during that period that he wrote ‘used 2 be a romantic’, though he didn’t think it would end up on the record – “I thought it’d maybe just be some kinda like, funny song that I wrote,” he says. “But then when I recorded that song, I was like, ‘This is perfect. I’m super excited by this song; I’m gonna put it first.’ I think tonally, it doesn’t necessarily set the stage for the record, but it sets the stage for where I am in my life now, versus where I might have been when these songs were sporadically recorded elsewhere.” One thing that changed between then and now is that music has become a full-time job, and while he appreciates that he can make a living out of his art, it’s easy to be burned out by the responsibility. “When you’re putting that much energy out into the world, or in my case just me out into the world, sometimes I feel very vulnerable,” he says. “But it’s not really the vulnerability that is something I dislike, it’s just – I get sort of exhausted. It can be exhausting.”
While he deals with that exhaustion on ‘used 2 be a romantic’, deeper into the record – such as on ‘songs r worthless now’ – he also grapples with a much wider, existential kind of exhaustion. He sings: ‘With my big imagination, I could never think of this / People killing people after hurricanes hit’. “I wrote that around the time it seemed like every other day there was a mass shooting or a natural disaster. And obviously Trump is our president, which is absurd. It’s just sort of commentary on holding the things you love close, but also while recognising that it feels like the world is ending. So… what’s the point in anything? But I guess that is the point of everything.”
When everything about being an artist feels so exhausting, it makes you ask what the point of that is, too. Kevin could just quit, like he’s been swearing he will. He could stop touring and hole up in a studio somewhere; he could stop releasing music and keep it trapped eternally in the hard drive of his computer; he could write songs for other people to take as their own; he could give it up completely and work in a grocery store. He hasn’t, in all these years. Because no matter the exhaustion, the stress, the loneliness of being an artist, sometimes one moment of connection is all it takes to make you want to stay on the road one more day. “You get on stage and tons of people are singing along, and you realise that people are there for you, and it kinda makes the whole thing worth it,” Kevin says. “Because in the same way that they’re there for you, you’re there for them. And they’re stoked to see you, and you’re like, ‘Wow, I guess it is chill that I’m here in South Dakota, randomly.’ Because these people wanted to see me play.”
Besides, Kevin is an artist because he is an artist. There’s something innate in that, something that he likely couldn’t leave behind if he tried. “I’ve always kinda lived in my own little world, and just created my own stuff. Like in an art class, if I’m supposed to draw the head of a lion or something, and use a grid – sometimes I just won’t use the grid and I’ll draw something totally different. I think it’s just my restless need to both perform and also create. I just need to make stuff.” And no, Kevin explains, despite the title of that song, songs aren’t worthless now. In a political sense, maybe, as he meant when he wrote it – no song is going to stop world suffering. But as far as the individual goes, songs may be exactly what we need. “It’s the only thing that makes us feel a little bit better. It’s a way for me to make sense of the world when the world doesn’t make sense to me. When I was younger I used to have really bad panic attacks, and the only thing that would calm me down was to pick up the guitar and start strumming and writing a song, or a little ditty,” he says. “Writing songs, and listening to songs – that’s kinda like, the only thing in life that’s chill.”
Maybe in some ways, Kevin Patrick still is a romantic.