Countdown to BCMFest 2018: “From Spark to Flame” — Q&A with Pumpkin Bread

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2018 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 18-21), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest, which is marking its 15th anniversary.

Pictures tell a story, and so does music. To close out BCMFest 2018, the festival’s Nightcap concert, “From Spark to Flame,” will be devoted to the stories behind the music: Performers will share the songs and tunes that hold special meaning for them and talk about the people and experiences that provided the spark to light their musical flame. Hosting the concert will be Neil Pearlman, an innovative musician and creator of the “TradCafe” podcast.

The line-up for “From Spark to Flame” is: Irish accordionist Natasha Sheehy; singer-songwriter Molly Pinto Madigan; From Medford to Copley Street, an all-star cast of Boston-area Irish musicians Joey Abarta, Nathan Gourley, Matt Heaton and George Keith; fiddle-cello duo Sailbow; a Cape Breton Showcase with Rachel Reeds, Jake Brillhart and Janine Randall; and Pumpkin Bread, the original folk/Celtic quintet of Conor Hearn (guitar), Maura Shawn Scanlin (fiddle), Steven Manwaring (mandolin), Aidan Scrimgeour (accordion) and Jackson Clawson (piano).

Pumpkin Bread (L-R) Steven Manwaring, Jackson Clawson, Maura Shawn Scanlin, Aidan Scrimgeour and Conor Hearn.

We talked with Conor recently about Pumpkin Bread’s mix of contemporary and traditional styles, and the importance of baked goods in a band’s development.

Q: First, the question on everyone’s mind — why “Pumpkin Bread”?

CONOR: We all sort of started playing music together in a casual, social way. We’d have soup nights and play sessions in our apartments as a way to decompress from being in school and everything, so a lot of our music happened in these settings in which we were also cooking and baking. I think one night we were making pumpkin bread and we made up a song about it. It was probably really dumb, but it kind of stuck, and people tend to associate some of that warmth and coziness with our music, so it makes sense to us in that way.

Q: Where do you all hail from and how did you wind up getting together?

CONOR: Aidan and Steven are from Massachusetts — Steven from Sudbury and Aidan from Salem. The rest of us grew up in various places around the country: Jackson from San Francisco, Maura from North Carolina, me from Maryland. But eventually we all moved to Boston for school; Jackson, Steven, and Aidan and I all met as freshmen at Tufts University, and Maura went to the New England Conservatory.

Q: Listening to your music, one can definitely hear some trad sounds — a bit of Celtic, perhaps even a contra dance-type thing here and there, and so on. But there’s an unmistakably contemporary feel, too, like in the way some of the tunes are structured, or in the song lyrics, for instance. Talk a little about the different influences that define Pumpkin Bread.

CONOR: There’s definitely a sense that we’re all coming from really different places. Maura and I both have a lot of common repertoire coming from a trad Irish and Scottish background, and Maura has also been studying classical music for many years. Jackson grew up playing funk, R&B, and gospel music in San Francisco, and Steven and Aidan both come from a jazz background. Collectively, though, the band is more interested in producing an output of original music that draws on our folk interests and sensibilities. So we aren’t consciously thinking about it as much as a fusion project, despite our varied backgrounds.

Q: What is it about the Boston folk music scene that provides such inspiration for bands like Pumpkin Bread to form?

CONOR: To begin with, there are so many liberal arts, arts, and music schools in the area that it feels saturated with all sorts of creative people. The schools are definitely a reason people like us make that inevitable pilgrimage here, even if temporarily. And since people are usually only in school for four years, there is this sense that new people are always arriving, which keeps it feeling fresh in an interesting way.

Then there’s also the element of the music scene here that, though it mingles with the music schools in town, is just indigenous to Boston on its own. We’re staying here, for the moment, because our friends are here and we like it, and ultimately that’s what our band is about!


Schedules, ticket information and other details about BCMFest are available here.

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