On the phone from his home in London, folk-roots musician Johnny Flynn apologizes for his band, the Sussex Wit, "being noisy in the background."
"Isn't that what bands do?" I ask.
"They're really good at it, though," he says, laughing. As the group prepares for a U.S. tour that pulls into the Birchmere a week from today, Flynn and company are working on demos of new material, although their debut album, "A Larum," was released this summer in the United States.
"We've been playing the songs on the first album for quite a while," Flynn says, "so we're quite ready to find some new ones to play."
Flynn doesn't appear to take many breaks. A poet and prose writer, he has a Renaissance-man approach to work, crafting elaborately designed seven-inch vinyl singles that preceded the final U.K. release of his CD this year.
"If you're going to go for the actual object, the thing you can hold," he says, "it's quite exciting to go back to vinyl. You've got a bigger space to put artwork and poems and stuff. I wouldn't lose any opportunity to cram stuff in there."
Even as "A Larum" launched a hectic touring schedule, Flynn continued to compile short stories that may form a larger narrative. And he has begun to seek funding for a show that would combine live bands with an acting troupe in an interactive performance. He has toured England and traveled to the United States last year as part of the all-male Shakespearean troupe Propeller, which presents the Bard's works in traditional form, with men playing the women's parts.
Although Flynn says he plans to act again, the other projects will have to wait, as "A Larum" gathers attention for its organic, neo-folk style rich in acoustic arrangements that recall an Appalachian singalong and a rowdy night in a British pub. It was recorded "in a haven of recording equipment in the woods," he says, at the suburban Seattle studio of producer Ryan Hadlock, who has worked with the Strokes and Regina Spektor.
In fact, until you zero in on the lyrics, which might allude to dumpster diving ("Leftovers") or a British soccer star ("Wayne Rooney"), you could mistake Flynn's songs for obscure traditional tunes. He wouldn't mind a bit. He says he likes a song to feel "kind of ancient or have that sandblasted quality that feels like it's been part of a tradition or has been passed down and sung by a lot of people. If I've written a song and I think it's a good one, the feeling is usually that I found it."
Flynn originally performed as a solo musician but says he "didn't want it to be an out-and-out solo project with various session musicians' help. I wanted it be a group of people that would get to the state where we understand each other really well and had a lasting relationship onstage and off."
Although the record label ("annoyingly to me") chose to put the CD out under Flynn's name, he's quick to share credit. "I write the songs, but then it becomes a band in the way that any other band is."
Musical camaraderie also applies to the other acts on next week's bill. All three have toured together, and Flynn has high praise for his roadmates. Mumford and Sons are a spin-off from singer-songwriter Laura Marling, founded by her drummer and bass player.
"They make really joyous, beautiful songs with lush harmonies," Flynn says. As for Marling, her music is "just brilliant," he says. "She's become quite a star here. She's 18 years old. I played my first few gigs with her when she was just 16. She's got a stunning voice and this really still, amazing presence onstage. She's somebody that I tip for a lifelong career of greatness."
-- MARIANNE MEYER
The Birchmere is at 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available at http://www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-573-SEAT. Tickets can also be bought at the box office from 5 to 9 p.m. on show nights. For information, call 703-549-7500 or visit http://www.birchmere.com.