Discovering the Twin Spheres: Toadstool Shadow Documents a New Breed of Eastern American Fae
A previously undiscovered breed of fae has been found populating the eastern United States. Unlike historic fae sightings, this new breed of fae does not live in the wilderness. Rather, they have evidently adapted to human settlement by populating underutilized urban habitats. They have been most commonly sighted under bridges, but also in back alleys, hollow bushes, and overgrown city riverbanks.
Fortunately, for the past two years, the American music & arts collective Toadstool Shadow has been documenting these new fae through song, video, and photography. “Our hope is to spread awareness and acceptance of the new American fae through art,” says Chris Till, Toadstool Shadow’s artistic director. “The new fae are very skittish, but they do not hate humans. They’re as curious about us as we are about them. Mostly, it seems, they just want to play music and have us hear their music.”
Since 2020, Toadstool Shadow has released two full-length albums, a 40-minute movie, 19 music videos, and a micro-novel, all as part of this mission. Most of their work forms Twin Spheres, a three-part fairy tale opera about Bunny, a visionary rabbit who frequently encounters fae.
“When Bunny first meets the fae, he’s just a youngster,” says Till. “Everywhere he hops, he meets faeries and elves hiding out playing music. As he grows up, he doesn’t know if what he’s seen and heard is real. He wonders if he’s gone crazy, or if it’s all just a dream. Finally, he goes to see apsychiatrist. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist is both super friendly and super incompetent. He diagnoses Bunny as schizophrenic.”
Thematically, Twin Spheres is like a musical version of the work of 20th century American author Philip K. Dick. Dick, who wrote the stories that became Hollywood blockbusters like Blade Runner and Minority Report, delved heavily into the common ground of the insane and the visionary.
Visually, Bunny enters a world similar to one depicted in Victorian painter Richard Dadd’s masterpiece The Faery Feller’s Master-Stroke. Like most in that painting, the new fae do not resemble European royalty, but look more like regular working class fae.
Musically, Toadstool Shadow is eclectic, with hints of late 1960s psychedelic pop, acid-folk music, and old-time country. Ellie DeGarmo, Brittney Fuller, and Halle Snyder sing Toadstool Shadow’s most recent music in sweet three-part harmony, prompting an American newspaper to describe their music as “the Andrews Sisters meeting the Brothers Grimm.”
Though presently uncommon, the fairy tale opera, or féerie, was a popular French theater genre in the 1700s and 1800s. Serious stories were told, accompanied by fairy tale imagery and characters. French film pioneer Georges Méliès released a number of fairy tale operas on film in the 1890s, but the genre faded away in the glare of the 20th century. Like fairy tales in general, fairy tale operas became wrongly associated with simple-minded children’s entertainment, which they certainly did not begin as.
“I composed all the Toadstool Shadow songs,” says Till. “But every single one of them feels like it was channeled from a parallel realm. I suspect that we are immersed in an invisible architecture of music. Composers have an ability to translate that music into our world. I believe that there is another reality, a twin sphere, adjacent to our ordinary workaday world. And that twin sphere is singing to us, entreating us to join in the song and dance with it.”
Toadstool Shadow considers themselves pioneers in an arts movement that they call the New Fairy Tale Revival. “Lots of artists are rediscovering the old fairy tales and fairy tale imagery,” says Till. “That said, lots of artists never forgot them either. For us, in this high tech age digital age, it’s easy to overlook the wonders of the world. Documenting the new fae is our effort to help re-enchant the world.”
For example, their 2022 music video “Lachrymosa” documents the eponymous sad river faerie. Clad in black with black wings, Lachrymosa lives under a defunct railroad bridge, lamenting and mournfully singing. Musically, the song sounds like an electric Cuban folk song sung by a female harmony trio. Their 2021 music video “Mermaid Shanty” documents the river mermaid of the title, along with a band of three faeries who sing about her. All live just under a busy state highway bridge, barely hidden from the everyday world.
So, as we drive along the busy highways of the modern world, it is important to recall that there is another realm. Hidden all around us, that other realm is a twin sphere to ours. In the eastern United States, as documented by Toadstool Shadow, that twin sphere is reaching out to us, beseeching us all to see and to listen.
For more information on Toadstool Shadow, here is a link to their website: