I really have enjoyed listening to ‘They Reappear,’ I was really looking forward to it and it lived up to my expectations.
Oh, thank you. I’m at a point where I’m unsure about how any of the reviews are going to come back. It’s a big step for me and it’s much more of an album in a traditional sense than what people are doing now.
There is a clear musical progression away from guitar and piano based songs to a more string oriented sound. What caused that?
I think this was the first time I was able to do it and that’s the difference. I think that I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time, but I didn’t know how to play any stringed instruments. On the previous two albums, I was using keyboard, strings, and I was kind of learning to play the cello, a little bit, so there were a few points where there was a real stringed instrument on some of the older stuff. But when I started the very first song on this album, all I could make at the time was scary violin sounds. When you’re trying to record an entire orchestra by yourself, one instrument at a time, you get a lot of practice in because there are parts for 1st and 2nd violins, violas and cellos and each one of them needs to be recorded well at least 12 times. So, for one thing it would take me a long period of time just to get the part right and then getting 12 good takes of it, you know, it took a lot of time, a lot of practice. On “Day Residue,” if you listen to the early stages of the songs, the strings were there for effect rather than melody or harmony. But as I got better—and I think that my skill or whatever you want to call it progressed quicker than some of the other instruments I’ve tried because I had to record them so many times—those were two of the first songs recorded and some of the more advanced melody came later on. But back to your question, I made this album because it was the first time I was able to.
This album, with its foundations in the strings, feels very much like a movie soundtrack. Did that just happen or was it intentional?
It was definitely intentional. I can remember the day that I decided to take the album in that direction. There was a guy I didn’t know personally, but some of my friends did. His name is Nathan Johnson and he’s done some work for a few movies. He did the music for a movie called “Brick” and he also did the music for the more recent movie called “The Brothers Bloom,” my friend Darren [King, of Mute Math], was friends with Nathan and spoke highly of him as being very approachable. This was back when people were still using Myspace and I sent him a Myspace message and said “you don’t know me, but you’re doing with your life what I would really like to be doing and I’m getting ready to make a new album and I not sure what direction I want to take it.” … And he emailed me right back and said, “Let’s talk on the phone” and for an hour I was exploring these two worlds and I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to listen. Did I want to do songs and sing or if I wanted to try to get into film, TV, and try to get into that world, because I felt pretty passionate about both. And he said, “Well, I don’t understand why they have to be in different worlds, why they can’t exist one and the same on the same album.” I knew that people weren’t listening to music that way very much anymore—listening to albums from start to finish—but I knew that that was what I wanted to do. And I wanted this album to serve as some sort of resume; I did want to showcase myself as a songwriter, but also as someone who could write and score for film. I thought, “no one cares about the idea of an album anyway, I’m going to make this a very functional thing for me which will hopefully get me more work in both areas.” So it was a very intentional move. There are 6 orchestral instrumentals on the album and there are 10 more traditional songs. I tried to make it a little more cohesive, I tried to make them play off of each other, where there would be themes that were introduced on the instrumental or song that mirror each other throughout the album, that’s why there’s a sense of conversation between the instrumentals and the songs.
To move into more of the lyrical content of the album, I really enjoyed last year’s Fort Christmas release. Fort Christmas was very story based, is ‘They Reappear’ at all like that?
Yes, in a much different way though, I think. Lyrics traditionally have always taken the longest time for me to write. I get hung up on lyrics for months or sometimes even years, trying to write them. And I didn’t want to do that with Fort Christmas.
I think the only album I was listening to was ‘Pet Sounds’ [by the Beach Boys]. I was hearing too much music and not taking any of it in, so I decided I was going to listen to nothing but ‘Pet Sounds’ and the score that Jonny Greenwood did for ‘There Will Be Blood’ for a month or two. I loved how the lyrics that Brian Wilson wrote for ‘Pet Sounds,’ some of them feel they could have been written on the spot, like when he got to the vocal booth, if he didn’t have them done, he just sang whatever was on his mind. I really wanted to have that freedom and sense of a lack of insecurity.
And the most of the songs for Fort Christmas were written in a day each. And I really enjoyed that and when I made that, ‘They Reappear’ was already finished and I needed a break from thinking so heavily and deeply about lyrics and the music. I needed to not take myself seriously for a period of time and just write something that was fun and that I could do relatively quickly. I didn’t feel like I could write another song until I did that. My brain was just fried from making that album, it was just too much, and I had to kind of run the other direction for a little while. The Fort Christmas lyrics are based on stories that Elsie and I have—she’s my fiancé—about when we first met, about getting engaged.
For the lyrics for ‘They Reappear,’ I think there’s a story there, but it’s more storytelling in a fictional sense. It does play out more like a movie and the way that the album is linear, it’s linear in a way that a David Lynch movie is linear, that it’ll be along a path and it may make some very sharp turns in a different direction, stylistically or lyrically or even in the subject or characters. But even if you don’t know where it’s going, you feel that it’s pulling you along for the ride, even when maybe you’re uncertain. And when you get to the end, you know that you’ve arrived.
I like finding out the stories behind my favorite songs. “Bedside Manner” is very intriguing, what’s it about?
That one is essentially about exactly what it sounds like. It’s just a story *laughs* And the first line, when I thought of the first line of the song, I felt like I had a song. And I’ve heard people say that before and I didn’t really understand it until it happened to me. The songwriter or storywriter, there would be a sentence or idea that pops into your head that you don’t know where it came from and you just chase it. And you see where it leads. I don’t remember what I was doing at the time, the line just came to me. The words and also a bit of a mental picture, “The devil nearly died in the middle of the night/With no one by his side but me.” And I thought, “that’s an interesting scenario. If I heard that in a song, I would want to hear the next line, what happens next?” The attention there of people probably hearing it and not sure about how they feel about it or what it even means. I thought that one was just a fun story.
Because the album is a little unusual, with large instrumental portions, how do you hope that listeners will respond to your album?
Well, I know what I hope doesn’t happen, which may be inevitable. I hope that people don’t just skip through the instrumentals because a very important part of the album. There was a moment in time where I thought about getting very, very idealistic about it and making some bold moves that everyone would make everyone hate me, such as putting the whole album on one track so you can’t skip and people would just think it was more trouble than it was worth and just put it on and leave it on. But I didn’t do that of course, because more than likely, people would just not put it on at all. But I’m not exempt from that group of people either, just picking songs that intrigue me. So I’m a hypocrite as well. I don’t necessarily listen to other people’s albums that way, but it’s the way I wanted to write. Ideally, I would hope people will listen to it from start to finish. I think with the songs and the instrumentals, when you separate them, at the beginnings or the ends you tend to have a feeling that there’s something missing, there’s something else that goes there.
In the past, with this project and Fort Christmas, your work has been largely solo work. What is new and exciting about your upcoming collaboration with Stacy Dupree and Darren King?
Well, we will be doing our first show in a few weeks. Our project is opening up for my album release. In some ways, it could seem premature since we don’t have material to sell and typically bands don’t really do shows unless they have something to sell. We have like 4 or 5 songs that are almost done and mixed because we’ve been working with this for a year, so they were both really excited to do it. We’re going to film her set as well as mine for a DVD. So we have a show, we have a few songs recorded, but no album release date or anything like that. Especially since Eisley’s album [just came out] and they have their own thing going. We don’t want to start any weird rumors or get people thinking anything, because Stacy is in Eisley full time and is very committed to that and this is something we’ve been doing whenever we have little windows of time to do it. But I didn’t know when we’d have another chance to have the orchestra and the filming so we just decided to go for it.
One thing that everyone with an ear to the ground in the music industry is wondering is what business will look like in the future. I noticed that ‘They Reappear’ will be a digital release only. How has it been important to have smart and adapting business tactics in today’s music industry?
Well it’s changing all the time, like at the time of the last album I put out, which was like 3 years ago, there were music blogs out there, of course, and there has been for a while, but it really does feel as though the music blogs are running the show right now. The bands aren’t necessarily beating down the doors of Columbia anymore. They’re going to the music blogs saying, “Please, give a listen to my album,” trying to get reviews and stuff. The same goes for print magazines, it’s just such a no brainer. If I buy an ad in that magazine, say it’s even a full page ad, which costs me 3 or 4 grand, or whatever they charge. Someone has to see it while they’re sitting there, it has to stick out to them, they have to remember it and the next time they’re at a computer, if you’re lucky they may say, “Oh yeah, what was that guy, he had a cool picture.” And if you compare that with either getting a review or an ad on a music blog, where you could be looking at a 10th of that price and someone sees it, they click it and within 10 seconds they’re listening to it. That has a lot to do with the way things are changing and the way that I’m trying to market this album and how it’s different than the last one. I would hate for print magazines to go away, but you’re talking about advertising and promoting, from my point of view it doesn’t make any sense. Another part of that is whether or not to make CDs. It’s the difference between going into promote the album and owing thousands of dollars or not. bEcause of iTunes, Bandcamp, and topspin, I could have my music out there for you to listen to 10 minutes from now. This time around, I really wanted to make CDs; I wanted to do vinyl, but every penny you spend on that, you’re not spending somewhere else. It takes a long time to pay off that loan. I wanted to make something physical, and maybe I will, but that’s not the way I wanted to go into the release.
Thanks again to Jeremy for this great interview and his insight.