This new album was released on October 27th, and features 10 songs in a singer-songwriter acoustic guitar and vocals vein with added percussion, electronics, strings, lap steel, and guest backing vocals. You can order the album direct from the distributor midheaven, as well as from eMusic, amazon, iTunes, or preferably, your local independent record store. You can also hear “Masoch,” one of the tracks, here and see a video for it right….here:
The album will be streaming online in its entirety at American Songwriter magazine for a week beginning on 10/22/13. You can also hear “The Wrong Tree,” another track from the record, and read my answers to some questions about it at the following link to Impose magazine:
A video has now been completed for The Wrong Tree as well:
The album features string parts and backing vocals produced by Simon Joyner, and significant drum and percussion contributions from Jose Medeles, (Revival Drum Shop, Breeders, 1939 Ensemble.) The album was mixed by Brandon Eggleston, who I got in touch with on the recommendation of Peter and John of the Mountain Goats. Brandon in turn recommended Jose when I was looking for a drummer to contribute to the record. I’m glad he did because Jose did a lot of stuff that’s off of the beaten path of the standard rock trap kit that came out of some conversations we had about our love for drummers like Han Bennik, Andrew Cyrille, and Tony Oxley. The more found metal, the better, that’s what I say.
I’ve never worked with real violin or cello, or even virtual ones, before. The closet I got was a Mellotron that Folk Implosion used on a few songs we did at Fort Apache in 1995. After the release of my last solo record, Blue Mountains, (’97,) Gary Held of Communion/Revolver/Midheaven urged me to make a record with strings out in New Orleans at a studio owned by friends of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. I never did because I worried the strings would sound too much like the ones on Bryter Later or Five Leaves Left, none of which I like apart from the strings on Cello Song and especially River Man, my favorite Nick Drake song apart from Know.
When I heard Simon’s records Hotel Lives, Lost With the Lights On, Out Into the Snow, I was totally floored by the music in general and the strings in particular, and I began to think of strings again. I had been listening to a lot of modern classical music by people like Schoenberg, Siberlius, and Morton Feldman, and began to think of strings as coming out of that lineage rather than sentimental pop music. One example of what this could lead to was the two songs that Rokia Traori did with Kronos Quartet that feature only vocals and strings. Another was the work of Scott Walker, who I got into after Peter Hughes recommended the documentary 30th Century Man. Before I started listening to Scott I was thinking of the strings on Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen because they were so sparse and intermittent on that album. Songs like It’s Raining today or Track Six from Climate of Hunter were fuller but more dissonant in a way that I hadn’t really heard before, like an orchestral version of the dissonant violins John Cale brought to the Velvet Underground. The film had some really interesting interviews with the artists who did the string arrangements for albums like Scott 3 and 4 that identified modern classical artists like Sibelius as important influences on the way he thought about strings on those records that clarified where he was coming from.
I didn’t know any string players at the time, so I sent Simon a message asking how he recorded the string parts for his records. We talked about some of the records I’d been thinking about, and he offered to record parts along those lines with his current string player Megan Siebe, who he was working with on a new project that eventually became his monster double LP Ghosts. Megan played both violin and cello, and formed a third of a backup trio of singers that also included Sarah Gleason , who has sung with Simon in the past, and Lauran Burhenn, who leads the group the Mynabirds and has also sung with Bright Eyes and The Postal Service. (Laura also holds the distinction of being the only musician to appear on this album who has also been in a band with someone else named John Davis.)
Simon also introduced me to Mike Friedman, who plays pedal steel in his band. Mike added some pedal steel parts to two of the songs on this record, after I tried and failed to do some good lap steel parts myself. Mike also did a great job of recording the strings. A lot of strings sound disembodied and icy, but he recorded them very close to the source which lets you hear the scrape of the horsehair across the metal strings. It ended up going really well with the metallic textures that Jose’s percussion work brought to the album, and the metallic slide guitars on one of the songs.
So basically I started out thinking quiet ballads and ended up with metallic scraping. To cap it all off, my friend and former art teacher Walter Crump did the cover art. He likes to paint on found metal, so it seemed a fitting choice.