I wrote about the history of the Triptych project, and the double-LP version of Maps that eventually came to be Ride and Maps in the notes for Ride, so if you're interested, you can check that out there so I'm not repeating the same thing in these notes. The important part here is that Maps is the third of the four new albums I conceptualized as a loose cycle, but it's also kind of a sister album to Ride.
The reason I called what would have originally been a double-LP Maps was because I thought of all the songs on that album as maps themselves. I've always thought that stories (and, by extension, songs that tell stories) are maps, in a way. They not only present us with a sort of conceptual geography that tells us about the lives of the characters in the story, they also may even provide a fictional physical geography (Tolkien is a good example of an author who does this). Often, they are also maps that describe the author or songwriter's life, too: where they've come from, where they are, and maybe even where they're going. Road-tripping or traveling songs feel this way to me especially: there's a flavor to the experience of looking over a map to plan a trip and to the experience of hearing a new song for the first time that are, in some way, the same feeling for me.
So, these songs are songs, but they are also meant to be maps. To, among other things maybe, me. This is why, against my better judgment, the album cover is a picture of me. It was a happy accident that in this particular photo (taken unexpectedly during a fantastic hiking day, that's a legit smile), I'm wearing my "If Lost, Return To Luigi's" shirt: a fortuitous reference to where I've come from ("Back To Ohio," anyone?) for the cover of an album that, ultimately, finds me wondering where I'm going next ("Maps," "...Still Following The Roads").
The songs here are a bit more acoustic in their arrangement than the ones on Ride, and though the albums are, conceptually, sisters, these don't aspire to the same level of sonic complexity as those. There isn't much as stripped-down as the Wilderness Amen songs here: most of the songs have multiple guitars, there is, occasionally, some piano, but you're not going to hear the kinds of long instrumental passages you hear in many of the songs on Ride and even Fire and Rain. That was intentional. If Ride is the "summer" album, a shimmery, outward-looking affair despite some heavy ruminations on life and love, Maps is the "fall" album that intends to live up to its title: this is the most autobiographical album I've ever written, and it felt immediately to me as if those songs needed to focus more on the words than on five minute guitar jams. So that's what they do.
Some notes on individual songs:
I went back and forth on opening the album with "Back To Ohio," and even on whether it should be included on the album at all. It's one of my oldest songs, and while I like the sentiment behind it, these days I tend to find the lyrics a little simplistic and the song itself a little flat. But, I'd recorded it for previous albums in 2005, 2007, and 2016, and never ultimately included it, and it felt like it was time. Plus, when you take the album as a whole, I think (I hope!) it works as a solid mission statement for the idea of songs as maps. You learn a lot about me (or at least how I think of myself) in this song, simple as it might be.
Once in my twenties, I got so high at a party that I passed out and woke up the next morning in the front yard of a random house that I didn't remember at all. At that party was a girl named Molly, who I knew nothing about, but had decided in my own head was The Most Amazing Girl Who Had Ever Lived regardless. Once I finally made my way home the next afternoon, I sat down and wrote this song about the version of Molly that existed in my imagination (instead of the real Molly, who I'm sure was a great person but was not my ridiculously exaggerated Supergirl, obviously). Writing the song seemed better than continuing to project my own insecurities and problems onto a random girl I'd briefly met once. And it was!
"Note To Self" is literally a song I wrote as a note to myself, to remind me of lots of important things that I forget at least a few times every day. The chorus intentionally has a bit of a Tom Petty thing going on, which I like.
"Dusty Roads" is another old, non-album song that finally gets its day here. Like "Back To Ohio," the lyrics are clearly written by a much younger me, but I love playing this song so much I wanted other people to be able to hear it, warts and all.
"Dreams" is an autobiographical song inspired very directly by "Bob Dylan's Dream." I couldn't figure out what to call it for almost a year, and then Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" came into the news thanks to that skateboarding guy on TikTok (what even is culture anymore) and I got lazy. Jokes aside, this song makes me sad a lot and sometimes I just can't play it.
"Ways To Fly (Part II)" (or, as I write it on setlists "Ways 2 Fly" because I'm clever) is intended as a sequel to "Ways To Fly," wherein the narrator has in fact found a way to fly after all. It's meant as a happy ending...but maybe an illusory one, because as Dr. John Osterman reminds us, nothing ever really ends. I recorded this song without any overdubs after being inspired by Wilco's song "Where Do I Begin," which has always sounded to me like it's just Jeff Tweedy and a single guitar, though I don't know that for sure.
"English Girls" is an instrumental I wrote for a short film that didn't get made back in 2007. I've enjoyed playing it since, and it was fun to spruce it up a little for this album.
Originally, "Maps" was the opening track on the album, which I guess make sense. In the end, I decided it was important to pair it immediately with "...Still Following The Roads," so it went to the back of the line, so to speak. It's one of my favorite songs, and there's a bit of a harkening back to "The Light" (from Asphalt Ghosts) in the chorus: the idea that "following the roads," while quite romantic-sounding, might be a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
"...Still Following The Roads" is directly inspired by Howlin' Rain's "...Still Walking, Still Stone," the closing track on their album The Russian Wilds. I was listening to that album obsessively during the recording of Maps, and as "...Still Walking" serves as a sort of outro/coda/refrain to the previous song, "Walking Through Stone," I wanted to create an instrumental coda to "Maps" to wrap up the album as a whole.