So. All the music I’ve been working on since 2017 is out now.
It’s up on my website, Bandcamp, and YouTube. It’s all free for streaming and download, but you can throw me a tip on my website or on Bandcamp if you feel so inclined. I’ll be writing a bit more about the various albums in the coming weeks, and I’m working on getting a sound and video setup going so I can do some livestreams, but for now I wrote a thing about the whole project below in case you’re interested in Deeper Thoughts (TM).
At this point, I feel like I’ve spent more time talking about releasing this pile of music than I spent making it. And now I’ve decided to call it done.
To be clear, I haven’t actually spent more time talking about releasing it than working on it. I’ve been writing, demoing, recording, mixing, or mastering some part of this project since early 2017. It just...started as something small and then, umm, got a little out of hand.
I put out Asphalt Ghosts in 2016, and it was my first album of new songs in almost ten years at that point. I’d kept up with playing guitar and singing from 2007 to 2016, and even played a decent amount of live shows during that time, but for some reason new songs just weren’t coming the way they had back in The Way Old Times when I used to sit in my stuffy upstairs loft with a four-track and a $150 guitar. Then, one day in 2015, “The Light” just sort of came out all at once, and I wrote the rest of the album from there, and recorded it pretty quickly after.
Asphalt Ghosts is a sprawling, potentially dumb album that is nonetheless close to my heart, and I knew as soon as I finished that I wanted to write more songs: I didn’t want to lose the momentum I’d built up. I imagined the next album as being something smaller, something more folksy, akin to those early Bob Dylan and Mason Jennings records that had gotten me to pick up a guitar in the first place. I wrote the first song, “Running,” shortly after I finished Asphalt Ghosts with this direction in mind. I really liked it, and decided I’d try to be a bit more selective with this new project. Rather than recording the first ten songs I wrote and calling it an album, as I’d done in the past, I would write a lot of new songs, then be honest with myself about what was good, what was crap, and self-edit accordingly.
I ended up not doing that. Whoops.
After “Running,” I spent a few months pouring over old half-finished demos, old half-finished lyrics, and the ever-present pile of song skeletons I keep recorded on my phone, and ended up with songs and/or lyrics for over fifty songs. Then, I spent a few months writing words for the songs that didn’t have words yet, music for the words that didn’t have music to go with them, and mashing together bits and pieces of what was left like five year-old me making Transformers fight each other.
Ultimately, I demoed something like fifty-five songs, which in and of itself took most of a year, thanks to me having lots of other things going on in my life, including a real job that I have to work at so I can continue to feed myself. Then, like an absolute goof, I decided to keep almost all of these songs rather than just ten of them. See, it turned out that I actually liked nearly all of these songs.
So, the next step in the process turned out to be figuring out what to do with four times more new songs than I’d originally imagined having. As a few of you know, I referred to this project as “Triptych” for a long time. At that point, the idea was to record and release the music as three albums, each part of a thematic triptych, roughly comprising a cyclical year: Wilderness Amen for spring and summer, Maps for fall, and Fire and Rain for winter. But because I love writing and playing music, I kept making and recording more. Eventually Maps became a double album, then I spent five months just randomly jamming along with my looper and totally forgot how to play half of the songs I’d written the previous year in the process. Then COVID hit and I forgot who I was or how to do anything but sleep and eat and record lecture videos for awhile.
I came out of a months-long funk, learned a completely new way of playing melody guitar, relearned all my songs and actually collected them into a goddamn book with chords and keys and such so I couldn’t forget them again, and then set out to write and record the final missing piece in the project: the title track for Fire and Rain, which I had intimidated myself out of writing a year before by imagining it as a massive, ten-minute story song in the tradition of something like “Desolation Row.” Against the background of COVID and everything about my life that it had upended, I wrote it instead as part of a twenty-nine minute, apocalyptic combination of folk and noise rock that culminates with a sonic callback to the beginning of the album cycle’s first album, Wilderness Amen. It frankly feels ridiculous and indulgent now, but it’s a perfect distillation of my headspace last April or May, and so I kept it all on the album as a sort of sonic and lyrical monument.
So, in the end, there are actually six new albums:
The Amen Demos is a curated collection of a few of the fifty-five demos I recorded in 2017 and 2018 (along with a few covers, if you listen on my website or YouTube).
What Comes Around is a weird collection of instrumental, improvised jams I recorded to take a break from the “real” recording process. I might be the only person in the world who enjoys listening to these, but they were free for me to put out, and free for you to listen to, so why not? I like to think they make good ambient background music.
Wilderness Amen is the first album in the “main” four-album cycle. It’s meant to be the “spring” album, and is a mostly acoustic, mostly folk-y set of songs about, well, the wilderness.
Ride is the second album in the cycle, meant to have a more “summer-y” sound and subject matter. A lot of the more complex, jam-influenced songs are on this album, and it has a lot more electric guitars than Amen.
Maps is the third album in the cycle. It’s the “fall” album, and it’s a sort of companion to Ride. They’re both about travel and the road, but Maps is a bit less electric, its songs are a bit simpler, and I would say it is really autobiographical and personal, whereasRide is more expansive, but also more abstract.
Fire and Rain is the fourth and final album in the cycle. Here’s where all the darkest, saddest songs went, and I think they hang together well, though I think this album is also the hardest listen, in a number of ways. I mean, it opens with a ten minute ghost story song and ends with the aforementioned twenty-nine minutes of end-times folk-rock. I’ve always wanted to write an album of songs without worrying about what anyone else would think of the lyrics, or the music, or the length of the songs, and this is the closest I’ve gotten so far.
So that’s it. Are there some songs here that, given more time, I would record again, but differently? Sure. Do I wish I had a producer who actually knew how to make the records sound good? Of course! I have no idea what I’m doing on the recording end.
But I really like these songs. I liked writing them. I liked recording them. I like playing them and singing them. I wish it was 2003 again, so I could put a band together and spend all day playing them and trying to sell CDs out of my guitar case instead of squeezing in an hour of practice after a long day at the office. I’m super happy to put them out there, though, and if you take any time to listen, I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed putting this whole thing together. Thanks for reading.