Hi Jeff, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Hey, VENTS! Thanks for asking. Life is good. We’ve got the new J. Briozo album finished and people are finally getting to hear what we’ve been working on for many months.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Blue”?
“Blue” is a song about the anticipation of depression during the cold and dark Minnesota winter. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to juxtapose the wistful mood of the song with an arrangement that builds from a vocal and acoustic guitar into a small jazz combo verse by verse. We wound up adding new parts under each verse so that by the end of the song there is a full band swinging along with the moody lyrics and vocals. We arranged and recorded “Blue” in the dead of winter, driving to and from the studio on icy roads in sub-zero temperatures. This is the kind of thing Minnesotans do during the winter to fight off the winter blues!
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
I wrote “Blue” in November, just as the days were getting darker and the cold was beginning to descend on Minnesota. Even though I moved to Minnesota from California several years ago, I still get depressed during the dark, cold months of winter. Because of this, I try to find inventive ways to combat the winter blues by keeping busy with music and other projects. “Blue” is a simple song about the feeling of knowing what’s about to come, that you know it’s going to suck and that you can’t do much to prevent it – unless, of course, you can afford to head south for the winter!
Any plans to release a video for the single?
We shot some footage for a “Blue” video last year, but we’ve been busy finishing up the album and working on the release, so I haven’t had much time to review it with the director. But winter is nearly here again, so we’ll have a chance to finish shooting and editing the video soon enough. The song lyrics have a lot of winter imagery in them that I’d like to capture in the video. We did use “Blue” for an album release teaser video and we have that video on our website. It isn’t the official for the song, but it has some winter imagery in it and a bit of Minnesotan cold weather humor at the end.
The single comes off your new album Deep In The Waves – what’s the story behind the title?
The song “Deep in the Waves” is told from the point of view of one’s inner voice compelling you rise up and sieze the day – to be alive and awake instead of submerged and drowning. It’s easy to feel underwater in life, like you are struggling every day just to keep afloat. “Deep in the Waves” is essentially a song from the soul to the self about transforming that struggle into something more positive and constructive. For me, this is specific to being a musician and living much of my life inside of sounds and textures, which are the waves that come down at the end of the song. This concept seemed to speak for the entire collection of songs, several of which were inspired by trips back to the West Coast to see my family. The last of these trips was to be at my mom’s side during the final days of her life. The song “Deep in the Waves” became a sort of soundtrack in my head during that trip. I had the opportunity to sing that song for my mom just before she passed away, so it has a special meaning for me. When it came to naming the album, it was the only title I could think of that felt right for it.
How was the recording and writing process?
The band and I had just written what will be the next Swallows’ album, so I was already in the songwriting flow. The songs for “Deep in the Waves” were written over a four or five month period. I recorded improvisational jam sessions whenever I had a decent idea, so I began to pick and choose ones that I thought I could expand into songs. Some of those songs, like “Deep in the Waves,” seemed like nearly complete pieces when I transcribed from the recorder, but others needed to be crafted, like “Beautiful Mess,” to complete the arc of the story. “Blind” was written in the studio while I was setting up to play keys for another song. There was a lot of spontaneity and flow in the writing and recording of this album and everyone in the band was game to come to the studio work out arrangements as we went. We weren’t quite sure what we were making at first since we hadn’t played the songs live and my demos were very basic for this album, so we built the album together from the ground up in the studio. It turned out to be a very immersive experience for all of us and I think that this can be felt on the album as well.
Known for playing with different genres – how did you get to balance them together?
It is definitely like putting a big, complex puzzle together and it takes time to figure out where each piece should go, both for each song’s arrangement and for the album as a whole. I think of that overall flow from song to song during the writing process, knowing that I want a certain arc to the album as a whole. I want people to be able to listen to the album and have it tell its own story as a complete work even though each song has its own story and associated sound. I tend to write albums thematically and this album has a large emphasize on geography. The song styles and arrangements reflect the places that the songs are written about, so, for example, you’ll hear Spanish and Mediterranean influence in the song “Catalonia” and then more of an alt-country sound on the song Las Cruces. I like the idea of letting the song’s subject matter help determine how you write, arrange and ultimately produce a song. The songs are all about different situations and places, and they are written from different perspectives and about different emotional states. The music itself reflects those differences. Of course, serving the songs rather than a particular genre has its advantages and disadvantages because you have to consider how all of it will flow when the songs are placed on an album together. The song sequencing becomes very important if you chose to ignore certain stylistic boundaries.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
J. Briozo is a fictional songwriter that I conjured up as a muse for the songwriting process. My mom’s family name is Briozo so I imagined J. Briozo as a nomadic songwriter who was originally from the Azore Islands where my relatives still own and operate a winery. The J. Briozo character provided me with a perspective as a writer that was outside of my own, but still somehow myself. I wrote a biography for J. Briozo so I could understand where he was coming from and, to some degree, I lived in his shoes while I was writing the album, much like a character actor might for a movie role. The songs themselves almost all came out of my own personal experiences and reflections on things that were happening to me, inside of me and around me; I just wanted to use J. Briozo as a muse to craft the songs so that I could give myself permission to write lyrics, explore musical styles and perform the songs differently than I might otherwise.
Any plans to hit the road?
Yes. For now, we’ll be doing some shows around the Midwest, but our plan is to hit the West Coast in the spring. Many of the songs on the album are written about places on the West Coast and in the Southwest, so it will be fun to see if we can pick up shows in as many of those places as we can. I’d also like to get back to California and Oregon to visit my family.
What else is happening next in J. Briozo’s world?
It seems like we’d better start writing and recording a new album! In the meantime, we have a new Swallows’ album to mix that we’d like to release next year.