100% Awesome, thank you for asking. Excited this record is finally out of my head and out into the world.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “My Sad 71”?
My Sad 71 is a song about separation. Both physical separation, and the emotional separation that comes from diverging paths and experiences. It is about how relationships can disintegrate without us even noticing, and that final moment of realization.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
The song was inspired by my experiences on the road with my former band —Rubyhorse. Life on tour is a very exaggerated kind of existence — constantly on the move, new faces every day, living in tour busses and hotels, and having every decision made for you. It’s a bizarre kind of normal, and it can be difficult to maintain a connection to the people you care about back home who are just living their everyday lives— still getting up every morning and going to work and trying to make a living. It’s not vanity, it’s just a disconnect. You have less and less in common, and people just want to get on with their own lives too — not everybody wants to put their lives on hold to wait around for you to come home. And this was in a time before cell phones and the communications revolution occurred. Email was only just being adopted, but there wasn’t that constant connection. When you were away, you were AWAY. Relationships relied a lot on the other person being at the other end of a landline when you called.
“My Sad 71” is about two people in a relationship like I just described. Experiences are diverging, truths are being hidden, the relationship is fading out of sight, and out of mind.
How was the filming process and experience behind the video?
The video was directed and edited by Frankfort, Indiana native Jay Sheets at Chemistry Creative in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’m pretty hard to please when it comes to music videos; I’m not a fan of storylines and acting, it is rarely pulled off successfully in my opinion.In fact, I didn’t even want to be in the video at all. Given those constraints, Jay managed to pull together something pretty special. He created a gorgeous interactive set with these hanging LED columns, and we just filmed a bunch of takes and b-roll in and around these while polishing off a couple of bottles of Grüner Vetliner.
The single comes off your new album Maps of Mars – what’s the story behind the title?
You know I can’t actually remember coming up with the title — it was just sort of there one day. It felt so familiar that I had to look it up to make sure I wasn’t plagiarizing it. To me it has a similar meaning to “the best laid plans of mice and men” — we make so many plans and do so much research; but none of us really know what the fuck we are doing. We are all just muddling along through life, and a map of Mars isn’t going to help anybody get where they’re going. We can survey the surface of other planets but we still can’t figure out how to get our shit together at home.
How was the recording and writing process?
My former band — Rubyhorse was a democracy. Every musical decision was made as a group, even they were recording a song you had written. It was frustrating at times, so when I started to think about starting a new project, I knew immediately that I wanted to do it myself. I wanted complete creative control. And not only did I want to write and perform this record myself, I also wanted to produce and record it myself. This meant that not only did I need to learn to sing, I needed to learn how to engineer and mix audio, too. I built a recording studio — The Binery — in Long Island City, and the bulk of this record was tracked there. It was a very slow process, as everything I was doing — I was doing for the first time and learning as I went. It also took me a long time to figure out what sound I wanted to make. I took this in a lot of different sonic directions before I just decided to stop thinking about it and go where the songs took me.
The only constraint I put on myself was that I wanted to use mostly organic and vintage sounds, and use real instruments as much as possible. Having been the keyboard player in Rubyhorse, I wanted to avoid making a “synth” album — I wanted to do something that sounded like it could have been recorded at Abbey Road in 1965. I’m obsessed with vintage gear and instruments, and you’ll hear a lot of that sound on this record.
I had only ever written songs for someone else to sing, so writing for my own voice was very liberating but came with a steep learning curve as I had never been recorded singing before. Did my voice work better layered or not? With harmonies? What kind of mics suited my voice?
It was an incredibly long and slow journey, but an incredibly satisfying one.
But in the end, I didn’t do it completely alone.Gordon from Rubyhorse played the drums on “Heaven”, and Chris Buckle from The Major leans played some incredible electric guitar on “Heaven” and “My Sad 71”. He also contributed to the vocals on “Heaven”. The record was mastered by Fred Kevorkian at Avatar Studios.
Would you call this a departure from your previous musical project?
Sonically, I don’t think it is a million miles away from Rise-era Rubyhorse. Stylistically — I’d call it more of an evolution than a departure. I can still hear echoes of Ruby horse in my music, but I think it is more distilled now, more mature, and more focused.
How has New Order and Of Monsters and Men influenced your writing?
Those bands haven’t influenced me any more or less than the hundreds of artists I’ve been exposed to over the years. They are artists who were referenced by other people who were trying to describe my music. It could mean there are sonic, stylistic, or lyrical similarities — but it doesn’t imply I was particularly influenced by those artists specifically.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
When I begin to compose a song, I never have a specific story in mind that I want to tell from the outset. I usually begin with meter and melodies first, and then weave lyrics into them — first phonetically, and then with more and more structure and meaning. The meaning of songs manifest about halfway through the writing process and then I polish, polish, polish from there. Because of this way of writing — I find myself writing lyrics that take perspectives on common themes, or describe very specific vignettes but with unintentional but frequent dystopian undertones. “My Sad 71” and “Sorrow” are both vignettes at the intersection of technology and human emotions. “My Sad 71” talks about separation before the advent of the communication revolution, while “Sorrow” was very much influenced by America’s atomic bomb propaganda of the 1950s. “Heaven” is a sort of dystopian-suburban-coming of age story.
Any plans to hit the road?
Not at the moment. Right now I am putting the finishing touches on the songs for the next record, and I am eager to start recording very soon. Maybe after a few more releases, I’ll start thinking about putting a live band together and hitting the road again.