Thank you, I’m hanging in there. Just trying to keep myself away from any news source.
Can you talk to us more about your song “Wayward Queen”?
“Wayward Queen” is the first single off my upcoming album Out of Clay. I like to think of it as a love song to an abstraction. At its core, the song is about my inner conflict between an idealized romantic image and the humbling realities of a relationship with a real live human person. It also has overtones of some grander spiritual dimension, a kind of paean to a lost Mother Earth figure. But I like to imagine that the same dynamics are at play no matter how far you zoom out.
Did any event inspire you to write this song?
I wrote the song during a month spent living in Paris, when I was visiting my girlfriend at the time. The title and melody just kind of materialized while I was walking through Père Lachaise, the opulent cemetery where Oscar Wilde is buried. As a lot of people who’ve been in long distance relationships can attest to, spending too much time apart can be truly dissociative, where you find yourself inventing a parallel fantasy version of your partner. In my case the whole situation was also tied up in my songwriting, and looking back I think I became pathologically attached to the poet-muse nature of the relationship. I wrote “Wayward Queen” while I was plunged in this deeply confusing experience, and for a long time the song was a bit of a mystery even to me. Now I can see how bringing the relationship back into reality actually led me to experience a different kind of loss, losing touch with the feminine archetype that I had projected onto a real, complicated person. I’m glad I managed to work the experience into the song before I had time to analyze it too much, because I was able to write it from an unconscious place.
Any plans to release a video for the track?
I went back and forth for a long time, but eventually decided not to make any music videos for this album. The images are too specific in my mind, and too grandiose. I think it would be a fool’s errand to try to capture them on screen. Instead I decided to film some live in-studio performances, and I’m hoping to gradually work through the whole record that way, recording in different settings and featuring different ensembles.
The single comes off your new album Out of Clay – what’s the story behind the title?
Most of the songs on this album grapple with similar themes of idealization and fantasy, essentially illustrating various male complexes of otherizing the feminine: the princess in the tower, the perfect, objectified feminine form on a pedestal, the mysterious life-giving goddess, the malevolent, powerful witch, and so on. But I didn’t explore these ideas from a moralizing, authorial perch, and I didn’t take on the task of writing newer, better stories, I just captured the experience of engaging with the myths as they surfaced in my own life. In a way the album is quite self-incriminating, documenting my own participation in these dynamics, and working through the suffering that they cause. But there’s also an implication that the stories don’t belong to me, they’re the inherited myths of a misogynistic culture.
It’s a pseudo-coincidence that a lot of the songs are adapted from myths, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and other classical/medieval source material. One song, “The Gift,” is adapted from the Pandora story. The song describes the creation of a beautiful woman brought to life by an unseen hand, bearing a clay jar; and though the lyrics actually say “into clay,” the title is derived from that song. I like to think of Pandora as the Greek Eve, the mythical woman who unleashes chaos and sin. (Pandora’s box, by the way, was originally a clay jar.) I like to imagine that the phrase “out of clay” describes everything that comes after, the explosion of suffering, pleasure, chaos, and self-awareness that emerges from this male encounter with the archetypal woman.
What made you want to do a concept album?
The whole thing started about ten years ago, while backpacking through South America, back when I was ostensibly a pretty straightforward folk-rock songwriter. On this trip I had what I can only describe as a series of mystical experiences, and I found myself writing songs with a totally different vibe, songs about the sun and the moon, strange encounters with dogs and cats, etc. I could tell there was a thread running through these songs – not quite a narrative, but they belonged to a distinct universe, which I started labeling magical realism. At first I thought I would wrap this thing up quickly and make a curious record, but the more I wrote, the more it grew in scope. When I got home to my midwestern college town, my life was largely devoid of magical experiences, so to keep digging up new material I found myself drawn to western occultism like astrology and Tarot, which is extremely systematic in nature. Gradually, as I acquired more and more songs, I carved out a unique structure in an attempt to organize all my ideas: four albums, each with twelve tracks exploring a broad theme, bookended by musically-related tracks that move a more explicit fantasy narrative forward. The whole project, called Caught Beneath the Wheel, will be a total of 48 tracks, each with a corresponding Tarot card, and I imagine I’ll be officially middle-aged by the time I’m done.
Would you call this a direct follow up to your past record?
Yes. My last album, The Light Within, was more of an origin story. It was about exploring the world, all these weird experiences that affect the primal formation of a personality. Out of Clay picks up where it left off, as this naive wanderer makes a half-hearted attempt to put down roots. There’s even a line at the end of The Light Within that predicts the plotline of the next album (“I’ve seen enough, so I’m headed north to find me a woman”). The third album in the series will probably be a closer parallel to The Light Within, which is to say, back in “explorer” mode.
How was the recording and writing process?
I wrote the album over the course of about 7-8 years. The guitar parts usually came first, feeling my way through these evocative chord progressions, usually with a central lyrical image in mind. Actually writing the lyrics was extremely difficult. Earlier in my life, songwriting was more about capturing a moment and a feeling, and I didn’t second-guess myself so much. But writing the songs that became Out of Clay required a whole new layer of craft, especially when adapting existing material and trying to tell coherent stories.
The recording process, on the other hand, was wonderful. I produced and arranged the album myself, with my friend (and bassist) Justin Goldner co-producing. Justin led me to Bunker Studio in Brooklyn, and we ended up working with one of the owners, John Davis. I’m a pretty hard-edged perfectionist, and the studio environment can exacerbate that, but for whatever reason this album brought out a softer version of myself. The whole vibe was patient and thoughtful and the best kind of collaborative. And it was a dream-team of musicians, too many to mention. The album was recorded during the 2016 election, so it was especially bizarre to be working on this sensitive work of art tackling troublesome internalized gender dynamics, while a ridiculous caricature of evil patriarchy rose up all around us.
What role does Brooklyn play in your writing?
I see myself as a quintessential neurotic New Yorker, and that self-image has always been a part of me, so I feel like NYC was an influence on my writing before I even lived here. That said, as an adult living in 2010s Brooklyn, the music I’ve made has been pretty anachronistic and immune to trends. I’ve always felt slightly alienated from both the Brooklyn indie scene and the Manhattan singer-songwriter scene, despite dipping my feet in both. New York’s influence is more about the bottomless pool of ridiculously talented individuals who inspire me.
Known for playing with different cultures and genres – how do you balance them together?
In the past, my music often amounted to a kind of cultural tourism, always visiting different genres, but never really putting down roots. This feels like the first record I’ve made that fully establishes an aesthetic, and I think there are two reasons it clicked this time. One is that I set aside some of my other musical interests for future projects, instead of trying to impatiently cram everything into one record. The other thing is that it never really matches any particular genre. It has elements of 60s-70s Brazilian music in the chord progressions and the arrangements, but I infuse those same songs with chamber-pop aesthetics. The songs that start as chamber-pop often take surprise detours into spacey territory or jazz harmony. And the narrative lyrics provide this inscrutable layer where you’re not sure if you’re listening to an indie rock album or musical theater or the art-song thesis project of a composition grad student. So I don’t know if I balance my influences or if I just keep the listener off-balance.
What aspect of love did you get to explore on this record?
If you just listened to me talk about the record, it might come across like the most overwrought breakup album ever made, all heady ruminations and obscure references. But the songs on this album come from a lot of pain and loneliness, and I hope the sheer emotion comes through. Underneath it all, I see an undercurrent of self-loathing. The breakup moment happens halfway through the album, and I think the most interesting material on the record is in the second half, as the songs turn from perceiving the love object to the fallout of her absence. The earlier songs are so busy seeing and possessing the lover, and there’s this late realization that I, too, have been seen and desired by this other person. It’s interesting how the narration moves through the whole relationship without really considering that fact, and by the time it comes into consciousness it’s too late. The second-to-last track is a song called “Lady of Clay,” which feels like the only moment that I’m truly honest with myself, acknowledging that somewhere along the way I displaced a real person with a symbol. There’s an excerpt that really sticks out to me in hindsight: “I saw the Lady in you / And you saw something in me too / What did you see that I don’t? / And why am I standing here all alone?”
Any plans to hit the road?
I’m working on lining up some solo tours when the weather turns friendlier, aiming for the east coast, the west coast, and the midwest. Later on, if the demand is there, I’d love to take a band on the road.
What else is happening next in Jared Saltiel´s world?
So much! I have a slasher-comedy musical in development called South by South Death, which I’m writing with my lifelong friend Toby Singer. We’ve been working on the latest draft for quite a long time, and we’re aiming for a workshop production some time in 2018. I’m also nearly done with a new EP, which will also see release later this year. The new tunes are a bit more straightforward and topical than the Out of Clay stuff, and I’m honestly looking forward to getting into that. In fact, I will probably focus on other sides of my songwriting for a few years before I get back to the fantasy story-songs. I’ve put about 10 years into developing this aesthetic, and I’m craving something new.