Occurrence’s swoon-worthy and heartbreaking new album I Have So Much Love To Give wasn’t supposed to happen. But making music is sometimes a lot like binging a television show. When you’ve got a good storyline, it’s hard to stop.
Everyone in Occurrence was a little fried after finishing their second album, Everyone Knows the Disaster Is Coming, and they all have a lot going on in their lives. Cat Hollyer writes for Hallmark and has four children, and her fellow Occurrence singer Johnny Hager teaches high school Spanish in New York City, while composer Ken Urban is busy both writing plays and teaching playwriting at MIT. (It seems like band life and playwriting life are starting to blend together for him. One of his most recent plays is Vapor Trail, which is named in honor of a classic song by shoegaze legends Ride and tells the story of a music journalist struggling with grief.)
Hollyer lives in Kansas, so Occurrence tries to get as much music done as possible during the pockets of time where they can all be in the same city. She visited a few more times, and pretty soon, everyone realized that, once again, they were working on an album. The breakthrough came with “A Parade of Regrets,” a rumbling darkwave ballad that begins with the line, “Happiness will kill you slowly/Better off to make it quick.” Once that song was finished, Urban realized his band had found a narrative framework for what would become their third album,and they had to keep going. Inspired by Roland Barthes’ book A Lover’s Discourse, Urban decided to structure I Have So Much Love To Give around the journey from a relationship’s start to its end. “Side A is all about the joy of falling in love and the intense desire you feel for somebody else,” he says. “And then Side B is when it all goes to shit.”
A musical theater performer and trained opera singer, Hager sang back-up on a few songs for Occurrence’s debut The Past Will Last Forever (2016) and became an official member for the follow-up Everyone Knows the Disaster Is Coming (2018). “I feel like with Everyone Knows we were recording together, but we were still thinking ‘This is a Cat song. This is a Johnny song.’ And this one felt like, ‘Oh, this is like our first album as a real band,’” says Urban. “So even though it feels very vulnerable, it also feels like we have the support of each other.”
The result of that support is I Have So Much Love To Give, Occurrence’s most cohesive album to date. Urban collaborated remotely with producer and sound designer Daniel Kluger via the software program ListenTo, which allowed them to finish mixing the album during Zoom sessions, with Urban bringing in Christian Frederickson from beloved band Rachel’s to play viola on three tracks, and Kluger bringing actor-musician Peter Mark Kendall to play guitar on “The Preferred One.”
With I Have So Much Love To Give, Occurrence has made their best, most complete work yet, filled with both their most energetic anthems and tear-jerking ballads. Not bad at all for an album that wasn’t even supposed to exist.
We get to also sit with the band and talk more about the video and more!
Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Ken: Thanks for having us. We’re good. It’s a good time to be in New York as things reopen and the humidity is perfectly oppressive.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “I Have So Much Love To Give”?
Ken: I remember recording this song so clearly. I was playing the organ riff and Cat came into the studio and said, I wanna sing on this one. I give my demos crazy titles to remember them, and usually they change. But this one was called, I Have So Much Love to Give. I expected Cat to wanna change the title. But she was like I’m gonna write lyrics and that’s the first line. Not only did she sing the line, it became the title of the song and the album.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
Cat: I was inspired by Beach House in that moment, and how Victoria Legrand manages to create a whole gravitational pull with her deliberate, lush melodies.
Ken: I also lit lots of sage candles during recording.
How was the filming process and experience behind the video?
Ken: I asked an actor friend of mine, Jen Taher, if she’d be interested in making a video for this song. She is up in Vermont because her partner has a teaching gig at Bennington College. She was jonesing to do something (do people still say that?!?). She said she could work with students to help her. Her only request: full artistic control. I said, of course! I only asked that the video be as sexy as the song. She came through! I loved the queer Little Red Riding Hood riff.
Johnny: I’m a sucker for lumberjacks.
Ken: I couldn’t believe they danced in the freezing cold.
Why naming the album after this song in particular?
Ken: There’s always a song, when you write and record it, it jumps out, it becomes the axis which all the other songs revolve around. When we finished recording the vocals on this one, I just knew we were making an album and this was the song that started it off. After the gloomy and eerily prescient title of our last album (“Everyone Knows the Disaster is Coming”), I wanted to name this one something more upbeat despite the global turmoil in which the album was recorded and mixed.
How was the recording and writing process?
Ken: Probably the happiest of my life. We recorded all throughout 2019. We were making tons of tracks and having a lot of fun. Daniel Kluger, our mixing engineer and my co-producer, And I were starting to mix the songs. That was a whole new adventure. It was really fun. I knew it was the best stuff we had made. Then 2020 happened, we had some health issues, March came and everything shut down. I had COVID, luckily a very mild case. I feared the album was lost. But slowly by that summer, Daniel and I figured out a way to keep mixing the album virtually using ListenTo and Zoom. Thanks to all that work, last October, we finished it. It was nice to hold onto these songs, to Cat and Johnny, and to Daniel, since the world was in utter chaos. To make something we really loved. Fuck. It actually makes me tear up thinking about it. I’m of Irish Catholic stock. We don’t cry easily.
Cat: I have to laugh because in the past, with other bands, writing and recording could be stressful and tension-filled at times. And yet there we were, writing songs about the heady ups and dramatic downs of a love affair, filling the moments in between with pasta and Cure dance parties.
Ken: Disintegration is definitely the best album ever.
Johnny: For me, these songs came to me in the most unexpected moments. I’d show early drafts of lyrics to Ken and Cat, hearing what they think. Recording is the best part. Trying things out, seeing what feels good, what sounds good. I also know the look I’ll get from Ken when he wants me to do another take.
What role does Kansas play in your music?
Cat: Having moved from the East Coast to Lawrence, Kansas back in 2004, I’ve had a long time to acclimate to the pace of life here, which is much slower. I’ve found that in many things, I’m slower now as well—I have a side gig as a voiceover artist, and have been teased about how much more slowly I read for recordings now. When it comes to songwriting, the Kansas comes through in the slow, ambling approach I take to creating a vocal melody, especially on this track.
Ken: I loved Lawrence when we played there. Except for the angry guy who played pinball during our set because he was pissed, karaoke was cancelled. The sound guy probably wondered why our songs kept getting louder and louder.
What aspect of love did you get to explore on this record?
Ken: Last summer, I was re-reading this book by French writer Roland Barthes called A Lover’s Discourse. Each chapter is a short but dense exploration of one aspect of falling in love. That helped me realize how to organize the songs on the record. These songs were about that experience of falling headlong into love and then the pain of when it ends or that love is not returned… We all drew upon our past romances and sexual experiences for inspiration, which can be dangerously exciting since Johnny and I are a couple.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
Johnny: In my anger, moments of pure happiness, moments of awful frustration. That’s where the truth lies.
Ken: Our next single is inspired by Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life. We also all read those popular Elena Ferrante novels. I’m sure those books seeped into the songs. Daniel also pushed me as a producer when we were mixing, adding more acoustic instruments to songs. I asked my friend Christian Frederickson from Rachel’s to play viola on three tracks. Daniel asked his friend actor and musician Peter Mark Kendall to play guitar. It’s good to work with someone who when you think something’s perfect, says, sure but what if we tried this….
What else is happening next in Occurrence’s world?
Ken: Our next single “The Happy Years” comes out in early July. Then two more singles, plus music videos for all of them. It all leads up to the new album that comes out on August 20th. The three of us will finally all be together in the same physical space again in August. We aren’t ready to play live yet, but we are going to do something fun for the album release. We have some other songs nearly finished that we got to mix. I have some new demos to play them and some–
Johnny: Ken is already cracking the whip.
Ken: Very funny.
Archie & Fox Records website: https://www.archieandfoxrecords.com