I had a very smart friend in middle school, incredibly smart. He participated in all of the after school programs, won various chess competitions, and was good at all of the things I wasn’t good at. He was also incredibly witty, would notice the kind of things about people they didn’t want him to notice and then just tear them apart. One time we were given an assignment to write an essay about our idea of a utopia. He brought in a piece that imagined himself as a despotic ruler, punishing all who dared say anything bad about him. It was hysterical, but our Social Studies teacher chided him for being egocentric and claimed he didn’t do the work. Obviously the guy didn’t get the joke.
We lost touch for a while, then I saw him at a show in high school and he had totally changed, figured out a way to morph his intelligence into coolness. I still remember him sitting on the steps of the vintage store where all my friend’s bands would play in high school, incense burning, surrounded by people. He passed away some years later and that was the last time I ever saw him. I still think about him all of the time, his awareness of the world around him and his ability to laugh at everything. This song is for him.
In 2018, I toured for five months straight, bopping back and forth between bands and working harder than I’d ever worked in my life. It left me pretty frazzled, and at the end of the long journey Chanele came and met me in LA where my sojourn ended. We walked up to the observatory, saw some coyotes, and I deliriously told her about all the things I read and experienced on my trip. Later she told me “you wouldn’t stop talking about The King In Yellow and tabletop RPGs” and I found that so funny. I had to use a humbling and embarrassing moment as a way to kick off a song about being in love while thinking about your own mortality. I also had to put in a few lines from “Aliens Exist” by blink 182 for some reason.
This is the first song where it really felt things were clicking in the studio. (Bass player) Alex Luquet and (drummer) Joe Baldacci are so synced up on this one, it feels like they’ve been playing together for years.
There’s a song by The Fall where Mark E. Smith says: “They say music should be fun/Like reading a story of love/but I want to read a horror story.” It’s something that always stuck with me, what a wonderful mission statement.
To follow up “Observatory” I wanted to write a song that followed the plot of an imaginary horror movie, a rural nightmare in the vein of The Wicker Man or Green Room. Early Will Oldham songs do this so well, especially “A Sucker’s Evening” off Arise Therefore. I also really love songs where all the action happens off-screen, like “$1000 Wedding” by Gram Parsons. It’s nice when there’s something left up to the imagination.
I sent this song to Audrey Zee Whitesides of Speedy Ortiz and told her I needed some nightmare ambient guitar. She sent me a one-take demo of the craziest noisy shredding and I ran it through some more stuff. It fit in the mix so nicely and made the song done. Not sure if anyone else will read this as a horror story but that was the plan.
On my first solo tour, we stayed at a hotel/casino in Mississippi called the Hollywood Casino. It was full of movie memorabilia, including a replica of the sinking Titanic from the titular movie, a Batmobile, etc. Andy Molholt [of Speedy Ortiz, Laser Background and more] stayed up all night gambling with the solemn declaration that he would cover the cost of the room with his winnings. I don’t think it worked out, but only the best of friends would attempt to pull off a plan like that.
This casino got me thinking about the final scene from ConAir, the absolutely bonkers 90s movie staring Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, and Steve Buscemi. In the film, Buscemi plays a prolific Hannibal Lecter style child murderer, who escapes imprisonment at the end of the movie. The last time you see him, he’s gambling at a craps table, and it’s implied he goes free. Seeing it as a kid totally freaked me out, and in writing this song all these wires got crossed. I was imagining this character at the Mississippi casino, ruminating on fame and infamy, watching my friends and I run around trying to cover the cost of our hotel room, operating a tour on a loss.
I hate Hillbilly Elegy. It’s much easier to hate now that the author is a full-on MAGA chud idiot, but around 2016 when that book was making the rounds in liberal circles as a way to “understand the forgotten man” it was pretty clear to me JD Vance had some more sinister aims. (I got a lot more out of this book called What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia). So the first line I had for this song was “your rural world, imaginary.”
Knowing I couldn’t write an entire song about how much I hated a book I hadn’t even read front to back, I thought about the aforementioned line in other aspects. Chanele lives out in Donegal, one of the more rural counties in Ireland. I’ve spent a lot of time there, occasionally feeling like a city slicker with no real life skills outside of playing guitar. My grandmother grew up on a farm in rural Maryland, and being in another rural setting made me think about the connections between her upbringing and the farmers in Donegal. Everywhere is connected and also totally different.
Jacob Blizard from Lucy Dacus’s band played guitar on a few songs, and he really shines in this one. He brought a radio to the studio you can plug guitars into, and we recorded some gnarly fuzz with it. Jacob rules.
This song is also about Ireland. There’s a beautiful mountain called Knocnarea where the original queen of Ireland is supposedly buried. It’s located in County Sligo, and driving through one day I couldn’t help but think of whether this beautiful place would get wiped out by climate catastrophe. That sent me down a long dark hallway of memories, all of which got thrown down in this song.
This is one where we faithfully recreated an entire demo in the studio and it came out perfectly. When I sent this to Joe Reinhart he challenged me to throw some harmonies on here, which is a terrifying prospect for me. Chanele coached me through it and it worked out.
When my grandmother was in the hospital towards the end of her life, she hallucinated a full on Catholic Passion Play and dictated what was happening to my mom, who was sitting in the hospital with her. This story stuck with me for a long time and had to put it down somewhere. I wrote this song in 2018 and it sat in my voice memos until I got asked to do a collaboration with a dance troupe during early lockdown. I tried to work on instrumental pieces and nothing really struck until I recorded the drone and sung “Deeper Magic” over it. When the time came to record Silver Dreams Don’t Move Me, I wanted to close the record with a song that felt like a magic spell, and this was an obvious choice. Recording the end was so much fun. Alex played upright bass and we recorded layers and layers of guitars/vocals. Our engineer Zach Goldstein ran everything through an old tape echo and it felt like we were closing the book on the record. At least until Bitter Drain happened.
In early lockdown, I was stuck for a little while in Baltimore, and I tried to stave off boredom by writing a few songs every day. One day I sung this song into my phone and sent it to Chanele with a message saying I’d probably never want to release it. She responded telling me how much she liked it, and I told her that I would only think about putting “Bitter Drain” out if she agreed to sing the second verse. She laid it down from her house in Ireland and the demo was done.
I tried to record it a few more times and it didn’t have the same power. Eventually we decided to mix the demo and release it as is. It wasn’t supposed to be on Silver Dreams but after we released it as a single, it just felt wrong to leave it off the record. So now it exists here too. feels good.