Sat, November 5, 2016
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm (event ends at 11:00 pm)Trees
This event is all ageshttp://www.treesdallas.com/event/1278583/
But PATCH THE SKY is the darkest one.
After the Letterman performance in February 2015 where "dust fell from the rafters," it would have seemed logical to go the punk rock route—an entire album of two-minute songs—but that wasn't where my soul was at.
I withdrew from everyday life. I wrote alone for six months. I love people, but I needed my solitude. The search for my own truth kept me alive. These songs are my salvation.
I've had a solid stretch of hard emotional times, and thanks for the condolences in advance. I don't want to go into the details—more death, relationships ending, life getting shorter—because they're already in the songs. Just listen and see if you can fit yourself into my stories. The words make you remember. The music makes you forget.
But PATCH THE SKY is also the catchiest one.
I always aim for the perfect balance of bright melodies and dark stories. I've used this juxtaposition for years. This time, I've tuned it to high contrast.
The first side of the album is generally simple and catchy. The second side is heavier in spirit and tone. Opposing forces and properties. I love both sides of PATCH THE SKY.
At the core of these songs is what I call the chemical chorus—you hear it once and your brain starts tingling. The heart rate picks up. It gets worse—you know it's coming again and you can barely stand the anticipation. Then, the beautifully heartbreaking bridge appears, and you're all set up—hooked for life. Music is an incredibly powerful drug. I want to be your drug dealer. I have what you need.
On the current band.
I'm currently in the best band in the world with Jon Wurster on drums and Jason Narducy on bass. We've been working together since March 2008. Jon and Jason are involved in many quality projects, and I'm amazed they find the time to play music with me. I am always thankful for their contributions.
On the recording process.
Beau Sorenson engineered the tracking sessions at Electrical Audio in Chicago. We all played really hard, and I used very loud amps. We mixed PATCH THE SKY at Different Fur in San Francisco. Bob Weston mastered the album at Chicago Mastering Service. Sonically, it's deeper and richer than the previous two albums.
On the state of my music.
Beyond the aforementioned trials of life, I found myself thinking about the 1970s, where heavy metal, soft rock, and confessional singer/songwriters collided (and gay porno was better). I circled back to the forgotten sounds of my teen years, and how I used to absorb, learn, and emulate in order to create.
When I was younger, I always felt the need to justify my work. These days, I don't have time or energy for that. I only want to finish the songs that get stuck in my head for days and weeks and months on end. And add lots of guitar solos.
On the last campaign, I had a song called "Little Glass Pill" that talked about "a window and a mirror." That's what music is to me, both as creator and lifelong fan. The window—where you can see inside my soul. The mirror—where I look to find my own truth. When the inspiration hits, roll with it. Write what you live, love, and know.
Apparently I've been given some special dispensation. How many musicians get to play loud rock at 55 and still have an audience?
It's amazing that people from so many different cities, countries, ages, and walks of life all continue to find something in common in my music. I take the art form very seriously; I appreciate being recognized for my efforts, and I'm incredibly grateful for the time I've had in the light. I like the brightness, and Lord knows I've got darkness covered.
* * *
Anyhow—let's try to make something enjoyable out of all the heaviness of life and death and love and failure and fear and regret that we all go through. Talk with me about normal stuff. Ask me fun questions. I'll say some crazy shit because I'm old. Kids will think I'm out of touch with modern times. I love it. Let's do it.
More tellingly, Swan City Vampires begins with a bracing, two-minute instrumental track, "Paradise, Basically." Jagged electric guitar chords ripped apart by distortion and static dominate the song, aggression that's tempered by an unsettled, minor-key piano melody hovering just underneath the surface. It's not necessarily the easiest entry into an album, but make no mistake: This tone and sound—which Johnson describes as "pretty ugly"—is entirely deliberate.
"The album is a little reckless out of the gate, with the first song, and I wanted that to be the case," he says. "I wanted there to be some discomfort, some uncertainty and some oddity."
In one sense, this approach is the result of Johnson's diverse musical collaborations—including Monsters Of Folk with My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst; Overseas with David Bazan and Matt and Bubba Kadane; and a duo project with the late Jason Molina. However, Swan City Vampires' tension and doubt more obviously reflect the changes Johnson himself went through, both personally and professionally, as the album took shape. In early 2014, his mother passed away, while later that year, his band of nearly 20 years, Centro-matic, called it a day.
Both of these events are referenced directly on Swan City Vampires. The melancholic, piano-curled "(Made Us Feel Like) Kings" is an elegy for his group's musical achievements, while "The Watchman" is a tribute to his late mother. The latter song is particularly poignant: It blooms from slightly frayed acoustic guitar and lilting sonic whirrs into a barrage of electric guitar pelted with distraught keyboard zaps—conveying the messiness of emotional catharsis, where grief and relief combine in imperfect ways.
"When the record was coming together, I was dealing with loss and a lot of uncertainty," Johnson says. "It was a strange time, emotionally. I didn't necessarily know what I wanted the album to transmit. There was a lot of raw emotion flying around. For the first time, I didn't have some sort of grand picture or plan for the whole record. I wanted to get as much down as I could and figure it out later."
Perhaps as a result, Swan City Vampire's recording sessions were brisk and economical. The album was recorded and mixed in two separate three-day sessions with different engineers—John Congleton (The Paper Chase, St. Vincent, Modest Mouse) and Britton Beisenherz (Monahans)—with additional contributions from Phosphorescent's Ricky Ray Jackson and Johnson's long-time creative foil, drummer Matt Pence. It marked the first time Johnson had ever done a record in this split-session fashion. "I was a little self-aware that it might have a patchwork quilt kind of feel to it," he admits. "But it wound up still feeling cohesive to me once I put all the songs together and sequenced them."
What makes this cohesion even more remarkable is that Swan City Vampire's songs were written during different points in Johnson's life. Several date from as far back as six years ago, when he was living in a little frame house in Bastrop, Texas, before he was married and became a father; others emerged more in the present-day, "right near the finish line" of the album. "There are some different perspectives, I suppose, in the writing," he says. "The writing itself came from different viewpoints—or different vistas."
However, Swan City Vampires does have some common thematic threads, including working through restlessness and major life changes, and trying to figure out what's next after the familiar's been displaced. Yet more than ever, Johnson is comfortable embracing the unfamiliar—as he does on the forthright "You vs. Off The Cuff," when he sings the lyric, "How perfect it is to see you again."
"I've never sung a line like that," Johnson says. "It made me uncomfortable demoing it for the first time, but in a good way—in a way that I was finally unafraid to sing a line like that. There have been a lot of phases of my songwriting life where I probably would've rolled my eyes and turned away from that. But for whatever reason, with all that was going on in my personal life, at the time it felt exactly right to sing a line like that."
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