Author Archives: J. Edward Keyes

Pity Sex Premiere “White Hot Moon,” Offer $5.00 Pre-Order

Pity Sex

On their sophomore record, White Hot Moon, Michigan quartet Pity Sex take all of the elements that made its predecessor, Feast of Love, so endearing and fine-tune them. The guitars still buzz and roar, but there’s a greater dynamic range. The heartbreaking “Plum” starts soft and tender, Britty Drake’s voice standing stark against a skeletal guitar, but it gets stormier as it goes on; the title track boasts the kind of grinding riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Dinosaur Jr. record. Throughout, the band is more confident and more assured, and White Hot Moon is a document of a band coming into their own.

In advance of its release on Friday, you can pre-order White Hot Moon this week for just $5.00. Given that the band has described White Hot Moon as a “collaborative” work, we asked each of the members of Pity Sex to share a story behind one of the album’s songs.

Brandan Pierce on “Wappen Beggars”:

In the early winter of 2013, we toured with Self Defense Family in what could only be described as the worst four days you could possibly try to tour in the midwest. Correction: three days, technically, since we cancelled the first show after almost sliding off of a bridge. I am positive we never drove  over 45mph, that’s how bad the roads were. However, the payoff at each night was getting to see Self Defense Family crush it. I was really influenced by their driving bass, as well as [the group] Land of Talk while we were writing the song. I remember running through the intro a few times when we first were feeling it out and saying to myself, ‘I can’t wait to play this live.’

Brennan Greaves on “Nothing Rips Through Me”:

To me, this is one of the most intense songs on the record—both lyrically and musically. I was listening to a lot of Ovlov, and it made me want to have a really wailing and driving outro. I ended up buying myself a cheap slide to incorporate the diving notes at the end, right before wrapping up our time at the studio. There is a heaviness and unease throughout that I don’t think I realized was there until we were listening to the first mixes that Will put together. To me, it’s a song about seeing the world in another person and not knowing if its a world you could ever reach.

Pity Sex

Britty Drake on “Plum”

‘Plum’ stands out to me for obvious reasons, so I won’t spend too many words explaining the sentiment behind it. It’s a song I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I waited because It needed to be perfect. It needed to convey the sinking feeling of seeing the plums my dad bought for my mom still sitting on the kitchen counter after we returned home from her funeral. I wanted to translate that hyperspecific moment into a broadly understood feeling. Once I decided this would be that song, it didn’t take long to complete it.

Sean St. Charles on “White Hot Moon”

Summer 2014. In the course of a few weeks, I exited a long-lasting relationship and moved, for the first time, into a living space that was only my own. Ann Arbor is a college town and as such it’s pretty common for students to sublease their apartments for the summer months. I rented a makeshift studio—it was really just a cabin lean-to attached to the outside of a big, old house which was broken down into a dozen small apartments. My apartment only had a screen door, which opened directly to the lawn. It felt more like camping than residing. Every day, I would get out of work in the early evening,  then walk home and spend the night sitting, reading, cooking, scrubbing the mold out of the bathroom—always the same routine and almost always alone.

The song—and consequently the record—for me, is fixated on the way mindless moments seem so strange when viewed from a distance. That interplay between the mundane and the magical is at the heart of it.  In the song, I tried to blow up those weird little moments and make them something bigger, whether funny or perverse or whatever. In my miniature world I realized how many thoughts go into a single day, how no one could know all of mine and I could never know anyone. There’s something pleasantly unifying in that.

KING, Black Milk & More Pay Tribute to Prince

Prince
photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It’s impossible to come up with a concise, definitive list of contemporary artists who were influenced by Prince for one simple reason: everyone was influenced by Prince. He offered so much on so many levels. To musicians, he was a model of how to craft immediate, irresistible songs without compromising artistic integrity. To producers, he set the standard for finding original, distinctive sounds, pushing the limits of whatever technology he was using at the time. To singers, he was a one-man course in range, texture, dextrousness and expression. To lyricists, a sublime model for deftly interweaving the spiritual and the sexual. That he’s no longer with us seems impossible to believe simply because he felt eternal—someone who always was and who always would be. To honor his tremendous legacy, we asked a series of artists to share their Prince stories, memories and tributes.

SassyBlack (THEESatisfaction, SassyBlack):

In 2014, I was vending at a small festival in Brooklyn and got to see the group KING. Incredibly moved by their performance, I gave them some of my handmade jewelry. They were kind about the exchange, and posted photos of my jewelry to their social media.

Some weeks later, I received a text from band member and producer Paris saying something that really blew my mind: It seems Prince had seen my jewelry on their Instagram and wanted some for himself. I was baffled, to say the least. I knew he had worked closely with the group, but never did I think that I would be in the place to create something for his greatness. Long story short, I spent about a month working on three or four long necklaces of mostly turquoise and purple beads. I burned sage & prayed over them. Then shipped them out to the mysterious location I was given by his assistant.

To me, this was a sign of his love of research, knowledge and support of future creators. What a blessing it was to be able to give back to someone who gave so much of himself to the world.

Ingrid Chavez

It’s a sad rainy day here. I’m shocked at the sudden passing of Prince — it doesn’t seem real. I don’t know what my life would have been like if he had not come into it. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to spend time with him. I made him pancakes, and he laughed and thought I was crazy for putting peanut butter on mine. He taught me to pour the peanut M&Ms into the bag of popcorn at the cinema, something I still do to this day. I’ve only eaten escargot once in my life, and it was with him. For my 24th birthday Prince bought me every one of Joni Mitchell’s albums (on cassette). If we had not met, there would have been no Lovesexy album and no May 19, 1992 album, I would not have met Lenny Kravitz and written “Justify My Love,” and there would have been no European publicity tour for me to promote my role in Graffiti Bridge and my soon-to-be-released album. It was on that tour that I met a journalist in Paris who asked me who I most wanted to work with, and I said David Sylvian. That journalist helped me make a connection with David who I later married and had two beautiful daughters with.

I have had a wonderfully blessed life, and I will be eternally grateful to Prince who saw the potential in this ambitious young single mom with a dream.

I wish you Heaven, it’s all just one loooong dream.

Claire Evans (YACHT):

It’s one thing to write songs that feel timeless in that the lyrics, melodies, and songwriting haven’t become “dated” in their decades-long lifespan. But it’s an entirely different thing to have made songs that hold up—and even transcend—on all fronts: from radical drum programming and vocal production to insane guitar performances and sounds—all of which people are still, mostly unsuccessfully, trying to rip off.

We tried to cover “Annie Christian” many years ago, when we were in the studio making Shangri-La, because it seemed like it might be the easiest Prince song to cover—the least traditionally “perfect” of his canon. We ended up scrapping it. Turns out, there are no easy Prince songs. Everything he did was inimitable.

J-Zone:

The most impressive thing about Prince was the fact that he created for the sake of creating. You understand how powerful that is when, as an artist, you do interviews and they all end with, ‘What do you hope to get out of this album? Tours, branding, buzz, a viral sensation?’ It’s like, ‘What if nobody ever hears it, it’s never monetized, and you don’t do one show or one video?’ That’s not the point. Prince was such an extraordinary artist because he was always creating— it was as natural to him as breathing. That’s the mark of a true artist.

KING:

King by Sharon Esquivel
photo by Sharon Esquivel

Prince is an icon, and we’re forever grateful that he was a part of our lives, to know that he stood behind us gave us the confidence to move forward in ways we’d never imagined we could. To know we had his support gave us a freedom that so many artists don’t get a chance to experience. His legacy will continue to serve as an inspiration to the world.

Taraka Larson (Prince Rama):

I remember the first time I ever heard a Prince song. We weren’t really allowed to listen to much pop music growing up, but one day I found myself sitting in a museum watching this video from the Shanghai Bienniale that appeared, on the surface, to be some sort of surreal hyper-glossed Head and Shoulders commercial. The woman in the video was iconic, statuesque, almost alien—crooning some insane song in Chinese without ever opening her mouth, almost like karaoke telepathy. The beauty of the melody hit me like three tons of bricks.

I was dumbfounded. Without even understanding a word of what she was saying, I was unwittingly raptured, petrified, watching her frozen lips sing the most beautiful song I had ever heard over and over, with tears streaming down my face. The song, I found out later, was ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ by Prince. When people talk about the power of music, I always think about this moment. Amazing how a beautiful song fucks any language barriers, gender barriers, or paltry cultural constructs and just sneaks up and melts your heart right out of your chest with no remorse. There is no mortality to that kind of power—and in that sense Prince is not dead, but will live on forever.

K-Maxx:

Prince represents freedom and individuality. Prince always made me feel that there is a deeper connection. Beyond just making music, he was music. Prince taught me to be fearless in my ideas and beliefs. He taught me that I could sing, play, write my own music. I’m heartbroken, but forever grateful to him for all he’s given us. God bless his journey to heaven.

Black Milk:

Black Milk

Prince will always remain not just one of my favorite artists ever, but an artist who has influenced me more than almost anyone. I always gravitate towards artists who push the envelope, challenge their fans, who are not afraid to take risks — whether they hit their mark or not.

This man’s music hits me like no other. I’ve listened to and dissected Prince’s music religiously since about the age of 17. For me, music is my religion. Sitting at home in front of my speakers is when I’m most at peace, and it’s hard to put into words how much of an impact Prince has had on me. We’re talking about a singer who had the craziest vocal range my ears have ever heard, a flawless falsetto. The way he arranged his background vocals, and how his lead vocal weaved in and out of them, always gave me a screwed-up face. He was an amazing songwriter, had the best songs titles—just everything. Almost every tour, my homie AB and I debate what Prince’s best album is: Sign ‘O’ The Times or 1999.

I remember seeing Prince for the first time back in 2011 in NYC at Madison Square Garden for his Welcome 2 America Tour (surprised I got tix before they sold out). I couldn’t believe I was in the same building as the God, and that my eyes were witnessing the legend in the flesh. During the whole concert, my brain was trying to process, ‘This is not a dream, you are finally experiencing a Prince concert’—to the point where I flew back to NYC a month or two later to see him again and fully enjoy the show as a fan, not just being star-struck the whole night.

The second time was even better than the first. He performed until they turned the lights on, and people still wouldn’t leave. Dude was standing on top of the piano still going through joints like ‘Raspberry Beret,’ ‘Purple Rain,’ and ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ (couldn’t believe he performed that shit). He even teased everyone with the melody to ‘When Doves Cry’ for a split second. The whole room got excited like, ‘Oh, shit! It’s about to happen!!’ Then he stopped and left the stage. One of the greatest moments of my life. Extremely bummed out and sad about his passing. Prince was supposed to live forever. His music and legacy definitely will.

Substantial:

Prince taught me a lesson in showmanship in 1999 (the irony). I saw him at Madison Square Garden with Chaka Khan and Larry Graham. Everything about it was amazing. They served strawberries dipped in chocolate with champagne. The opening acts were stellar. Doug E. Fresh came out as Prince’s hypeman! I immediately thought ‘What world am I on?!’ He did his classics, and even rapped every lyric to “Lodi Dodi” with Doug E. Fresh beatboxing. The greatest show I ever witnessed!

I wanted to bring people together the way his music did. I wanted to make others feel the way his music makes me feel. Make you love, cry, feel joy, pain. His music was—and still is—everything.

Diamond Ortiz

I’m thinking about Prince and what it all means. My big brother would always say ‘You don’t need a whole collection of rare records to get funky, all you need is one Prince cassette. Study it ’til it breaks.’

As a young gun, my big brother Gabe was my main Funk guru. He taught me the ways of a baddd musician. A great teacher’s role is not to turn you into them, but to turn you into you. At that time, my bro saw something in me I didn’t even fully grasp yet. Seeing my personal skills and gifts that were completely unformed and unrefined (we all have our own unique skills that make us special) he would tell me, ‘Man, for you, all you need is to dig the Black Album, Controversy, and Dirty Mind, and you’ll start to understand what you can do with your natural instinct as the kind of musician you wanna be.’

Prince inspired me as a certain type of musician: one who self-produces, plays all the instruments, etc. All my favorite musicians are of that breed, including Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson. Prince made personal art, and it spoke to the entire world. The precedent he set will forever be the gold standard in style and class, soul and flavor, and how a person can humbly contribute to the world.

Thanks, Prince, for helping me see how I can be the funkiest version of me through music, and contribute love and soul to the world. Amen, hallelujah, RIP Big Brother Nelson.

Seven Davis Jr:

He was my hero, and I will miss him. But I know for sure he’s in a better place now, and will live forever via the music he made while he was here.

Zackey Force Funk:

To say Prince was an inspiration is an understatement. He was part of my soul. I always study his older writing patterns when I write songs. I was also reminded recently that Prince hit up Low End Theory and a couple of other LA joints in hopes to meet me back in the day. Ha! I will never believe it, and will never know until I’m dead. But the sources were pretty credible.

Liv Bruce (PWR BTTM):

It’s hard to imagine anyone has ever listened to Prince alone. Every memory I associate with his music involves connecting with others, either at a party (‘Raspberry Beret’), over breakfast (‘Starfish & Coffee’), or in a high school history classroom the day before Thanksgiving (‘Let’s Go Crazy’). Something about Prince’s music makes me want to hear it with other people. Having lost him, perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that we still get to enjoy his music, and, with it, each other.

 

Raj Haldar (Lushlife):

Lushlife by Ebru Yildiz
photo by Ebru Yildiz

There’s probably nothing I can say about the importance of Prince’s catalog that won’t be waxed poetic about for weeks and months to come. His records touched me like they touched virtually everyone in my generation (and beyond). Over the last 24 hours, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about how he sublimated a lot of powerful ideals for navigating the music industry, when you take a look at the course of his career. His ethos for creating enormous jams within or without multimillion-dollar recording facilities offers a direct throughline to how so many of us operate as ‘bedroom artists’ today. Even his much talked about name-change in the early ’90s made an indelible mark on me. It was the first time I was conscious of an artist eschewing a corrupt major label machine. Prince’s career is the closest thing to a roadmap for making success on your own terms in the music industry as I’ve ever seen.

Adrian Younge:

I can’t believe Prince has passed. This is just another reminder that mortality is real. If you are stuck in a job that has nothing to do with what you want in life, quit—before it’s too late. Prince is a prime example of an Artist not afraid to be himself. He unapologetically served as a somewhat androgynous public figure, because that was who he was. He successfully created and performed unorthodox music that worked, because he was himself. Be like Prince; be yourself and achieve success with the development of a brand. We will definitely miss you Prince. This is another tough one to swallow.

Jake Ferguson (The Heliocentrics):

My dad got me into Prince when I was 10. I got my first kiss after playing air guitar to ‘When Doves Cry’ on the school disco dance floor. I didn’t really understand being sexual until Prince came along. Although the sounds on his early stuff are somewhat dated now, ‘Controversy’ still holds your attention for the full seven minutes and 14 seconds. Beyond legend, this man is essential listening for humankind.

XL Middleton:

Few other artists have had the unimaginably profound impact on music that Prince did. Beyond that, his entire aura was something that resonated with a vast scope of people through multiple generations. He embodied cool, mystery, and eccentricity in a way that no one else has ever been able to. There’s a purple star shining in the sky right now, and for eternity.

Bosq:

I can’t front like I was raised on Prince, as I was just too young (or not even born) during his most prolific years. But as a DJ, and then later as a producer, I learned so much going back through his catalog. A few things stick with me that Prince really helped instill. First, never be afraid to do you! Whether that’s in your personal life or musically, never feel confined to do what’s expected—just follow your heart and express that to the fullest! I think that’s helped me push towards including everything I love in my sound, instead of narrowing it down to something more easily marketed or labeled. Second, catchy, popular music doesn’t have to be simple, and isn’t a dirty thing! Prince, unlike anyone else we will ever see, combined virtuoso musicianship with pop sensibility and created complex music with integrity that everyone can enjoy, and that will last forever. I know that level he achieved is going to inspire me, and a whole lot of other musicians to work that much harder and push that much farther in the wake of his absence.

Eddy Funkster (MoFunk Records):

Prince has had a lasting impression on most contemporary music artists today. One of my earliest memories is listening to “Erotic City” being played by lowriders on Whittier Boulevard in the 80’s. When I was a kid, I used to cruise that street with my Dad and Grandpa. This master of sound will sorely be missed.

Red Pill

Prince is what makes me aspire to be fearless in who I am both personally and musically — being able to define what ‘cool’ is to me, and not caring if other people feel the same.

Kool Keith

I always loved the mysterious way he lived his life. I often wondered, if I were to ever collaborate with Prince, what would the song title be? He will never be forgotten.

Mr. Lif

If you’re lucky, once in a lifetime you’ll experience the work of an artist so distinct that his brilliance is beyond description. That’s what we lost yesterday. Rest in Peace, Prince.

Foxtails Brigade Make Anthems For Underdogs

Foxtails Brigade by Riki Feldmannphoto by Riki Feldmann

“There are a lot of people who have gone through some unfortunate experiences in life, and I hope these songs really speak to them.”—Laura Weinbach

When Foxtails Brigade’s Laura Weinbach was living in Santa Cruz many, many years ago, she found herself, late one night, having a conversation with a talking goat.

In a manner of speaking, that is. “I lived in an eight-person house, and there were always these random weird people hanging out there,” Weinbach says. “One night, my best friend Todd and I went out to a graveyard, as we normally would do on a Friday night. We came home around midnight and there was this guy there. He had white dreadlocks and no shoes, and his name was Goat. He was sitting at the desk in our living room, staring at a stack of blank papers. I said, ‘Hello?’ And he turned his head and, after letting out this long, weird groan, he said, ‘Blank piece of paper. So many possibilities.’”

Foxtails Brigade by Odell Hussey
photo by Odell Hussey

In a way, that story could have come from one of Weinbach’s own songs. Since 2009, Foxtails Brigade has excelled at using fantastical imagery to convey philosophical truths. In “The Doll,” from their 2011 album The Bread and the Bait, Weinbach adopts the perspective of a child’s toy that comes to life at night. But beneath the surface, the song is also about companionship, and the potential for beauty that lays dormant inside of everyone. On “Far Away and Long Ago,” from their latest, self-titled record, Weinbach uses storybook nautical imagery as a way to contemplate ruined potential and missed opportunities. It’s a topic that’s on her mind throughout the record, the most focused and finely-tuned Foxtails Brigade album to date.

“The running themes are failure, rejection and disappointment,” laughs Weinbach. “Throughout the creation of this record, I’d experienced a lot of hard times—disappointment in my personal family life, disappointment in my musical path. I felt like I was constantly being rejected.”

It’s a theme that has stayed with Weinbach since she was a teenager. “I was a bad kid,” she admits. “I drove my parents crazy. I was a wild child.” It took a stern warning from her brother, Brent, who is now a prominent stand-up comedian, to make Weinbach realize she was squandering her potential. “He told me that he thought I was dumb,” Weinbach says. “He thought that I was ruining my life and was doing stupid things, and that he didn’t want to even be my friend. And when he said that to me, it hurt me. I couldn’t believe that he, of all people, wouldn’t want to be my friend. After he said that to me, I really went into this place of isolation. I stayed home and read books all the time and watched movies and studied really hard. And soon I started getting straight A’s.”

Foxtails Brigade by Debra Zellar
photo by Debra Zellar

Weinbach and her brother repaired the rift between them (today, she describes him as, “my best friend”), and soon her academic ambition began to inspire greater passions. She fell in love with the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, which caused her to start saving for a trip overseas when she turned 18. “I thought it would be really neat to go to this land where all the stories and fairy tales I’d been reading took place, and maybe see traces of those myths and fables.” At around the same time, Weinbach began taking guitar lessons and, after a stint studying abroad in Paris, she returned home and started busking with a friend around the Bay Area. “The first day we played, someone walked by and gave us $100. I was like,’Oh my God, that’s more than I make in a day as a substitute teacher. Why would I go back to that when we can just do this?’ And that was it—I was hooked.”

In Foxtails Brigade (with Anton Patzner and Joshua Pollock manning multiple instruments, Joe Lewis on bass and Dominic Mercurio on drums) Weinbach fuses both aspects of her teenage personality—her love of fairy tales and the wild streak that preceded it—to make rich, rococo chamber pop. That aesthetic reaches its apex on Foxtails Brigade, where Weinbach takes a swan dive into her emotional subconscious, working through rejection and abandonment. The results aren’t always pretty. In album-opener “We Are Not Ourselves,” over icy pinpricks of acoustic guitar, she tartly proclaims, “Restlessly I’ll recollect all/ of the vulgar different ways you can swear/ Picture all the different people/ who I’d like see get pushed down the stairs.”

Foxtails Brigade by Anton Patzner
photo by Anton Patzner

“I’ve always felt like we were a band that people didn’t know how to categorize,” Weinbach says. “That’s a typical thing to say, but the truth is we’ve been rejected so much because people don’t think we fit in with a certain genre. We definitely have been denied and felt left out in general for a long time.” She channels that frustration into the pirouetting “Nun But the Lost,” but flips it, turning outcast status into a badge of honor: “None but the lost shall find their way/ and in the dust and the drilling and the digging for the day/ there is an edge that’s silver-lined/ and it casts beams of light that shine and shine.”

As it turns out, the inclusion of that sunlight is as much a part of Foxtails Brigade as the darkness. “This record is just a big collection of anthems for underdogs,” says Weinbach. “I feel like the people who have connected with us, it’s not just an arbitrary thing—it’s actually a special connection. It means something pretty significant. There are definitely a lot of people who have gone through some unfortunate experiences in life, and I hope these songs really speak to them.” That, too, is a reflection of Weinbach’s story, the pivot from nihilism to hope, from self-destruction to empowerment. On Foxtails Brigade, Weinbach works through the darkness until she discovers light, life, and, as Goat would put it, “So many possibilities.”

A Sunny Day in Glasgow Get Kidnapped in the Video For “I Can’t Live Without Your Love”

A Sunny Day in Glasgow

You don’t have to work too hard to see the ways in which being a touring band is a lot like being a prisoner: you’re trapped in a confined space for days at a time, you’re not sure where you’re next meal is going to come from, and sleep is a luxury you can’t afford. The Philadelphia/Brooklyn band A Sunny Day in Glasgow have taken that idea to its logical, gleefully absurdist conclusion in the video for “I Can’t Live Without Your Love.” In it, the band members are taken hostage by some true-crime style goons and forced to play their music across the country. We asked the band to “relive” the experience that led to the creation of the video.

In a letter to the press, you’ve said, “As the world and members of the press know, we played four shows in the Midwest/Northeast this past winter. What you don’t know is that we were forced to do so against our will. Each of us were apprehended using musical force, taken to a dark, noise-insulated room and made to practice for hours and hours.” Care to elaborate? Where were you when it happened? And why do you think they came after you?

The details are hazy. We had decided to take the holiday season off to spend time with our families. I guess that’s just not what he wanted. Or what they wanted. None of us can agree on how many there were, or even how tall they were. We all have disparate reconstructed memories of the abduction. We were taken to Schuba’s in Chicago, Johnny Brenda’s in Philly, Rough Trade in New York and Comet Ping Pong in D.C. You can see these locations in the footage of the incident, which was later made into this video.

Was it traumatic for you, your abduction being caught on film? What do you gain by making the footage into a video, and does it bring up painful memories when you watch it?

At this point it feels more like metaphor than memory. The event is never really that far from our minds. Every time we pick up an instrument or eat food from a gas station, we re-live it. So watching the footage isn’t traumatic—it’s comforting now. It’s a ritual, like making coffee in the morning. It helps us piece together what happened. We’re lucky there was a camera rolling. I’ll bet Heather, Joshua and Mike (whose archival footage was made into the Blair Witch Project) feel the same way.

If you could say anything to your kidnappers right now, what would it be?

We never miss you and will always love you.

Hammock Reach the Clearing on “Everything and Nothing”

Hammock

“It’s like someone on a battlefield walking over all of the dead people going, ‘I can’t believe I made it through this.’”—Marc Byrd

Since their inception 11 years ago, one of the most remarkable things about the Nashville duo Hammock has been their ability to almost uncannily translate the pulse and fiber of human emotion into actual chords and melodies. Case in point: “Wasted We Stared at the Ceiling,” from their new record Everything and Nothing. It starts quietly: there’s a ripple of electric guitars, the strings waltz in woozily and the vocals—distant, drowned in echo—glide gently by, repeating the title over. All of the component pieces move in slow motion, weaving and swaying. It feels, in short, a lot like being drunk—not edgy, sloppy, aggressive drunk, but the kind of blissed-out, anything-is-possible lightheadedness that sets in after one too many in a room full of friends and loud music. The whole song is both perfectly out of focus and deeply serene.

“The title of that song came from when I was younger,” explains Marc Byrd, who shares instrumental and vocal duties in Hammock with Andrew Thompson, “I was literally wasted, staring at the ceiling, watching the fan go around. It’s that feeling when you wake up after a party, and people are passed out on the floor, and you’re hearing the birds chirp. For a while there, it can be exhilarating.” But while “Wasted,” on its surface, is almost hymnlike in its tranquility, Byrd is clear-eyed about the experiences that inspired it. “If you keep living that way, those birds chirping start sounding like fingernails on the chalkboard. I feel like that song captures the feeling of, ‘I cant do this anymore.’ It’s like someone on a battlefield walking over all of the dead people going, ‘I can’t believe I made it through this.’”

Hammock

If there is an entry point to the album, “Wasted” is it, a quiet reflection on the euphoria of a particular way of life, coupled with a realization that it’s time to move on. As the album goes on, the songs take on a sense of determination: in “Burning Down the Fascination,” guitars claw against the borders of the song, as if trying to force their way through the other side. The sense of motion and drive is almost physical. “The title of the record isn’t some nihilistic thing,” Byrd says, “Like, ‘Oh, we have everything, but it’s really nothing, man.’ It’s more about when you’re whittled down and emptied out—and maybe it’s your own doing, or maybe it’s because stuff is going wrong in your life that’s out of your control—and you find a sense of luminous space within that emptiness, so that there’s room to be filled with everything. That was one of the things I kept expressing to Andrew. ‘Where’s the break? Where’s the moment when you look up and are able to actually be in light, and to experience light?’ It’s not just about waiting for the end, it’s about being in life.”

And while plenty of artists pull from reality to inspire their music, what makes Everything so jarring is the way Hammock—with big, ringing guitars and a small handful of mantra-like vocals—are able to capture the sense of both anxiety and relief that accompany real-life revelations. This is at least in part because the album is closely tied to their own practices of mindfulness. Byrd takes an annual trip to Big Sur for a “silent retreat,” where he is able to quiet what he calls the “circus show” inside his head and focus on being in the moment. Thompson is a runner, who uses daily exercise as a way to quietly recalibrate. “If we’re working on a song, when I run, I won’t even have headphones on,” says Thompson. “I’ll just have the piece running in my head. By the end of the run, I’ll end up with a string arrangement or a horn arrangement or an idea for an entire song. It allows your headspace to clear, and you can focus on what’s going on around you. So much gets done in my head that, by the time I get back to the car, I know exactly what to do. It’s all been quietly worked out for an hour.”

Hammock

“Reality gave us this gift of our breath,” Byrd adds. “And reality gave us stillness. It’s an omnipresent gift that we have. And when we return to that, there’s always a way to come back to the present. For me, there has been a realization that I carry within me everything I need to bring myself back to the moment. It’s always there. We were born with it.”

And while this kind of Zen philosophizing might sound precious coming from other artists, it resonates when Byrd and Thompson talk about it, because you can hear the end result in the music. “Reverence” laps quietly, like waves on the beach; “Unspoken,” which quietly exhorts, “Take time/ let go slowly,” drifts down gentle as a feather and “Marathon Boy,” with its aching piano figure and slow-sighing organ, envelops slowly and warmly. With each song, Everything tugs at something deeper, and provides the soundtrack to help uncover it. “This record was hard for me,” Byrd admits. “There’s a lot of personal stuff that went on in my life, a lot of changes. But you get out the machete and you going through the brush, trying to find your way. And sooner or later, you reach the clearing.”