Both the music videos for the new album have been selected for the Audio Shoot Unsigned International Music Video & Film Festival which takes places July 6th-7th in Wexford, Ireland.
The video for the "Lighthouse at the Edge of the World" will be competing in the "Best Animated Music Video" category whereas "The Albatross Song" will compete in the "Best Folk Music Category." The festival takes place in Murphy's Barn a restored 17th century barn about and hour and forty minutes from Dublin. There will be live music as well as street food and craft beers as part of the festivities.
... slyly humours, sneakily affecting"
"At Home Home At Sea" gets it's 3rd song premiere of the PR campaign leading up its release on July 12th with the featuring of "All I Can Share Is Photos" on Americana UK, the UK home for Americana, alt.country and alternative.
This travelogue through Chile takes us from Santiago, up to San Pedro de Atacama and back down to Valparaiso in a few verses. Moreover it is about the vagaries of travel. Especially travel alone, with a broken heart. The recording features Mario M. Noche on guitar, who had previously covered the song in a similar bossa nova type style as part of EGPhest II. Aird writes "It’s singer-songwriter folk shot through with a cocktail jazz sensibility. You might hear touches of Vivian Stanshall, and thereby a frisson of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band."
Check out the full article and give this song a listen.
“Lifetimes Without You” taps into the grand sense of timelessness that falling in love inspires.
"At Home At Sea" gets it's 2nd premiere with the track "Lifetimes Without You" getting featured on Americana Highways — check out what they have to say and give it a listen.
I'll also note that I'm listed on Billboards upcoming releases for July 12th, just under Ed Sheeran,
As we approach the release of "At Home At Sea" on July 12th, the media campaign begins to kick in. In addition to the premiere of "You Inexorable Pull," which I posted on the home page earlier, I got a nice write up in SFWeekly in advance of my show at the Hotel Utah on May 23rd.
Infusing his vivid lyricism with subtle humor and hints of pop-culture awareness, E.G. Phillips is a rising singer-songwriter set to release his sophomore album, At Home At Sea, in July. The local musician attributes his wide-ranging creative influences to Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, and Tom Lehrer, which set the stage for Phillips’ singular songwriting technique and knack for unconventional instrumentation. An active presence within the Bay Area’s independent music scene, Phillips’ shining personality enabled him to create E.G. Phest, an annual event that spotlights local singer-songwriters in addition to Phillips’ own material. In early 2017, he released his excellent debut album, Fish from the Sky, a whimsical and warm-hearted collection of songs that emphasizes Phillips’ natural songwriting talent. Phillips’ upcoming album, At Home At Sea, promises more of the cinematic lyricism that the musician excels at in his previous work, with more pronounced jazz influences."
And here's that write up in Vents Magazine for "Your Inexorable Pull" — take a listen.
E.G. Phillips has been making some waves for the past few years, and as a non-stopping force he’s returning with another gem in the form of “Your Inexorable Pull,” a track that showcases the most raw and intimate side of the artist as he pours his heart, armed only with his guitar
Friends, they may think it's a Movement, and that's what it is”
For a number of months last year and occasionally this past year, I had the pleasure and privilege off performing at The Marker Hotel at Union Square in San Francisco during their evening wine service. The hotel provided the sound equipment and the crowd, who came down to the family room for the ostensibly free wine that was made available between 5 and 6 PM.
This experience was invaluable to myself as a songwriter, performer and entertainer and I’m saddened to learn that management at the Marker has decided to discontinue this amenity. The whole thing was started by Theo McKinney, who works at the concierge desk of the Marker’s sister location and fellow Joie de Vivre property, the Hotel Carlton, in part to further his own ambition to perform in front of live audiences and develop as a musician. Theo managed to convince the staff at the Carlton to indulge this passion and subsequently bought in many other local artists to perform there as well as beginning a campaign to get more hotels to take part.
From the hotel’s perspective, this program offers a chance to provide guests with a unique experience that has distinctly local flavor. Guests have the opportunity to make a connection with an artist that is memorable and emotionally rewarding, contributing positively to their overall impression of the hotel and their experience there. The experience was something they could share on social media and when writing up a review on TripAdvisor or some such similar site that could help set the hotel apart from their competitors. And I've always been willing to provide suggestions for other ideas as to what to do in the city to guests (even if it was shameless self-promotion for an upcoming show) to help make them feel like their stay in San Francisco hadn’t been some cookie-cutter, run-of-mill, hop-on-hop-off, check-off-all-the-items-in-the-guidebook sort of affair. It's even a chance to give back to the community as Ken Newman has been using the opportunity to play there to advocate for his Blanket the Homeless charity.
As I said, for myself, this opportunity was invaluable. Being a songwriter is often a solitary craft and having an opportunity to perform your originals can be rare when you first start out playing out. Open mics, are of course, an option, but you are usually only afforded 1 or 2 songs and your audience is mostly other songwriters, not the general public, so it can start feel like a very limited sphere in which you’re getting exposure. As wonderful as the sense of community is, it feels a little insular at times. The illustration below is my take on audience/performer dynamic — one Wittgenstein duck/rabbit performing for a crowd of other Wittgenstein duck/rabbits. Getting a crowd to listen your music as an unknown is a tremendous amount of work and often quite dejecting, so if there is another draw (“free” wine), all the better.
Similarly, along those lines, the Marker was a wonderful bootcamp for learning how to be a performer. Once, again, not being responsible for the crowd is a huge gift. It can be hit or miss, of course, depending on who’s staying the hotel and a whole host of factors, but getting past your inhibitions when it comes being in front of a crowd whatever its size is tremendously important. While open mics are a good starting point for developing in this regards as well, once again, you are limited by the duration available to you. Rarely do you get the chance to perform a whole set — and certainly not on a consistent basis. Becoming adept at managing one’s time on stage and simply being comfortable in front of an audience of complete strangers, is like all things, a matter of practice and routine.
I specified entertainer as a third aspect as to what I think my stint at the Marker helped develop and I think it’s good to draw the distinction between that and performance, although the choice of words may feel somewhat arbitrary. While I think it’s relatively clear what the difference in skillsets might be between a songwriter and a performer, I think it's helpful to tease out the distinction between merely performing and entertaining — and I think this is where the most important aspect of what the Marker provided can be explained. It’s one thing to get to the point where you feel competent and confident on stage — it’s another thing to let go a bit and become more selfless as to what you’re doing and be there for your audience. As a songwriter, this can be an important hurdle to overcome because there’s a lot of self-consciousness about one’s own work as well as a lot of pride.
A fundamental aspect of music, alas is that people enjoy its familiarity, so original material often suffers from some “consumer resistance.” This is why even when performing original material, throwing in a familiar tune can help build a rapport with an audience. I will admit to still being reluctant to play this game myself, but it’s value can’t be denied. As an entertainer, you are catering more to the tastes and needs of your audience — the nice thing about Local Vocals is I’ve never felt any hint of pressure to do that as you’re not responsible for draw or selling more drinks. Nonetheless, the environment is conducive to honing one’s instincts in this regards — and it's helpful to gain a sense what your priorities are in that regards.
Along those lines is developing a feel as to what your role in a setting is. In a crowded hotel lobby where the majority of guests are co-workers in town for a convention and therefore want to socialize, the fact that you are merely “wallpaper” while everyone else converses indifferently to your presence can feel alienating. However, being comfortable in those circumstances is important. Learning to engage with the few individuals who are interested in that sort of engagement can be quite rewarding. On the other hand, knowing what you’re doing isn’t being scrutinized allows you some freedom to experiment and improvise, especially with banter between songs or moments you’re trying to create within them. Sometimes you’ll strike on something new and different that gets a reaction or you just like it and you’ll continue to develop it from its spontaneous origins. If nothing else, becoming inured to indifference is healthy — allowing yourself to ride the waves of an audience attentiveness and not be thrown off (or worse, become hostile/dejected) is a skill and an exercise in temperament.
Honing one's skills as a performer and entertainer ultimately have an impact on the songwriting and I think it's important to be in that position to get a sense of how what you're doing during that solitary act of writing plays out in front of an audience. Whether it's how audience reacts to a line, or how dynamics impact the performance and perception of the piece, or just how difficult something is to say, there's a lot to inform the writing process. And all of these aspects — the writing, the performing, the entertaining — inform each other.
A lot of this honing can be achieved through busking on the street or playing in bars, but the environment of a boutique hotel is unlike those in some fundamental ways. First, there was a wonderful “plug and play” aspect to the set up — one was simply responsible for showing up with one’s instrument — even the sound system needs were taken care of. This sort of ease just in terms of moving equipment around and setting it up is positively indulgent from an indie artist’s perspective. Second, there’s just the aspect of one’s own personal comfort and safety — one would say one is forever spoiled when you’re nice and warm surrounded by comfy chairs and a fireplace and not having to worry about the weather and basics like electricity for amplification. Moreover, the people listening to you are comfortable and overall more amenable in taking in a performance — the libations are certainly helpful in this regards as well. It’s also just plain a lot easier to be heard, being indoors (crowd noise not withstanding). And while it doesn’t help so much to build a local audience, it is nice to know that travelers from around the world (who are sometimes actually more appreciative of live music) are hearing your words, your songs and hopefully taking a little bit of those with them. It’s a remarkable thing.
In the end, I’m very grateful for the opportunity the Marker provided me while it did and I think I can take a some credit for the choice of decor in the newly renovated family room. It was extremely important to me personally to have this as a place to go. Developing these skills doesn’t come from no where, and the staff there were exceedingly generous in helping incubate and foster local talent in San Francisco. I’m glad that the Carlton continues to be a location where local, independent music can thrive and the tradition of Local Vocals carries on (give Theo a shout should you ever swing by). There are so few places that truly nurture local art in this way — The Lost Church and Bazaar Cafe being vital venues in my book.
If, dear reader, you feel like you want to help in some way, first, support those venues and others like them. Second, if you would drop a note to the management at the Marker perhaps they will reconsider — a posting on a hotel review site could work wonders — but please, be positive.
If enough of us do it, they may even think it’s a movement.
For the 2nd annual #LehrerPhest, once again held at PianoFight, we have both new and returning faces to play tribute to Tom Lehrer by doing their own takes on his songs. Here's a run down of of the roster of performers that will be joining me.
Ben Einstein (aka Neeto) of Van Goat
Noted electric fishing rod and pineapple enthusiast Neeto (aka Ben Einstein) will be returning for this year's #LehrerPhest this Sunday at PianoFight.
If you want, for some reason, to feel bodily transported back to the 1990s, check out Ben's retro-chique website, complete with obligatory dancing hamster.
Joel Schick is a singer/songwriter, who describes his work as Original Americana, encompassing blues, country, R&B, rock 'n' roll, doo wop, folk, Celtic and jazz. Brand new old songs of the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s, he calls it. He accompanies himself on guitar and harmonica.
Joel grew up in Chicago in the 1950s and '60s, when the airwaves were full of an amazingly eclectic gumbo of musical styles. So, of course, he fell in love with all of them, and writes in all of them as well. Joel came late to making music, after a long career as an illustrator and co-author of scores of children's books, and designer and illustrator of hundreds of Muppet and Sesame Street products.
Songs and art samples are available at http://familygorilla.com/js_joelschick.html
Dawn Oberg is a San Francisco-based songwriter. Her influences are all over the place, but include jazz, R&B, pop, punk, country. She plays all over the bay area and has done two national tours.
Dawn has released three full-length solo records, two singles, and most recently an EP called 'Nothing Rhymes with Orange,’ the title track of which mic.com included as one of the 16 best anti-Trump songs of the year in 2017. The Village Voice listed her song “It’s 12:01” as one of the 50 best protest songs of 2016 and SPIN listed it as one of their favorite songs of the week.
Dawn's website is: http://www.dawnoberg.com
Aside from being an accomplished drummer, composer, tap dancer, and rapper Ben writes his own comedy music — he recently featured the at Neck of the Woods, singing about a topic I'm sure Mr. Lehrer would approve of. Check out a video from that outing at Ben Visini Comedy Music as well as other Ben Visini compositions.
Nina Jo Smith
Award-winning songwriter, Nina (rhymes with China) Jo Smith, is the original indie grrrl (born on the 4th of July.) Nina Jo accompanies her sweet voice and wise lyrics on guitar and ukulele.
She got her start when stole her mom's guitar when she was about nine and taught herself to play by listening to Joan Baez records. Also, she believes Belly Laughs make the world go ‘round.
Jazz chanteuse Eve Fleishman Music will take on anotherTom Lehreŗ piece for this year's #LehrerPhest, returning from last year's inaugural bash. Eve's sultry sweet sounds of original jazz-folk-pop are near and dear to my heart, especially given our mutual affinity for Blossom Dearie. An artist and a yoga instructor as well as delightful vocalist, she's Nashville meets San Francisco, east meets west.
Check out her website at: http://www.evefleishman.com
Brendan Getzell, from a vantage point with which I am quite familiar.
Recently minted as the musical director for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Brendan has his fingers in multiple musical pies, including Kat Robichaud's Misfit Cabaret, numerous David Bowie tribute bands, his own project "The Getz" as well as, of course, the infamous Hotel Utah Saloon open mic — to name but a few. He'll be swinging by PianoFight to be part of #LehrerPhest this Sunday.
Check out some of Brendan's original power-pop, rock, folk, indie amalgam solo work on bandcamp:
And be at LehrerPhest 2019 to catch him and all the players this Sunday.
Support this event and local music by preordering tickets.
A while back Rozanne Gewaar (one of the new proprietors of Bazaar Cafe) turned me onto a FilmFreeway, a website for submitting to various film festivals. So I went through and picked out a few likely (and relatively cheap as far as entry fees go) options for the music video for "The L.A. Song"— digging through the multitude of possible festivals with an eye on those focused on music videos.
Yesterday that effort paid some dividends as I got a notification that I'm the finalist in two categories for the California Music Video & Film Awards — "Made Me Laugh (Humor)" and "True California"
I will keep you posted as to the results of this endeavor.
I fall in love too easily
I've decided to anthologize the little essays I've been writing about each of the songs on the new album into a couple of blog posts. Read Part I here.
Only in it for the T-shirt
The light blue t-shirt is from the last big jazz festival I attended — back when that was something I did, traveling to different destinations that had a festival that was part of the IJFO — the International Jazz Festival Organization — a little box ticking exercise of mine of yore that is now on indefinite hiatus. Maybe I’ll get back to it some day. But it’s simply not tenable these days and it was always a bit lonely anyway, however exotic the destination was, without someone to travel with.
So that’s how I ended up in Western Finland — driving back and forth between this little town called Pori and the location I ended up staying at some 40 minutes away (usually I prefer the train in Europe, but not possible that time round). Plenty of time to observe the Finnish countryside, and plenty enough light at that latitude even at midnight, after the festival had wrapped up. So I wrote “A Finnish Midsummer Midnight” — I won’t claim the botanical litany in the verses is entirely accurate — but the bridge — “now I’m so far away from the crowds, all those people that make me feel so lost and alone — the only time I don’t feel lonely is when I’m truly on my own” — that was real.
Travel on your own has its advantages (you can set your own pace, for instance). But it can get dispiriting to be around so many people yet feel isolated — perhaps counter intuitively desiring to flee deeper into that isolation as a way to somehow salve the wound. And in the end, if you have no one to share the experience with, what are you left with? Sometimes I think I was only in it for the t-shirt.
Speaking of t-shirts, I did get one of the t-shirts from my new album done up (the dark blue one) — just to have something physical to show folks and reassure myself that my design would work. I have a few modifications to make (tweak the colors, make the duck’s head stand out a bit more) but I’m happy with the result and my supplier, @customink has been very helpful.
My shirt is a reduced color version of album art — a house on the water with a wave rising up ahead of it and on the roof of the house, a duck, wearing pants, playing guitar? Who wouldn’t want that?
Get one of your own at: http://igg.me/at/homeatsea
Of Detours and Alternate Routes
Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard with bassist Scott LaFaro flanking him on the left and drummer Paul Motion to the right.
While my first album had the track “Sunday is Made for Loving” in the mix, with its upright bass accompaniment, the second one definitely brings the jazzier side of my repertoire to the fore. And production-wise, for the track “An Alternate Route” even the guitar is eschewed in favor of a jazz piano trio backing my vocals, with producer Ben Osheroff at the keys. Although as I recall, I was cribbing more from “My Foolish Heart” when I wrote my song it was Evans’ version of “Detour Ahead” from these classic sessions at the Village Vanguard that I referenced when explaining the sound I was going for.
“Alternate Route” is one of those rare cases where the song, at least for me, is really all about the bridge. This one is a long winding beast that backtracks and goes off in new directions — never settling on a harmonic progression that repeats, only going further afield, as do the lyrics. The ending itself was serendipitous— it’s dissonance owing more to misplaced fingers on my part than any sort of theory.
It ends up being quite the detour, but the journey has it’s own merits in my opinion, which is also the feeling of the song’s protagonist as he holds out hope that some connection can ultimately be made with this other person who he obviously feels is worth the trip.
You can pre-order my new album at: http://igg.me/at/homeatsea
Bassist and fellow San Francisco songwriter Elliot Racine recently was describing to myself and Shawn Byron at an open mic what he termed as his latest “personal fad” — an obsession and fascination with different types of cinnamon — and how he was spending his time reading about different varieties and places of origin of the spice.
I can relate — having through various such fads myself. There was a point where I was all about claypot cooking — and trying to procure the various vessels described in Paula Wolfert's book on the subject to try the recipes therein. And is apparent from the photo, there was a period of time when I was heavy into the essential oils (note — turns out you don’t really need them, that’s just good branding).
I wasn’t in it for all the pseudoscientific claims regarding supposed capabilities of said oils, but certainly I think there’s a therapeutic aspect in terms of effecting mood and I love the sensual variety. And the hunt. Finding a new location that was a purveyor of such things and going on an expedition to sample their wares was always a bit exciting.
So that’s where to reference to blue tansy and essential oils in general comes from in “‘Til I Wash You Away” — another song on the new album. It’s a piece that touches on the interaction between sense and memory and unrequited love.
Please pre-order the album at: http://igg.me/at/homeatsea
All That I Can Share
“Visit Laguna Chaxa, don’t disturb the flamingos“
“All I Can Share Is Photos” is a sort of travelogue of my time in Chile a few years ago, but the history of the song goes back to the days when my primary output musically was MIDI based compositions created with score writing software and programs like “Band In a Box” that would automatically generate arrangements. It had a different title back then and no lyrics in particular beyond a refrain. This was stuff I never dared to share. I could get a bit adventurous in my chord choices back then, being unconstrained by notions of theory.
I hadn’t thought of this piece in years but for some reason while I was on this trip, it came back to me and I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I started trying to pen some lyrics that would fit it. We start with a fairly detailed portrait of a scene from a jazz festival in Santiago where one group played “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (referred to as “a Harold Arlen tune” mostly to avoid repeating the word moon) as I watched from a park on the other side of the river. This was where all the locals were hanging out, as that was free. From there it’s up to San Pedro de Atacama before heading to Valparaiso (Valpo for those in the know) and finally back home, where it all becomes just a memory.
Somewhat bizarre both harmonically and structurally, in some ways it’s the dark horse of the album. The guitarist on this track is Mario M. Noche, who first did his bossa nova take on the tune at EGPhest II, the second edition of my annual birthday show — it also happens to coincide with Mario’s birthday. Since my producer Ben Osheroff also saw this as a bossa number, I invited Mario to come in and reprise his take on the song as he was going to be able to effect that far better than I had any hope of doing. Between his rhythm track, the guitar fills he added for the solo section and the piano part Ben put down, the track really came together beautifully.
You can now preorder the album at: http://igg.me/at/homeatsea
Ex Post Facto Externalities
Having been to sea and ranged as far as Finland and Chile, it’s now off to the depths of outer space — to the Oort Cloud which surrounds our solar system. An electric bass supplants the upright on this track, which is a the lone straight up rock song of the album — I would even call it a rock epic.
“The Comet and The Wandering Moon” is the first new song I attempted after the first EGPhest — after having so many other artists cover my songs, the prospect of writing new ones was a bit intimidating... well a bit more so than usual anyway.
The idea started with the fanciful notion of grabbing a comet by its tail, which I think of as owing a bit to something like "The Little Prince" and maybe a bit inspired by the Alison Kraus / Robert Plant cover of “Killing the Blues.” Then there’s the game einy-meanie-miny-moe, though I guess given that little rhyme’s history, it might be considered “problematic.”
More problematic was the fact that not long after I’d finished the song, a certain presidential candidate’s tendency to grab women by their nether regions became known and I felt that cast an unfortunate pall over this new composition. I was hoping the episode would pass into obscurity along with everything else related to this character after the following November... no one was so fortunate, alas.
So those are the vagaries of writing — or creating anything. The meaning it takes on after you create it is not something you can control. A similar thing happened with a crucial line The Albatross Song. The choice to not change these works and even include them as is on the album might just be stubbornness on my part, but I hope they will end up having longevity beyond this moment.
You can order the album at: http://igg.me/at/homeatsea
“Sunrise” by Claude Monet.
“You Will Sail With Me” — our penultimate track — is the oldest song on the new album, an artifact from a previous millennium, if memory serves (it rarely does these days). It started as an exercise in minimalism — using just an arpeggio of a single chord as the backdrop to hang words and melody over (as opposed to the more complex changes I’m want to use). And the words themselves are sparse as well, with verses that fold back onto themselves and a chorus that ebbs off into ever shorter phrases.
The track is a soundscape built on top of a loop of that arpeggio. Louise Nalbandian’s haunting ooohs, recorded inside a cave, sweep over the pattern. An echoing electric guitar played by producer Ben Osheroff clangs and lingers with a sound that reminds me of the soundtrack to the Doctor Who episode the “Seeds of Doom” — otherworldly and ethereal. The upright bass is looped in as well.
But the real stand out here is Ben Visini on drums. Visini is a tour de force throughout the album, ably adapting to all the genres thrown at him. As a sort of reward, he gets to cut loose here and just compose on the fly — to go wherever his imagination would take him him with soft mallet rolls, delicate cymbal scrapes or cacophonous crashes.
While recording Ben O. would just close him eyes and get a bit lost in a meditative trance, absorbing all the percussive textures washing over us. After a few takes he remarked that this was the reason he does this.
Had Ben O. had his druthers, the album would have ended with this track. While I was tempted go along with this approach, I had one last song that I felt had to cap off this set...
The album is available for pre-order at: http://igg.me/at/homeatsea
An Acoustic Apertif
Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist”
And now we come to the conclusion — to the last track of the new album, “Your Inexorable Pull.” As the otherworldly layers of “You Will Sail” lap up against some distant shore and subside, there is a brief clearing of the throat, as if I as a songwriter and performer am reasserting my own presence on the album before launching into a live solo acoustic performance — just my voice and my guitar — going back to basics after our journey together through so many different genres and soundscapes.
With my first album, I was a bit against the somewhat cliche acoustic close out, having wanted to end (perhaps melodramatically) on the thrashing on the Dm chord that is the culmination of the grungy distortion-laden “Lover for a Day” — itself part of a mini-suite that begins with its philosophical counterpart “The Fish Song.” But in the end there seemed to be no other logical home for “The Light In Sylvia’s Window” so eventually I acquiesced.
Now I felt like such an aperitif was necessary. In part because that seemed like the natural realm of this song. In part because it is the logical counter point to “Lighthouse at the Edge of the World” — which, while not the opener, is close (perhaps Albatross is a “prelude”). Where in Lighthouse we were lamenting what seemed like an inevitable pushing away of intimates, here we acquiesce and even delight a bit in the strange and inexplicable pull of someone who is still largely unfamiliar. It is short and sweet with some vocal escapades I perhaps can’t quite pull off but are none the less heartfelt.
I will return with one last concluding essay, but in the meantime, please consider pre-ordering the album.
Postscript: The Pushes and Pulls of Attachment
Display window of the "Pirate Supply Store" at 826 Valencia St in San Francisco
And so we conclude our series of essays about each of the songs on the album. Hopefully this has been useful to you, dear reader, in helping you understand what you’d be getting yourself into if you were to commit to at least giving it a spin when it comes out, if not going so far as to pre-order this beast to help towards the cause of spreading the word.
If nothing else it’s been helpful for me. At the very least, it’s gotten me doing some writing on a regular basis in a sort of short essay form. More importantly it’s put the songs in perspective for me and helped with some lingering questions in my mind. I've heard some artists muse on NPR that it took them years to figure out what their songs or albums were all about. So in that, this is a gift.
It has been noted by others that I have a lot of songs about the ocean. Yet not all of them made it onto the record while some perhaps less likely candidates did. Part of this is just time constraints and keeping a project like this from spinning out of control in terms of time and money. But there are definitely pieces I’ve written — “Boil the Ocean” comes to mind — that would have been perfectly logical constituent parts thematically if one was trying to be terribly literal about an album entitled “At Home At Sea.” However, sometimes one’s choices are made more out of passion than logic when it comes to assembling things like this.
Perhaps, like when I name something the “_____ Song” that’s because this title is a bit of a head fake — if not, in this case, just good marketing, given how often the phrase is repeated in The Albatross Song’s chorus.
If I were to sum up the album in a single word, that word would be “attachment.” While it’s not an uncommon theme for me to write about, I think it’s fair to say, in one way or another, each of the songs that are part of this collection touches on that issue in one way or another, It’s called out rather explicitly in the 2nd verse of the Albatross Song — “Does your restless spirit wander yet get hopelessly attached?” — a reference to the titular bird and its mating habits, of course, but also the same issues that a jazz standard like “I Fall in Love Too Easily” has a performer like Chet Baker crooning about.
So these are meditations on attachments gone wrong, attempts to let go, if not completely, then to at least accept the reality. However, while in “An Alternate Route” the protagonist still embraces his continuing fondness for the object of his affections as a motivating force to continue on and in “Lifetimes Without You” what seems like centuries of longing weighs on us, this is no celebration of unrequited love. Nor is it an attempt to romanticize it. Even in “An Alternate Route,” our protagonist is acutely aware that what place he eventually may find in his would be love’s heart may not be the place he was looking for initially. Like with “You Will Sail With Me” the fantasy (which might be where the attachment lies as much as with the person in question) is acknowledged to be “just a dream.” There is at least an acquiescence to reality and need to let it go… by like Saint Augustine, perhaps not just yet.
And that’s not to say it’s easy. There is at time a recklessness that can come from this kind of pain (“Finnish”), if not just a lot of internal monologuing (“Ephemera”) but ultimately we can acknowledge that some relationships are indeed bound to be unhealthy and should be avoided (“Comet”) or are simply inherently limited (“Photos”) even if the best we can hope for in the moment is the solace of removing ourselves from the reminders of whoever we are pining for (“Wash You Away”). This is altogether healthier than assuming that the gates of that particular paradise will ever be opened to us. But this is not to say that the draw of others must be left behind completely, we can accept it, even revel a bit in its mystery (“Your Inexorable Pull”).
Friend and fellow songwriter Amy Obenski just the other day encouraging people on the Facebook to give a full album a handful of listens through and not just focus on an artist’s top Spotify songs. Some artists will tell you that the album is dead. Only release singles. For certain songs, this can certainly work. But I’d be hesitant to put Finnish out there on its own considering what a dark place it goes — it needs its natural complement — an Alternate Route. Not just because of the cleaver(-ish) juxtaposition of two songs that involve travel and roads — but because it is truly an alternate route, a different frame of mind — instead of giving into our desire to speed up and get away from anyone else within visual range, we can also embrace the strange journey we are on, wherever it takes us.
For the travelogue that seeks out solace in complete annihilation of connection, there’s the travelogue where our weary traveler is still trying to reach out, albeit however feebly it communicates the experiences he’s having. For the the pieces where I’m largely stuck in my head like Ephemera, there’s also being awash in a sensual ocean of outside stimulus (Wash You Away).
Pushes and pulls.
It’s a bit more evident when it’s all part of some whole, the sum that adds up to more than its constituent parts, as the cliche goes.
Yes, as an album it’s an eclectic mishmash genre-wise — but aren’t we all when it comes down to it? No one is just one thing and no one listens to just one type of music, at least if they’re not completely lost within their own myopic self-importance and need to engage in condescension to inflate their ego. Yeah, there are things I'm not into, but it's rare to meet a musician who doesn't at least appreciate other forms of music outside their performance comfort zone or what they brand themselves as. Maybe being bound to a single genre makes the publicist’s job easier and that's a constraint an artist should try and work within to be commercially successful. For better or worse, I chose otherwise.
So does the title “At Home At Sea” (or “@ Home @ Sea” if I feel like wrecking havoc with cataloging systems) still fit? After all, it’s not a collection of sea shanties as some might think it implies and maybe the original underlying ideas of “trying to find a place in trying to find a place” are not as prevalent as I might have imagined initially. Certainly the title is “tongue in cheek” and “ironic” — but that’s really always been the case — that much could be ascertained from my choice of cover art. That the house is floating incongruously on the ocean about be swamped by a huge wave does bely that the notion at we are truly feeling “at home” when at any moment our precarious existence could be wiped out. And yet there sits our little avatar, a duck wearing pants, sitting on the roof, playing his guitar.
It seems apropos to me, so I never questioned that choice.
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Is it such a big task
Although I didn't entirely plan it this way, I find myself beginning each day writing a little essay about a song or some aspect of the album such as the artwork (for some reason it only works in the morning, I tried one last night and gave up). It occurs to me that these also deserve to be in the blog — even if my intention is to expand upon them later — so here are the ones I've written so far with some minor revisions and extensions.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa and Virginia Lee Burton’s “The Little House” are both images I was referencing in the cover art for “At Home At Sea” which is much more apparent in the earlier draft on the bottom left.
The version I settled on had some specific changes — the duck was always meant to be there (I just had not bothered adding him because I already knew I wanted to change up the composition) but switching the position of the wave and the house color felt like it worked better, as well as less explicitly copying either image.
Part of this is because the original "Great Wave" is really meant to be read in the opposite direction than westerner's tend to — the Japanese as a language being read right to left also impacts how the image is viewed. But also it aligns with the album's title. As to whether the reference to Burton's work even lands is a bit doubtful, as it is just kinda "generic house," but as far as authorial intent goes, yeah, it's there, so make of it what you will.
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The Birds of "The Albatross Song"
Although the titular Albatross is clearly the star of “The Albatross Song” a whole menagerie of avian friends are referenced in the first verse, including the bowerbird, starlings, saltmarsh sparrows, and chickadees — the visualization for this in the video for the song is being handled by way of face painting.
Aside from the salt marsh sparrow (I'll explain later), like the Albatross, all of these birds have chapters in Noah Stryker's "The Thing With Feathers" which, along with the obvious (and not so obvious) nods to the "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," is one of the primary inspirations for this song.
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The Secret Origins of
Ducks with BlogS