The Dionysian Season

It took me quite a while to get this project going. I’d been thinking about it and coming up with bits and pieces of songs for it for years, since probably around 2006, but couldn’t get anywhere with it. I’ve been in bunches of other bands and written and recorded boatloads of songs – it’s not like I’d never done this stuff before. I had a name, I had a vision for the style, I knew who I wanted to perform on the tracks. But for some reason – and I think this is quite common – I’d built the project up way too much in my head and was being too careful, holding it too precious. It seems silly now, but I was obsessing over debut albums from the likes of Dexys Midnight Runners and Chumbawamba, and somehow, messing around with guitars and a laptop in my bedroom was supposed to come up with something with passion and poignancy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and at that, first shot.

The reality of course is, that doesn’t happen. You don’t get good at anything without working on it. Those bands didn’t just appear out of nowhere with legendary debut albums. They were playing together in other bands and putting out singles for years. On top of that, those bands were bigger than the sum of their parts — the right people working together at the right time in the right environment.

Finally, in the beginning of 2010 I began to loosen up. Instead of trying to force every perfect note for the perfect set of perfect songs for the perfect album, I just started messing around with simpler, less grand ideas and seeing what came of it. Furthermore, I’d holed up in an apartment far away from pretty much anybody I knew. I disconnected from the internet. It was dark, and it was cold out. Can you imagine? All of a sudden I was being really productive, and in the span of a few months I’d recorded enough material for an album, The Dionysian Season — the name a tribute to growing up on the California coast, where there’s hardly any differentiation between summer or winter, where the perpetual overcast obscures the sun. It could be any time of year, any time of day.

In the time since I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about the album. Was it the grand philosophical and socio-political statement I’d originally intended? Not at all. It has nice songs on it though – quite an eclectic mix, perhaps a bit hard to define, but all distinctly “me, 2010.” I poured a lot of ideas into it. It’s all a bit rough and lo-fi. There’s not even a bit of poetic pretense. The lyrics are very string of thought. Writing these songs was a sort of confessional therapy for me.

I’ve realized that the album unintentionally unfolds as a narrative of my life during this period. It starts out with a batch of songs that I started before leaving California, of dreams and enthusiastic high hopes. In “Strong Enough” I’m setting off, leaving my home and my friends to to grow, so I can return a better, stronger friend. “Heavensent” is a fantasy story of again, leaving home, but perhaps with a more confused notion of home. The Dionysian Season is a clumsy attempt of putting some philosophical ideology to song.  It’s stiff, and I learned a lot about how not to write a song from this song no living up to what I’d hoped it would become. Then we hit the instrumental “Hraunbreida,” and for most of the rest of the songs I’m in Iceland. This recording is all just my voice and my parents’ old dog under lots of reverb. After this point in the process I loosen up and the songs are more fluid.

“Spell of Platonic Reversal” was just an experiment with sampling different things around my apartment, such as hitting piano strings with drumsticks, with lyrics alluding to Nietzsche’s critique on Plato’s “ideal.” “Friends Like a Changing Tide” is me struggling with a sense that there’s nothing lasting in the connections I make with people. Despite my efforts to maintain contact, most of my friends–and most particularly most of my best friends–from my life in California just completely and immediately disappeared from my life. This was such a blow.  I was meeting new people, and there was one in particular I was maybe too excited about, and poof. It made me doubt the value of these experiences. “Your Organs Will Deteriorate” is another instrumental, and I think you can imagine a cycle of life to it. A simple theme is born and builds with drama, hits an arc and then develops in a different direction, but in the end dies back down to the simpler, childlike state.

“This Year I Decided” was actually a really old recording of Rachel Fannan and I improvising that I’d found somewhere on my hard drive and decided to extend it a little and layer-on the accompanying arrangement. “You Can Ride My Surfboard” is a song I recorded while living in Austin for a surf-themed compilation. I started by recording drums and then wrote a song to that. Originally it was going to have more movements, but I ran out of time before the deadline, so I cut it short.  It’s decidedly not very serious. “Last Dance” is another instrumental, uses mostly samples of my voice circa 2003.

“Lovers Never Die” is a really pessimistic song written from the point of view of a girl disillusioned with love. “Crush in the Key of J” I thought often about leaving off the album due to the situation and people involved and how much of a fool I made of myself. Oh well, part of loosening up is to do things with no regrets. Musically I think it’s a really cool psych pop song and it fit with the direction I was developing in musically, so I kept it on the album.  “Knowing More Than We’ve Ever Known” is an expression of the precautionary principle. It’s about the Large Hedron Collider, and how even though it’s perhaps unlikely that any of the tiny black holes they’re making would get out of control, is it really worth taking that risk? What has science given us? What has it taken? The ways science has changed human lifestyle and the face of the earth have nothing to do with its lofty ideals of human progress and the advancement of knowledge that it pays lips service to but rather everything to do with being in the pocket of industry and militarism. “Forget Everything I Have Said” is a half-hearted anti-love song.

So at some point I do grow.  That part comes true — I grow as a musician, I challenge myself with a new environment and I meet it, and I see my past life with more perspective.  But the enthusiasm curbed, the original vision derailed.  I get a bit disillusioned.  Do I go back to Santa Cruz and rejoin my friends?  No. (It’s got a character arc, which is the hallmark of a real story.)  You can never go back.  You can go back to a place.  But you can’t go back to a time or a feeling.  This character picks up a different thread.  (Stay tuned for the next album!)

It’s a weird batch of songs. But it was a step I needed to make. I found people to play these songs with. Over the process of recording and performing I’ve grown tremendously as a singer (I couldn’t really sing when I started the album) and songwriter. That type of stuff doesn’t happen without going through the motions, putting yourself out there.

I don’t know if it’s the state of music today or what, but not very many people have bought the album. On the other hand, critics gave it good reviews, and it was nominated for best newcomer in the Icelandic Music Awards. So even though stuff like that doesn’t go to my head, it’s nice as a sort of validation – that even if the general population is totally indifferent to my music, at least a handful of music nerds in special places appreciated it.

I’ve sometimes made the half-joke that I have trouble even giving away my music, let alone selling it. Anyways, the album is sitting on Bandcamp for your downloading pleasure. I’d appreciate if you donated $6 for the download, but don’t let that stop you, as it’ll still download if you enter $0 in the box.

Download “The Dionysian Season

And if you like it, share it with somebody!

Also, Brak Records still has copies of the physical CD version if that’s more up your alley.

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