In my high school years, I and some of my friends were very invested in your band, A Weather. I actually started revisiting the band this year, and not only does it hold up better than most “bedroom pop” of the era, but its unique power is undiminished for me. Can you tell me about why the band ended after just a 7” and two full-lengths?
Thank you. It’s a little crazy to me that maybe music I made did things to people in high school that music I loved in high school did to me. The outward reason why A Weather ended is that in 2011, Lou, Sarah, and I all went to grad school in different parts of the country. The inward reasons are murkier and more complicated. I was becoming less excited about playing music in front of audiences; anxiety began to overshadow the thrill of performing. Touring was grueling for me, and I didn’t know how to respond to the stress in a healthy way. Also, the music was ultimately my vision, so I don’t think the others in the band could have committed to it indefinitely. Eventually, they needed to follow their own paths.
While I understand you haven’t been active in the music world since the days of A Weather, I’ve seen some creative stirrings from you on social media, mostly poems and daily photographs. Do you feel you best express yourself through those two formats?
I went to grad school for poetry writing, so writing poems is a major outlet for my creative energy. I got clean and sober in September of 2016, and writing poems quickly became an integral part of my recovery process. For the first few months I wrote constantly, sometimes two or three poems a day. Writing was a way of exploring the emotional spasms my mind and psyche were undergoing as I healed. It was helpful to turn those spasms into objects, so that I could look at them and relate to them with a little more objectivity. I still write regularly; on average, I try to get down two poems a week. There is still quite a bit of turbulence in my brain, and writing continues to be a useful means of dealing with this.
For some time, I have wanted to get back a songwriting practice. This has not been easy, as there is a considerable amount of historical baggage for me connected to making music. The weight of what I did with A Weather is somewhat challenging to live up to. I’m at a pretty different place in my life now than I was then, so returning to songwriting is the act of establishing a new relationship to it. Who I am, what I want to say, what I want to sound like. I’m moving glacially, but I am moving. Today, for example, I have the day off from work, so I decided I would complete the draft of a song regardless of what my inner critic might tell me along the way.
“Intimacy” is more or less meaningless as a musical descriptor in 2018. But part of the magic of A Weather was that, lyrically, it was unbelievably intimate. In various songs, you reference “a small bump by the orange wall,” a sleeping lover “grinding teeth or just breathing,” or the sensation of leaning slightly to stop a rocking chair. That’s microscopic detail. Can you recall the headspace you were in when you were driven to put those observations into songs?
It’s funny, but I don’t clearly remember all of those lyrics you reference. I do remember that I was pretty enchanted by the concept of intimacy when I was writing songs for the band. I’ve always been taken with sound of a closely recorded voice, when there is no distance between the singer and your ear. There is very little reverb on the vocals in A Weather.
Concrete details have always been important to me, especially when they abut abstract statements. That combination is still a frequent aspect of my writing. Shifts in image scale are useful in creating tension and movement. But there is also a lot of silliness in A Weather lyrics, and I remember being interested in how musical tone can imbue relatively inane words with the illusion of depth.
A half-obscured sun sort of spidering out from behind a glowing cloud. Also a river that has become molten silver from the light pouring onto it.
Please close your eyes briefly until you see flashes of color, imaginary images or other visual phenomena. Can you describe what you see?
A half-obscured sun sort of spidering out from behind a glowing cloud. Also a river that has become molten silver from the light pouring onto it. Lots of little yellow sparkles. Waves of hard clean sand that the tide leaves when it goes out. Maybe there is a tiny bell ringing in there somewhere, probably because my cat is batting a ball with a tiny bell in it right now.
What do you wish for the world in a sort of imaginary, poetic sense?
To live on sandbars in the middle of the ocean without needing food or water. To be wise children. To learn which of our thoughts we can believe and which ones we can laugh at. Also, everyone should probably be able to levitate, even if it’s only a few feet off the ground.
Back when I was introduced to A Weather, I remember mapping some of the oblique relationship dramas in those songs onto a dramatic, on-again-off-again relationship situation I was in. I remember the two of us listening on some long drive, wondering out loud whether some of the minute, seemingly insignificant lyrical details were actually lifted from you and Sarah’s daily lives. Any thoughts or clarification on that?
Some of the images were definitely pulled from my day-to-day life and relationship, while others were imagined. There is an intentional obliqueness to a lot of the images and passages, and probably an unhealthy amount of references that only Sarah and I were privy to. That sense of overhearing someone talking without knowing everything they are talking about was part of the effect I was going for. But I’m happy to try to explain any of the lyrics and images as well as I can remember. Are there specific moments you are curious about?
Nothing specific, but I hear a lot of overarching things going on. A lot of those songs sound like come-on songs. A few sort of dreamy references to drink and drugs, too — does that tie into your current experience in recovery? “Lay Me Down,” the last song on your last album, also seems to face down this sort of gnarly, existential terror.
I don’t think any one song was about any one thing, but yes, there are more than a few sort of romantic invitations that crop up. I’m thinking of the post-chorus parts of “Shirley Road Shirley,” and the “listening to Bedhead” line in “Spiders, Snakes.” And yeah, I drank a lot during that time in my life, so it was natural that some of that imagery would spill over into the lyrics. I don’t recall specific lyrics along those lines, but I know they are there. The chorus to “Lay Me Down” is actually lifted out of War and Peace. It’s a prayer, and I always liked the juxtaposition of stone and bread. A lot of that song seems to be about discontent; I think you’re right about that. I had to look up the lyrics on Genius, and it’s funny how wrong some of the lines are on there.
A boat is not your hand but a room where your hand and the other parts of you can rest in a way that keeps the sun from moving farther away from you.
That was a year-long project I made at Hampshire College from 2004 to 2005. I started by recording myself or my friends improvising melodies for the many poems I wrote at that time. I’d play guitar and just sort of sing the words over the top of the music. Liz Isenberg sang some stuff on that. Do you know her? She is up to a lot of cool music things these days. Then I took the recordings and chopped them up with computers. I also added chopped up piano, and in this way assembled the songs. It was more like painting than songwriting. Unfortunately I have no photos or other media from that time, aside from the actual songs and the video accompaniment. This was before the proliferation of cellphone cameras.
Yeah. I still really love Liz’s three solo albums that I know of. Back then, I shared the stage with her a few times and ran into her pretty often, but I haven’t kept up with her output as much these days. How did your friendship with Liz come about?
We met at Hampshire and had a mutual respect for each other’s music. We both took a computer music class one semester, and so we had the chance to hear each other’s little experimental songs from time to time. We were also briefly romantically involved at one point. There is a song on one of her albums called “I Miss the Way You Draw Birds,” which is about me, and I think it may be the only song in existence about me.
Since your departure from being an active musician, what has your inner or personal life been like? What have you struggled with or found joy in over the last several years?
As I mentioned, I’m in recovery now, so that’s a significant component of my life. Sobriety has brought with it a ton of joys and challenges. My brain has been unearthed, and I’ve had to spend a lot of time just looking at the painful shit in there without running away from it. I’m gradually learning to let go of the unhelpful beliefs I have about myself that have been calcifying most of my life. Along with this has come a spiritual practice. I’ve been studying A Course in Miracles for some years now, also some Buddhism and mindfulness meditation. Like many people, I live with anxiety and depression, so I try to do things that make me feel sane and healthy. Weirdly enough, I’ve gotten into CrossFit over the past year. I got a kitten a month ago, and she is a wonderful influence on me.
Finally, please describe a boat to someone who has no idea what water, floating or sailing is.
A boat is an empty teacup that hovers on top of a pile of sawdust, only the sawdust is clear except when you look at it and then it’s blue or green or gray. When you put your hand into the sawdust, it touches all parts of your hand equally. When you take your hand out of the sawdust, there is no sign that your hand was ever there. The same thing with a boat, only a boat is not your hand but a room where your hand and the other parts of you can rest in a way that keeps the sun from moving farther away from you. In a boat, there are also places where you can put your different ball bearings so that you don’t lose them forever.