Update: I was hit by car three days after the record was released, walking to a gig at the Ark theater in Ann Arbor. My guitar and I survived: mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2016/10/vial_returns_to_the_ark_after.html
Essay about the record:
Is life truly a one way road?
Love, death, and family are universal themes of the human experience; and my new folk album, A World That's Bigger, ponders them.
This record is about recent experiences: the rollercoaster of art careers; the process of purchasing a home during the recession; the birth of our first child; as well as the moments of healing from loss and miscarriage.
A World That's Bigger was recorded live at a cabin in Indian River, Michigan in May 2016. My friend Mike Gentry offered to bring his recording equipment and help me capture the ten songs as they needed be captured: live.
I had a one simple rule during tracking: I would play the guitar and sing at the same time. We would use no overdubs during the mixing process. My goal was to offer you a real performance that captures the energy of my live shows.
If I made a mistake, I'd either have to play the song again, or live with it; like life.
Over three days, with Gentry guiding the mixing board, I recorded approximately 150 takes, and narrowed it down to the best ten performances. If you listen closely, you might even hear the rain in a song or two, since it stormed during one afternoon of tracking.
Lyrically, theses songs may seem terse; but after multiple listens, you may notice overarching themes, rhetorical devices, and allusions hidden within the songs, like reading a book.
Dr. Thomas C. Foster--author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor--gave a guest lecture to my class during my last year teaching at Holly High School.
He described how all literature is having a conversation with the past and present works, how literature is one long dialogue about the human experience.
I wondered, can songs join that conversation?
I've intentionally added elements to the music and lyrics to reinforce the themes. The record is five snapshots of dyads or counterpoints. Each song is having a conversation with another, a reflection about life and death.
So you might be wondering, "Will it be easy for me to hear those counterpoints?" Yes!
You can start with the lyrics, and I think you will find the counterpoints on your own; but you can also use the music as a guide.
Often, motifs in plays (like the flute melody in Death of a Salesman or the hymn in Our Town) will signal reoccurring themes. I've borrowed this technique while composing on the acoustic guitar.
For example, listen for the musical motif of ascending double stops; or how a fermata is used before the third verse; or how a similar fingerpicking pattern graces certain songs...
Also, there are various literature allusions hiding in the lyrics. (Former students from my English classes will have a leg up on finding these literature references to Shakespeare, Greek mythology, fairytales and the Bible!)
One reference is more direct: This record's recording process is inspired by Nick Drake's Pink Moon--a powerful album recorded live over three days, too.
And my song "Ghostwriter" is dedicated to that British songwriter. "Ghostwriter" is a figurative conversation with Nick Drake, reflecting on his posthumous success, as well as his tribulations as an artist.
However, the song is also a conversation to all artists, even myself, who may feel lost in this world as we seek inspiration: "You've got something to say, let the words spill out of you..."
Like a many Greek myths, the narrative structure of the album begins "in medias res"--in the middle of the story. Yet strongest theme of the record is introduced in the opening song.
This title track, "A World That's Bigger" is the first song I wrote as a new parent, contemplating the responsibilities of raising Ginny.
"Little Drum" is the last song I wrote before Ginny was born, considering how time will never feel the same for my wife and I.
"Those Shoes" is reflecting on a common experience we don't discuss enough, facing miscarriage, which bookend Ginny's birth. (We are so lucky to have her.)
Eight songs are new, but two songs were rerecorded from past EPs: "Damn Fine Day" and "One Way Road" offer expositions for my family's story (wedding engagement; changing careers). I also knew l hadn't captured the right energy on their previous studio recordings. I feel like I got the true essence of these songs this time.
"Burning Bright" was written for David Plawecki, inspired by his dying wish, a pay-it-foward movement; and I'm thinking of my aunt Julie Plawecki, too, who we are missing greatly this year. The Divine Child Church's stain glass windows color the lyrics of the song, and I'm so thankful for my hometown, the Dearborn community.
"We're Not Here Anymore" is a song written during the PVSG song game I organized with friends. We attempted to write a song every week during the polar vortex. Each writer had to compose a song using a phrase. That week's prompt was "ghost on the sidewalk."
"Girl on the Mountain, Boy on the Beach" is part protest song for the Syrian Refugee Crisis, part mythological journey. It is for anyone seeking a safe home.
And my own challenges are minuscule in the shadows of this horrible crisis where families must flee their homes.
Still, this record wouldn't have been possible without Mike Gentry's help. This record was delayed multiple times, partly from hospital bills, house repair surprises, hitting a deer on the last day of the spring tour...Music has been healing throughout it all, but I was frustrated trying to get this record done.
Without Gentry's encouragement, talent and patience, it wouldn't have been possible to complete it this year.
And the same goes for my wife's love and encouragement: "Stars array, when you smile."
Thanks for listening,