Notes on Rent (Album)

I don’t usually like to talk about or preface my music with any thoughts, but I feel like it might be worthwhile to shed some light on where this album came from and what gave rise to it.

The first song, Elessar, is named after a character in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Elessar is the elven name for the king of Gondor. Most of you know him as Aragorn. I wanted to bring a sense of calm to the piece, signifying the fourth age — an age of peace, but also an age of remembrance. Thousands of years of war and in-fighting can’t be forgotten, and I left in a few strange chord juxtapositions to resemble this.

Roam, the second song is in the vein of string arrangement/B3 organ/electric guitar tunes I’ve been working on for the past year or so. Sometimes, I like to write the music and let the sounds dictate where the lyrics want to go. This is another example of that. In this piece, I also included some influence from gospel choral arrangements. I wanted the intro and outro to sound like they were recorded in a cathedral.

Munich features Rob Knevels on typewriter and guitars. The voices are of his father and uncle Peter having a phone conversation many years ago. The theme is something I toyed with in the early 2000s — something that never left.

Hard to Breathe is one of the first pieces I wrote for this album. Another string-heavy, piano piece with Moog synth. In most of my music, I try to convey a sense of calm urgency (if that’s possible). I want things to seem alright, but I also want to create a feeling that things could go wrong at any moment. The world is a shitty place, but sometimes we need to make lemonade. Hard to Breathe is in many ways the epitome of the feeling I’m trying to get across. Things aren’t great, but they could always get better. The line “Put a picture up/remember why you’re gone,” — for me, is a reminder to always look behind and remember the reasons you left the places you were in. It wasn’t always so hard to breathe, or things weren’t always so bad, which means, things can always get better.

Hat Dance was released as a single last year, and I felt it necessary to include in this album. Sometimes you look at a pile of stones and sort them into separate piles for no reason at all. This is that. This stone belonged in this pile.

Munich II is just that — a continuation of the original. The theme wasn’t fully explored. This song in many ways represents one of my first attempts at singing nothing. Singing for the act of singing, not for saying. There are no words in this piece. It’s purely expressive. I have been afraid to release a lot of these songs for a number of reasons, but as the years go by I believe they will make their way into the spaces between your ears.

Pill Bitch – you need only listen to the lyrics. It is dedicated to my great friend and brother Jaime Torres. Some of the lyrics are true, some are not. It was written in 1999 and recorded in 2001 by Fil Mallery at the studios of Northern Michigan University.

In poetry, there is the idea that some poets are writing the same poem over and over attempting to get it right. Stranger is something like that. It’s not dedicated to any person, but rather to an idea. It was written in 2004 or 05, and has finally reached its place.

Fanfare for Piano and Heroes is another song in which the voice is used as an instrument, not as a vehicle for delivering lyrics. I wanted to bring a sort of dirty guitar to this feel, and of the handful of tunes I recorded, this one came out the best. Sometimes I see my music more as mosaic. I don’t like the idea that each song should have a beginning, middle and end. I don’t like linear things. This song is as close as I can get to expressing whatever it is that makes me cry during those times when I feel like I’m crying for no reason.

I try as hard as I can to record a version of Auld Lang Syne each holiday season, and share it with my friends. This is the best I’ve done in the last several years. I wrote it immediately after returning from Ireland. It features my new low whistle which I bought in Dublin.

Get It Up is a song I recorded in Marquette in 2003. It is perhaps the most lighthearted tune on the record. Rob Knevels has his say at the end of the piece.

Antiseed is another song recorded in Marquette. I wrote it in 2002, in response to 9/11. It features Kalil Zender on violin and David Ziegner on double bass.

The last track is a recording of an old message left to me by Peter Markus. Pete has a soothing voice. I wanted to leave listeners with a bit of his cadence.

Listen to Rent here.

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