For several years after my last record, I needed a break, and actively tried to keep from writing songs. But the combination of working on new Hold Steady material, writing my second book, and having unexpected time on my hands like everyone else in spring 2020 eventually primed the pump for a record’s worth (including a co-write with my THS bandmate Steve Selvidge). I assembled most of the material in April 2020 and recorded in spring 2021.
The years off had constituted a time in which I thought I was finished as a musician; they were time characterized by the loss of several musician friends to suicide both acute and de-facto, and by consideration of the cost of “working the art muscle.” I was approaching a familiar sort of life crossroads which I’ve traditionally addressed on the principle of “blow it all up and see if that fixes things.” My previous album had ended with an image of endless, repetitive cycling; this one sees a way forward (“I am another now and not the same/I shall not pass this way again”). The pretty bleak and brutal worldview of “Wandering Star” and “The Morris Column” and the rest of the first side—culminating in an unforgiving dawn—gives way to a side two that, if it doesn’t exactly offer a light at the end of the tunnel, at least senses a faint glow up ahead. “New river, spring for me” is a kind of prayer for hope.
The album was recorded at Atomic Garden in Oakland with drummer Ara Babajian (the Slackers) and bassist Frank Piegaro (Worriers); with generous help from friends including Jeff Rosenstock and Mike Huguenor (Death Rosenstock), Deanna Belos (Sincere Engineer), Lauren Denitzio (Worriers), Peter Hess (Philip Glass Ensemble), Steve Selvidge (The Hold Steady), and Todd Beene (Lucero, Chuck Ragan).
The album artwork was by David Espinoza Alvarez (https://www.el-dee.net/), and the video for “New River” was directed by Diana Morales, both from Mexico. I met them through a wonderful group of friends in Mexico City.Tracklist: