Desert landscapes. Neil Young. Need I say more?
It was early on a Tuesday morning. Me, Karina, and Jana met up at a Safeway parking lot to get whatever last minute provisions we needed before heading out into the desert to take photos for the album art.
Heading east on highway 2 through the cascades, there are moments where the mountains momentarily set aside any subtlety and rush towards the stratosphere like they were trying to grasp the wrist of a loved one falling into outer space. It’s dramatic, towering, sudden. You don’t just feel small. You know you’re small.
Drive past Steven’s Pass to the other side of the mountains into the blossoming apple orchards of Wenatchee. Then the Columbia River, and after that, desert. Sage brush. Volcanic rock. It reminded me of where I grew up.
Me in front of an abandoned house off of Hwy 2. Photo: Jana Early
I spent the first 19 years of my life in the high Sierra desert. Woodfords, California on the southern edge of the Carson Valley, to be exact. Thirty minutes from South Lake Tahoe, an hour from Reno. Elevation 5,600 ft. Rugged, sun-baked terrain. Sage and manzanita. Pine trees and rocky soil. Coyotes and rattlesnakes. Wildfires.
When I drove through Seattle for the first time at age 19 I was stunned at how green it was. It was January, had been raining, everything felt washed clean, unlike the desert which almost always felt dirty and dusty. I had never known anything like Seattle before, and I loved that rain-washed, feeling. Even though our stay in Seattle was short, I knew I’d live there eventually. I wasn’t wrong. I’ve now been here longer than anywhere else in my life.
Dusk on Moses Coulee Road. Photo: Jana Early
Increasingly, I notice how much I long for the desert. There is something so moody and lonely about the expanse. I can’t call it nothingness, it’s way too interesting for that. But I think the longing is more than aesthetic. I was raised there, it’s a part of me. A part of me that I left behind over 20 years ago in pursuit of endless, rain-washed green and being near the epicenter of the place that gave us Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.
The classic Ala Cozy Motel sign. Photo: Jana Early
This is one reason why I chose the desert as the primary setting for the album art. One theme spanning these songs is the idea of returning to my roots, reconnecting with my past. My dad plays guitar on the opening song Blue Skies. That song has been a favorite of my family since I shared it with them when I wrote it almost a decade ago. We’ve never recorded music together before, so it seemed like a perfect occasion to do it. And some of my most vivid memories of my childhood involve driving through the vast expanse of the desert, listening to Neil Young, forehead smudging the rear passenger window, breath fogging it up, imagination simultaneously captivated and scared by the mountainous, high desert landscapes. They looked dangerous. My dad and I once drove Interstate 80 to Colorado to go hunting with some of his friends. If I close my eyes I can still see the views out the window of his F-150. That was the time I asked him what his Skoal was like and he replied by just handing it to me saying, “Here. Try it.” Let the record show I didn’t throw up. (I did think it was disgusting though. Also I wasn’t a fan of hunting, or camping. And I was a horrible shot. Ask the poor squirrel who lost it’s tail and kept it’s hide.)
The desert, of course, has other meaning. That’s in the songs too. But, maybe I’ll leave that for you to discover.
How many cheap motels have you stayed in? Photo: Jana Early
Photo: Jana Early
Govan, WA. Photo: Jana Early
On the Other Side - Blanco White
The song Mano a Mano turned up on a Spotify playlist I was listening to and stopped me in my tracks. The saturated, reverby, clean guitar tones I would normally associate with the 80s, and perfected by bands like Talk Talk, blended with Spanish and Andean styles grabbed me instantly. This song is one of the few he sings in Spanish, and there’s something about hearing singing in a language you’re not fluent in that is captivating. Here, it sounds like poetry. I looked up the translation. It is poetry.
At Swim - Lisa Hannigan
Have I been listening to the Spotify Playlist The Wild too much? No. YOU HAVE. Lisa’s song Undertow grabbed me quick with this droning groove setting the stage for a melody that goes unexpected places effortlessly and softly. Such great vibe, and the textural range of her voice is something like Bjork, but more restrained. I listened a few times through before I dug deeper to find out who produced it. Oh, Aaron Dessner of The National. The same Aaron Dessner who produced Taylor Swift’s recent folk albums. Lately, he seems to be the person behind a lot of the music I love the most.
Live in Europe - José Gonzále & The String Theory
Listening to this reminded me of two things. Three things actually: One - I love live albums. They captivate my imagination unlike any other form of recorded music. I imagine the room, the crowd, the band, what it must have been like to be there. I get lost in a great live album. This is a great live album. Two - It had been too long since the last time I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, so I fixed that. Dam that’s a great movie! Seriously, the I think I could watch it annually and never tire of it. Three - José Gonzáles is a genius. His songs have been everywhere, and songs that are everywhere kind of drive you nuts at some point and you want to listen to other songs. I never feel that with José. I’ve been listening to this album a ton lately and I don’t really see that changing.
The first song is called All I Want is Home and is coming out in just a few weeks. Right now it’s in some digital pipeline between here and Spotify and all the other streaming services. It’ll go worldwide June 4th.
In the meantime, feel free to drop me a note and say hi. What place is a part of you or that draws you in a unique way? I really enjoyed the replies that came in from the last email. It’s always great to hear from you.
That’s it for now. Next time…new music!!