In a past review I referred to Glenn Yoder as “the king of catchy” and while the singer-songwriter continues to hold his throne on his latest record, there is a sentiment change in some respects. A “blue record” in many respects that explores much of the emotion of humans in a way that leaves itself open to self-reflection and pensive introspection. With a name like “Inherited Darkness” I suppose that is to be expected. But the variety of sonic exploration and a truly live and raw feel only further adds to the views and words expressed on the record.
We talk to Yoder about the band’s latest release below. Check it out and stream the full record a day early on Bandcamp.
RLR: Blood Red Moon feels like it came out a while ago, but was really only two years so you aren’t off the release cycle by much. Javalina before that was a similar situation. Its seems these days that the band is spread out across the east coast in some fashion. How is it getting together to record these songs? What is that process like, as far as sharing ideas and arranging?
GY: It’s funny. When I was in Cassavettes, we rehearsed religiously. New song ideas were constantly brought up, practiced over and over, and then tested at live shows. By the time we got around to making a record, songs would sometimes have been in our rotation for over a year. Our fans knew them better than we did at times, because sometimes our live sets were all material that hadn’t been released yet. This band, The Western States, is very different. Not better or worse than my old band in that respect, just different situations. The guys are pretty much all working musicians and live hours apart – it’s damn near impossible to pull a rehearsal together – but there’s also a real chemistry with this group that makes things easy. They love to learn stuff on the fly and just feel it out, and I love experimenting, so it works. In my opinion, the songs have more life when you’re still excited about them being new. So I might send them crappy acoustic demos ahead of time or I might just start playing something on the spot when we’re recording. Generally, we run through it once or twice, Dave starts rolling tape on it, and after a few takes, we move on. Hopefully before we get frustrated with it. It’s the most relaxing and honest way to record. No layering, no piecing things together, no overthinking, no “studio tan.” Just people playing music in a room, listening to each other, feeding off each other and then grabbing some beers after and teasing Chris about when he used to play in a band called Party Shark. We started that way of doing things with “Blood Red Moon” and I don’t want to go back.
RLR: Blood Red Moon had this somewhat ‘crisper’ feel to it. The guitars on 1171 have that crunchiness, then there was the Ryan Adams-acoustic-esque feel of Ferris Wheel, and some pop rock-ish feel infused into tunes like Beautiful Eyes (you are after all the “king of catchy”). Here you mentioned the sound you were going for was “Band of Horses, Jason Isbell and Dawes teamed up to cover Wilco”. Care to elaborate on what exactly that sounds like to you in your head (aside from what came out in this record of course) and maybe tell us a bit about how you feel the band’s sound evolved from Blood Red Moon to this album?
GY: Well, those references to other artists are a necessary evil – for press purposes only. Not an actual hope or desire, even if we love all those bands. It’s just to make it easier for you! But long ago I gave up trying to write songs that sounded like any particular influence. When I was younger, I might have been like “I need a Neil Young-type song” (whatever that means) or even just a “loud rock song for ending shows.” Now I’m older. I don’t play out as often and I really don’t play guitar as often, so when I do, things just fall out and they sound like whatever they sound like. I might be like, “Oh, that’s actually pretty cool” but it’s not looked at with a purpose in mind like before. I just record the ideas in my phone and develop them later, after they simmer a bit. So for this record, I suppose I was going for a feeling, not a sound. As you can tell, it’s pretty dark even though I’m generally a pretty lighthearted guy. This was a really hard record to write for that reason. I used to couch my feelings in my lyrics, and tell people they weren’t about certain things. But the last couple records, I started just being real with that side of my writing, particularly on this one. It’s the most exposed I’ve ever been and I’m still not totally comfortable with releasing all these thoughts into the world. Even if just my friends hear it, it’s weird for them to have that window into some thoughts I had over the last couple of tough-at-times years. But as far as the band’s sound evolving, I love the way it’s come together. Even though I live halfway down the East Coast from them, we still have that chemistry. When we made “Blood Red Moon,” Brooks had just been in the band a couple months and was feeling out his place. We had a different bass player. This time, it just felt a bit more familiar and a bit more familial, I guess. It was a small circle: Our producer Jeremy played bass, Dave was back on the boards, Brooks gets to star a lot on the record (and rightfully so) and this band is so stupid in love with each other, it’s probably gross. We just all love playing songs together and laughing and hanging out, and I love the way they deliver the tunes. No offense to any past partnerships, but I’ve never had such complete faith and trust in a group of musicians. It’s just so natural to make music together. I wish we could do it more often.
GY: “She’s Broken” has actually been around for a while, longer than most of the other songs, and wasn’t slated to be on the record. I always liked the interplay of the guitars (I two-tracked it on GarageBand and sent it to the guys ahead of “Blood Red Moon” I think) and the lyrical melody, but I could never finish the words and I thought it didn’t fit the overall feel of the record. But once we gave it a try in the studio, we were all nodding along on playback. We’re a rock band at heart, and I learned a long time ago not to fight with what naturally comes out of a recording session. If it sounds good, that’s reason enough. So that song worked its way onto the album. So the ending… well, I had this guitar riff that was different than the rest of the song – almost a Mudhoney-like thing, with chucka-chucka’s between power chords — and I wanted to work it in somehow, maybe as a bridge. Jeremy suggested just going with a solo bridge, doubling up keys and guitar, and so we pushed the riff to the end of the song. It was all done on the fly. I love hard stops so we just kind of let the song finally become unhinged right at the end, build with a little shredding and then, bam, stop. I love how it came out. But yeah, those arrangement choices are generally either things I plot out when I write the song, like “this might be cool,” and then we discuss and try it, or they’re just someone suggesting, “hey, let’s do it this way.”
RLR: So we talked a little about layering in one of the questions, but it seems like you guys took a real “live approach”. I think thats kind of a lost art at least in popular music. A bit of the life is lost when you just start adding track upon track in pro tools. How do you guys go about the process of recording? Are you all pretty much in the same room?
GY: As far as it being a “lost art in popular music,” maybe it helps that we aren’t “popular” music! In all seriousness, full credit for the live approach must go to Jeremy Moses Curtis and Dave Westner. When we made the album before this one, “Blood Red Moon,” we did it that way and I just loved the process. It felt like everything I’d been missing in music. No fretting over every little thing. Just playing and enjoying the process and letting the songs stand as is. Sometimes the fuck ups become my favorite part of a particular recording. I once read an interview in which Dave Grohl called those “warts” and said that he also learned to love them over time. They give the song character – life, as you put it. It sounds like a real band playing real music. Not some perfect machine churning out the hits (not that we sounded quite like then even when we tried, but you know what I mean). When Todd Thibaud and I made a couple records together, he always pushed me to leave vocals as is. I recall him once invoking a “Springsteen loves to leave in vocal mistakes” point. So I’ve loosened up and embraced letting things be in the recordings.
As far as how it all works, yeah, we’re in one room usually with minimal isolation. On “Blood Red Moon,” Jeremy brought us up to his mother’s amazing property in Bar Harbor, Maine, and we just set up in her yoga room – exposed beams, sunlight, we could look each other in the eyes to signal changes or whatever. Dave brought up his mobile rig and we just let it rip. Dave and Jeremy had just done a record in similar fashion with Jeremy’s band, the Curtis Mayflower. On this one, we made it in the basement at the Armory and it was a similar setup. Maybe a bit more isolation, but still felt like we were just at band practice in the same room, for the most part.
RLR: The “vibe” of the album feels a little more subdued, not necessarily sad, but extremely pensive. “Drive West” has a dusty feel, “Dark Side” feels a bit mysterious and blue toned and your voice slides effortlessly into the mix in “On Duty” in a really sublime way. Where were you at when you were writing the songs for this album? Where does that come from?
GY: I don’t mean to be deferential here, but I don’t want to get too deep into what the record is about at its core. I kind of hoped that it would speak for itself in that regard and that what mystery remains will remain mine. It’s a chapter of my life that is closed, and it’s documented here, for better or worse. I’m not denying that it’s a blue record, it is. I just view albums as an encapsulation of how your mind worked at any given time, what you worried about, who you loved, what you went through, even if you’re a different person now. I’ve tried to become more honest with that, and shed some of my more insular qualities. If the goal in writing is to forge a connection with a listener, I figured the best way to do that with this subject matter was just to get over myself and clear it out. But as I said, as I was writing it, I was going for a feel more than a sound and I think we accurately summed up that period or whatever haha.
RLR: Thats a fair point about “what the record is about?” I agree that there should be some sort of distance from clearly stating “this song is about Jane and Jane broke my heart and now she lives in Seattle”…thats the beauty of a well written song is that most anybody can listen and really latch onto the words and kind of make it for themselves. Create their meaning or delve into what the writer was thinking, imparting your own emotion into as an experiencer of the song. I think you are all aces on that front with this album. Are there any other artists you are listening to these days that you feel have excelled in that respect?
GY: Neil Young was once asked if he was writing about Carrie Snodgrass on “Harvest” and he gets frustrated and finally just says, “She’s in there.” I love the indirect phrasing of that. “She’s in there” – like it’s a big stew of memories and thoughts and this one particular situation is not necessarily the sole focus. It’s like, songs can be about one thing, I guess, or they can sound like they’re about one thing but truly be about something else entirely, or they can be a big mashup of feelings from a whole bunch of experiences. That’s why, as you point out, they become universal. Even if I’m writing about my experience, it’s not gonna be your experience. You’ll hopefully find common ground in listening to it and make the song your own, relate it to moments from your life. Hopefully it eventually means something entirely different to you – that’s the ultimate goal. And it’ll always mean something else to me as a writer, and what that is will always be mine. The only thing a writer can do is be honest in their writing and let that speak for itself, no matter what the subject matter may be. Now, that being said, I can’t imagine what Marvin Gaye was going through when he made “Here, My Dear,” which I’ve always thought seemed like the hardest album to write. Now THAT is honest. That is raw. I think about that album a lot when I write songs from my own experience. It’s like, damn, how did he SAY THAT? I don’t know if any artist, of any era, touches that.
RLR: Perhaps one of the more uptempo tunes on the record has the most blunt titles “I Don’t Want To Love You Anymore” and has one of my favorite lines from the record in it too, we only get along well when we’re drinking / so we drink a lot these days. But once the chorus hits, the harmonies and your voice (one of my favorites) hits all the right notes and you maintain that super catchy and somehow positive feel even when you are saying something to the contrary. How the hell do you do that? Ha. But seriously, do you make a conscious decision to occasionally say “ok, this is a slightly downtrodden or negative feeling but I want to bump it up a bit, give it a killer backbeat and sing it in a way that will make everyone else sing along”?
GY: That song is indeed an anomaly. You’re right, it’s a total bummer but I really wanted to make a sunny-sounding song about a dark topic. It was really easy to write – that one, “Optimist” and “Kill Devil Hills” were all written the same morning and I hardly changed anything about them from the first time they fell out of my mouth, from the lyrics on down. But Jeremy really pushed for that song. He wanted to give it a vibe like the Dylan song “The Man in Me.” So he brought in the backup female vocals to do the “oohs” and we just kind of let it ride. Even though it fits lyrically with the rest of the record, we look at it as something of a palate cleanser, just because it indeed sounds brighter. Even if it’s not. And it’s funny you mention that particular lyric about drinking. It’s not actually my original thought – someone close to me said that once. And I thought, that sounds just like a somewhat universal thing. Makes sense to me!
RLR: Lets talk about the music community in general these days. While I feel like there is certainly a sense that roots, folk, Americana…whatever you want to call it is making its way into the mainstream with artists like Isbell, Sturgill, Margo Price, etc really making a name for themselves on a larger platform, I often times feel extreme longing for late nights at Cassavettes shows at Harper’s Ferry or listening to Band in Boston podcasts with you guys. There was a certain sense of community on those bleary eyed nights rooting on our friends as they rocked the hell out of the rooms (big or small) in Boston. Do you feel as though that has changed at all? How are things down your way as far as up and coming acts and a community around them or have you found yourself a bit removed from that?
GY: I am indeed removed from that. I think that’s less a location thing, and more an age factor. I’m not that old, I’m 31, but I noticed a change even toward the end of Cassavettes. We were 25 then, and still things weren’t the same as when we were 20 or 21. People get older, they get jobs, families, and stop coming out to shows the same way they did before. So I think the community exists, it’s just among a tighter group. It’s always about what it should be about: a small circle of people that’s doing it for the right reasons, and it only matters to those people in that circle, even if it grows. Cassavettes made it our mission to make everyone feel a part of the musical ride. We kept a detailed blog and tried to make fans into our friends. And I’m sure there are other bands out there doing that now. I see someone like my boy Perry Eaton, who plays in an awesome Boston band called BEEEF that’s doing it for the right reasons and loving the journey, and I feel a mix of pride and longing. Even if I still play music, you’re right, my community has changed. And, you know, I live in DC now. But that was true even during my last few years in Boston. I’ll say this for the Boston music scene though: I used to think it wasn’t accepting of outsiders, that it constantly wanted you to prove something to them, and that it had a lot of sniping behind backs. I was wrong on most counts (except for the shit-talking, but when does that not happen in communities or groups of friends?). Especially being down here, I have even more perspective and Boston has so many people that care so greatly about the music scene that it really does lift the whole thing up. It’s not what it once was, but what is? As long as people care, as long as they put in the effort, then that’s all we can hope for as musicians doing it for the love of the game. So I miss that, too. I respect the hell out of the Boston music scene, which gave me so much and allowed me to do a lot of cool things that I never thought I’d be able to do. I wish everywhere was like that.
Get the record today at Bandcamp: https://glennyoder.bandcamp.com/
or tomorrow on iTunes.