“In The Thick Of It” is a song about moments of grace right in the frenetic middle of things. I wrote it remotely with Will Graefe in a frantic flight out of L.A. to the desert. Zac Rae leads the charge on piano and I asked Cassandra Jenkins to sing the song along with me. I had this big music video planned, but then everybody who was supposed to make the video got Covid. So I borrowed a camera and sang the song while walking my dog Larry through some of our favorite spots in the city. We had a great time and we only spent 200 dollars”.
Will Sheff is het brein van de alt folk-country-indie-rock formatie Okkervil River en na 20 jaar en 9 studio-albums met initiëel zijn ‘buddies from high school’ is het nu tijd voor zijn eerste solo-release. Twee jaar geleden overleed zijn ‘main old buddie/drummer’ Travis Nelsen, en “Nothing Special” gaat met name over ‘grieving for him, grieving for everything my friends have lost, grieving for the rock and the rock & roll myth, and trying to open my eyes to a more transcendent reality’. Ook zijn recente verhuizing van Austin, Texas naar Los Angeles had z’n weerslag, want “Nothing Special” is daarnaast geïnspireerd door de overweldigende natuurschoon van zuidelijk Californie. Je hoort Jeff op z’n meest ingetogen; ‘unconventional, lush, patient and deliberate songs with delicate passages, rich arrangements, decaying synthesizers, liquid guitar tones, cinematic soundscapes, psychedelic tunes and gentle positive vibes’!
Sheff: “When I was just a kid, I got caught up in the dream of being a rock and roll star. Like so many other young people, I fell in love with the idea of being called to this glorious path outside of ordinary life. And I ended up in a band with people who felt this same call – especially our brilliant drummer Travis Nelsen, who was like a brother to me. We would trade tales of hilarious antics and outrageous excess and tragic death like they were almost scripture. Travis and I fell out painfully, and he died in the early weeks of lockdown. I think a big part of “Nothing Special” centers around grieving for him, grieving for everything my friends have lost, grieving for the rock and rock & roll myth and trying to open my eyes to a more transcendent reality”.
Sheff sets this emotional journey to arrangements that contain subtle surprises, referencing baroque pop, blurred-lens synth ballads, sci-fi psychedelia and the widescreen ambience of 1970s and ‘80s ECM Records releases. It’s a record that follows its own idiosyncratic yet intuitive internal logic as we follow Sheff – and his expansive list of collaborators – into whatever’s next for us, both individually and collectively.
Inspired by the organically unfolding musical storytelling of King Crimson, Joni Mitchell and Bill Fay – as well as the natural wonders of Southern California’s mountains, deserts, and lakes – Sheff began writing “Nothing Special” following a move from Austin, Texas to Los Angeles that precipitated a series of life changes. Having properly set Okkervil River to rest while putting together the 12-volume, career-spanning 2019 live-compilation “A Dream In The Dark”, he opened up his circle of collaborators and began co-writing more. He deepened his spiritual practice, quit drugs and alcohol and he adopted a dog. With a newfound sense of freedom and possibility, he set about creating a robust architecture for a new album.
Recording with some old friends (guitarist Will Graefe and bassist Benjamin Lazar Davis), as well as new collaborators (singer/songwriter Christian Lee Hutson, Dawes drummer Griffin Goldsmith and Death Cab For Cutie pianist Zac Rae, and with guest vocals from Saundra Williams (The Dap-Kings), Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater), Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats, The Shins and Bonny Light Horseman) and Cassandra Jenkins), Sheff took a less participatory and more painterly approach than his production on Okkervil River records. Over the course of three separate sessions – engineered by John Congleton (St. Vincent, The War On Drugs), Matt Linesch (Edward Sharpe, Gil Landry) and Marshall Vore (Phoebe Bridgers, Conor Oberst) – Sheff also stayed behind the glass himself a lot and directed the band through performances that sought to gradually build to an unforced and rewarding climax with little concern for adhering to pop orthodoxy (or succinct runtimes).