The Hudson River Valley, Stage Fright and Wikipedia: An Interview With Widowspeak

01/30/2013 9:00 AM |


Could you go into more depth about why the album was titled Almanac?

For this record, I think it was the first time we actually kept a notebook. Usually with a notebook, I’ll start it and kind of get tired of it, so I’ll start another one. I mean, I’ve had a lot of notebooks at any one time, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. But with this one, I actually had one notebook that I kept the whole time. And it was basically just to keep track of ideas, but a lot of times, I’d be on Wikipedia and just reading books and I was putting down facts about things I didn’t really know about… agriculture and old-timey ideas about the natural world. Like, natural phenomena. Because I wanted to look at those cycles and see if they would turn into songs. And a lot of it was idioms, like old-timey ideas. Those little sayings that you don’t really know the meaning of. I was keeping track of all of these sayings, I wasn’t even in the lyrical stage yet. And it kept on referencing almanacs, on these Wikipedia pages. And the more I thought about it being a 12-month calendar, that keeps track of all of this stuff and also offers advice. And sometimes it’s Biblical and sometimes it’s comical, and a lot of times, there’s just funny things. Like, it’ll tell you, the 13th of March is the best day to cut your hair if you want it to grow, which is a weird idea. And also, it’s kind of an American experience even though these things happen everywhere. So I just started feeling like it should be the title for the record. While we didn’t know if there were going to be 12 tracks on the record, it felt like it was kind of encompassing this whole year, a cycle in itself. I think that’s how it came to be. And then also, when I first told the band I wanted to call the record that, they laughed because sometimes the tease me about using the almanac. I will tell facts that I swear are true, but if I don’t cite my source, they’re convinced I’m not telling the truth. And a lot of times, I can back this up, Google it (My internet sources are just Wikipedia and Google). But I’m not lying, per se. They just don’t know if I”m telling the truth.

So you still had an internet connection out in the woods?

We didn’t, actually. Once we were there, we were totally internet-less. And we had phone, which I guess still had internet service, but I was totally internet-less. I couldn’t even really get email. When we had to, we were like, pooling our sources, trying to load email on our phones. We could go to the city and get some wi-fi if we needed to. But in terms of being in the barn, it was really great not having the internet as a distraction. Prior to that point, I think in the idea formation state, when we were still in Brooklyn… 

Were there any ideas or sounds that you couldn’t accomplish on the self-titled record that you were able to explore more this time around?

Definitely. The way we made our first record was just piecing it together from what we made up until that point. So that was a patchwork of where we were at that point. With this record, we actually approached it more intentionally and put ideas in place instead of representing a band up to that point without editing at all. I mean, we definitely had to record the songs as best we could and represent them as best we could represent them. With this record, everything was much more intentional and Rob definitely, in terms of the production. He just had pre-demoed a lot of sounds. So like, the keyboards weren’t just things we added to flesh out the sound. It was like, we planned out all of the parts. We knew what we wanted instead of going into it, like, “I guess this works. I guess we’ll use this tone.” So it seems like we liked having things like the harmonium sound, the Wurlitzer, having the Rhodes in there. A lot of instruments we hadn’t really been playing live. We’d been like a guitar and drum band, and then we added these later. So it was something where we realized we didn’t have to be limited by our live set. It’s actually at the point where I think we’re going to add a fifth member because we like how it sounds so much. While there are bands that can stick to one specific instrumental lineup, I think that it was really great that we explored beyond the people present, what the sound we wanted was. In terms of style, I think we got into a more organic territory. I think there’s a lot more psychedelic sort of textures. It’s not that we made a psych record; it’s not as straightforward. And sometimes it’s more straightforward. I don’t know; it’s hard to describe because the experience of it is one where I guess it’ll always be heard a different way. 

How many members are in Widowspeak right now?

We started as a trio and we acquired a bassist for a couple of months, from, like, February until June of last year. And then our drummer left the band. He quit. It was just a stopping point for him. And we were about to record a new record, start this whole thing over again. I don’t think it was working out for him. He didn’t want to do it anymore. We don’t have specific details, but he left the band. And because our bassist had just joined and we felt kind of weird knowing that me and Rob write the songs and we didn’t know if we were going to have a bassist or just find another drummer, so we just kind of wrote the record ourselves. That’s why it’s the two of us on the cover. We wrote the entire record ourselves and then at the end of the summer, we asked our friend Kyle to join and play drums. So he plays on the record, the actual drums and a lot of the percussion. Although Rob wrote a lot of the bass parts and played a lot of them on the record, our friend Willie is now playing bass for us. And then yesterday we had this show at Brooklyn Bowl and it was the first time that we had Dylan Treleven, who is playing keyboards and backup guitar. So we added something new to the band. And I think it will continue because we really like this lineup and we like having a really full sound. We were able to communicate the record a lot more effectively. And our old record, I think a lot of those songs really benefit because they have a lot of slide guitar, they have a lot of keyboard, and they have a lot of built-up layers of guitar. So it’s something where I really feel like live music is all about energy, but there comes a point when you can fill it out the way you want to. Technically, I guess we’re a two-piece, but we’re also a five-piece.