Knitting Factory & The Decemberists Present
Travelers' Rest: 2-Day Pass
For more information, visit our website: www.TravelersRestFest.com
- Early Entry
- Priority Entrance
- Commemorative Laminate
- Limited Edition Silk Screened Travelers' Rest Poster, Signed By The Decemberists
- Private Bathrooms
- Hospitality Tent
- 2 Beverages Included Per Day (Beer & Wine With ID)
- Dedicated Viewing Area
WHAT A TERRIBLE WORLD, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL WORLD
“In some ways, this album was four years in the making,” says Colin Meloy, frontman and primary songwriter of the Decemberists. “We were on hiatus, so we had all the time we could want, no schedule or tour, no expectations.”
With the ability to work at their own pace, the resulting record, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, is the band’s most varied and dynamic work, both musically and emotionally. Since their earliest recordings more than a decade ago, the Decemberists have always been known for their sense of scope and daring—from “The Tain,” an eighteen-and-a-half minute 2004 single based on an Irish myth to their last two ambitious, thematic albums, The Hazards of Love and The King is Dead. This time, though, Meloy explains that they took a different approach: “Let’s make sure the songs are good, and eventually the record will present itself.”
The Decemberists—Meloy, Chris Funk (guitars), Jenny Conlee (keyboards),Nate Query (bass), and John Moen (drums)—had announced that they would be taking a break when their touring cycle finished following the release of 2011’sThe King is Dead. Meloy wanted to spend time with his family and work on the children’s book series that became the acclaimed, best-selling Wildwood trilogy. To be sure, they had reached a new peak in their career: King entered the Billboard album charts at Number One, and the track “Down by the Water” was nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Rock Song” category.
Even during the hiatus, the group remained visible: they released an EP of outtakes from the album titled Long Live the King; contributed the song “One Engine” to the Hunger Games soundtrack; and put out We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, a live album documenting their ferocious intensity on stage. They even had the honor of appearing in animated form on The Simpsons, and performed on the season six finale of Parks and Recreation.
Mostly, however, Meloy was concentrating on the Wildwood series—the 1,500-page saga of two seventh-graders who are drawn into a hidden, magical forest, illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis. So when the band reassembled in May 2013,the plan wasn’t to make an album in their usual way.“Typically we book four or five weeks in the studio and bang out the whole record,” says Meloy. “This time, we started by just booking three days, and didn’t know what we would record. There was no direction or focus; we wanted to just see what would come out. We recorded ‘Lake Song’ on the first day, live, and then two more songs in those three days. And the spirit of that session informed everything that came after.”
They reconvened in the fall and added some more songs. Gradually, over the course of a year and a half, the album came into focus. What was initially apparent was a fuller, richer sound. “There was a grandiosity to the songs indifferent ways,” says Meloy, citing Leonard Cohen’s 1977 collaboration with Phil Spector, Death of a Ladies’ Man, as a reference point. “We were layering textures, adding strings and dedicated backing vocals—the early songs created the peaks of the record, and that started to dictate the overall tone and tenor.”
The first batch of songs, Meloy notes, represented the more personal side of his songwriting, a change from the strong narrative thrust that characterized much of the Decemberists’ work. “Writing books as this raw, fantastic narrator has been the outlet for that part of my brain,” he says. “Having a family, having kids, having this career, getting older—all of these things have made me look more inward. So some of these songs are among the more intimately personal songs I’ve ever written.
”Perhaps most notable is “12-17-12,” a song named for, and inspired by, the date that President Obama addressed the nation following the Newtown school shootings, and read the names of the victims. “I watched that speech and was profoundly moved,” says Meloy. “I was hit by a sense of helplessness, but also the message of ‘Hold your family close,’ and this was my way of marking that for myself.” This bewildering, conflicted feeling came out in a phrase near the end of the song—“what a terrible world, what a beautiful world”—that gave the album its title.
As the sessions continued, other elements of the writing and the sound surfaced and a more rounded picture emerged. “As soon as I finished the books, I immediately started writing more narrative songs,” Meloy says. “‘Cavalry Captain,’ ‘Carolina Low,’ those all started coming out. But there was a more subtle voice coming in; I wanted moments of levity, a little tongue-in-cheek. Also, we figured out that the big, pop sound we were making would also make the quieter moments more still, create more dynamic peaks and valleys.”
Without a deadline, the Decemberists were also able to explore every song to completion. “Usually you have to let some songs slide because of time constraints,” Meloy says, “but nothing was relegated to the b-side pile, everything was given a fair shake. Which is a blessing and a curse—we ended up with 18songs, and each had champions and detractors. There were a multitude of albums you could potentially make—somber, over-the-top pop, folk—and I think every band member would have created a different record.”
Ultimately, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World found its final form, a distillation of the best things about this remarkable band. A new way of working led to a renewed excitement about the next chapter for the Decemberists. “I’ve never lived with a record for so long,” says Colin Meloy, “documenting my shifts and changes as a songwriter, with a real sense of time passing. And there’s something very freeing about working on music with absolutely no agenda, and just letting the songs become themselves.”
The best pop groups want to change the world. They want to leave an imprint that no one forgets, to do more than check out as a minor statistic in the Guinness Book of Hit Singles. They want to change the world of pop, and to engage with the politics of pop. Belle & Sebastian have re-invented the pop festival; they signed to a tiny independent label but still beat Steps to a BRIT, before sweeping into the Top 40, then the Top 20. They’ve brought their lost sixties heroine, Evie Sands, over to play a show in Glasgow. They’ve sold out a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. And, in 2014, they cut an album – their ninth – called Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, that blends electro-glide, baroque balladry, and giant-sized Europop hooks. They deserve several accolades, each of which are rare for any band in 2017 – Belle & Sebastian are unique, unpredictable, and fiercely loved.
Part of their appeal is that Belle and Sebastian have always given the impression of being completely unaware that they are even famous. Emerging in the late nineties, they appeared to be both press and camera-shy, but also entirely self-contained; they seemed to have a secret, something built around books and films, and yet were happy to share the love, stopping just short of writing individual songs for their fans. And their fans, naturally, became obsessive, formed their own bands, started their own loosely affiliated clubs, radio shows and websites. A secret gang – who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?
But then again if you’re a band who works with Trevor Horn, Carey Mulligan and Norah Jones, you’re probably not content to lurk in the tiny shadow offered by a seven-inch single on Postcard. And if you end up on the soundtrack to Adam Curtis’s The Power Of Nightmares, or Todd Solondz’s Storytelling, as well as Juno, then there’s going to be more than a little grit and grain to your music than adjectives like “shy” and “fragile” might suggest.
They have worked with outside producers ever since Trevor Horn helmed Dear Catastrophe Waitress in 2003, plumping up their sound, pumping it full of light and air, and getting ‘Step Into My Office Baby’ unlikely but welcome repeated plays from Ken Bruce on BBC Radio 2. This suggested a sharp step away from the tape-swapping, pen pal world they had been thought to inhabit (of course they never had, not really). Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air, Phoenix) was hired for The Life Pursuit (2006) and Write About Love (2010). The latest album was recorded in Atlanta with Ben Allen (Deerhunter, Washed Out, CeeLo Green and Animal Collective) who convinced them to leave things more open-ended, less thoroughly thought-out in advance, leaving the producer and the musicians more space to be spontaneous. The result is playful, super-melodic, with lyrical nods to both their past and an optimistic future, and joyful jumps into new musical territories.
Belle & Sebastian have stood as something different right from the beginning. Let’s have a quick poke around the previous eighteen years. Debut album Tigermilk (1996) was the product of a Stow College music business class that drummer Richard Colburn was taking; just 1,000 vinyl copies were pressed. In spite of huge major label interest (immortalised on the track Seymour Stein on their third album, The Boy With The Arab Strap) they initially signed to the tiny Jeepster label, then later to Rough Trade and now have their first worldwide deal with Matador Records. The key to their appeal was a sense of community. Their self-curated Bowlie festival would evolve into All Tomorrow’s Parties; they became central to a nascent message board culture, and a US loop of labels and fanzines (even writing a song about one, Chickfactor) that adored their music, their stance, and their imagery.
In Britain they famously upset the applecart in 1999 by winning the “Best Newcomers” BRIT award through the votes of their fans, faced accusations of vote rigging, and in the process have got the backs of the tabloids up (sample Daily Record headline: “Belle Boy’s At It Again”). So, clearly, they’ve been doing something right.
It wasn't that long ago that the members of Seattle's The Head and the Heart were busking on street corners, strumming their acoustic guitars, stomping their feet and singing in harmony as they attempted to attract the attention of passersby. That unbridled energy informed their earliest original material, which was honed in local clubs before eventually being captured on the band's 2011 debut album for hometown label Sub Pop.
Then, something unexpected happened. That music began to reach audiences all over the United States and the rest of the world, and The Head and the Heart went from playing open mic nights to selling out headlining shows in prestigious venues. The album became one of Sub Pop's best-selling debut releases in years. And slowly but surely, ideas began to form for the band's second album, imbued with the experiences of traveling the world and cultivating a listenership with a deep connection to the music.
"There is a certain level of confidence gained from having such an amazing fan base," says group member Jonathan Russell. "You start to trust yourself more. When we were busking, we were filling so much space to keep the listener from walking away. Now we are in a very different situation." Adds group member Josiah Johnson, "We wanted to write songs that felt bigger, and didn't need to be so frantic. I think for the most part we wanted to record an album that sounds like the way we play now."
Indeed, The Head and the Heart's new release, Let's Be Still, is a snapshot of a band that didn't exist just four short years ago. Virginia native Russell and California transplant Johnson formed the core songwriting partnership, which was rounded out by drummer Tyler Williams, keyboardist Kenny Hensley, vocalist/violinist Charity Rose Thielen and bassist Chris Zasche, who'd met Russell and Johnson while tending bar at an open mic they frequented. The nascent group dove headfirst into writing, recording and performing, and even moved into the same house to ensure that inspiration could strike at any moment.
"The first record was very thematic. It just had to do with all of us being together and writing songs, and leaving home to come to Seattle," says Thielen. "I honestly don't know if there is a theme this time around. There are things that stick out, like the idea of going from busking to becoming a full-on band and touring like crazy." Adds Williams, "Before we started recording, I wondered, 'What if this doesn't work? What if the momentum dies down?' But once we got in there, we realized that we felt so good together doing it. The weight was lifted. It was like, 'Right! This is what we do.'"
Let's Be Still was recorded at Seattle's Studio Litho with assistance from prior production collaborator Shawn Simmons. Later, the band traversed the country to mix the album in Bridgeport, Conn., with Peter Katis, revered for his work with bands such as the National, Interpol and the Swell Season. The 13 tracks here build naturally on both the sounds and themes of the debut, from the piano and violin-dappled opener "Homecoming Heroes" and the heartfelt "Josh McBride" to vibrant, bouncy future concert staples "Shake" and "My Friends."
"The first record was written and recorded with a lot of limitations. It's almost easier that way," says Zasche. "This time around, with more time and resources, there were few limitations, so we had to be in charge of keeping a focus and not getting distracted but at the same time exploring the options available. It wasn't easy, but from this I think a clearer, more focused record has been made."
Band members point to "Another Story" as a moment that embodies their collective creative spirit. Russell wrote the song shortly after the elementary school shooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., but hadn't showed it to anyone in the band except Johnson. "One day everyone was taking a break from tracking and I was sitting in my booth and started to play this song," Russell recalls. "You could hear what I was doing in the control room and then one by one, a bandmate would walk in, grab their instrument and start playing along. We didn't talk about it. We didn't have to go back and rearrange anything. It was all there." Adds Williams, "Jon is so smart about waiting to introduce new ideas. He knows when the mood will be right." Says Johnson, "The song was undeniable, and the vibe didn't change from when he was playing it acoustically. Everybody just lifted it up, in the way that this band does."
On the opposite end of the spectrum was "Gone," which dated back to sessions for the debut album but didn't make the cut the first time around. The band wrestled with the arrangement while performing it live for several years, and finally cracked the code after adding a laid-back bass-and-drum groove to the beginning. Described by Thielen as "striking" in its solo acoustic form, Johnson's "Fire / Fear" underwent similar revisions until the rest of the band settled on a new progression to link the verses together. "There is a lot more patience in the music," says Russell. "I think that has a lot to do with feeling more comfortable as a songwriter and a performer."
During the mixing process, Katis was tasked with polishing what Johnson describes as "a beautiful mess" of finished tracks. Says Williams, "We have a certain energy when we play shows that didn't translate to the first record. I was getting worried about that before we went to Peter's. Things seemed a bit muted and dry to me. But I didn't realize how much mixing could change a record. Peter actually went in and messed with tones, had some production suggestions and wound up really being the right guy to help us finish the record." "His mixes turned the songs around, and breathed vibrancy into them," says Thielen. "He added some auxiliary details that helped make things more full-bodied, but still within the realm of what we do. It was really refreshing."
With Let's Be Still ready for release, The Head and the Heart is eager to return to the road to further hone the musical bond its members formed in such whirlwind fashion. "When I think about the two records together, the first one feels like we all wanted to fulfill this dream we'd had about playing music, meeting people and traveling around," says Williams. "This one feels like the consequences of doing that -- what relationships did you ruin? What other things did you miss? You always think it will all be perfect once you just do 'this.' And that's not always the case."
Adds Russell, "Has there been an impact on our lives since we have become full-time musicians? Sure. No band wants to write that second record about how hard they have it. But it's hard to get around all of it. There are a few songs on this record that express the band's hardships for sure. On one hand, it's everything you have ever wanted. On the other hand, you start to miss the things you've lost and had to give up. And that's just life. My job is to write about it."
"The first album was me wanting to burn down my life, cut my hair off, and run screaming into the woods," says Alejandro Rose-Garcia. "This album is the trials and tribulations of becoming domesticated, letting people into your world and letting go of selfishness -- the story of becoming a pair, losing that, and reconciling with the loss and gain of love."
Rose-Garcia is professionally known as Shakey Graves, and with his new record, "And the War Came," he extends the ground -- emotionally and sonically -- broken by his 2011 self-released debut album, "Roll the Bones," which brought him national acclaim and, three years later, still ranks near the top of Bandcamp's digital best-seller charts.
"Roll the Bones" established the powerful, mesmerizing Shakey Graves sound of Rose-Garcia accompanying himself on guitar and a handmade kick drum built out of an old suitcase. NPR Music named him one of 10 artists music fans "should've known in 2012," describing him as "astonishing...unclassifiably original. And frighteningly good." Paste included him in a "Best of What's Next" feature, praising his "gnarly composite of blues and folk," while The New York Times observed that Shakey Graves "makes the one-man band approach look effortless.
But while this distinctive arrangement continued to earn him an ever-expanding fan base on the road, Rose-Garcia knew that he wanted the follow-up to achieve something different. "With the first album, I didn't have any expectations except my own," he says. "This time, I was making something people were going to listen to out of the gate. I tried to maintain everything I enjoy about recording, the weird homemade aspect, but I was seeking a new, shining sound quality. The concepts for the songs are a little bigger. This is not the 'Mr, Folk, Hobo Mountain' album -- it's more of the Cyborg Shakey Graves. It's definitely the next step in the staircase."
An experienced actor who had a recurring role on "Friday Night Lights" and appeared in several of Robert Rodriguez films, Rose-Garcia started making music as part of New York City's "anti-folk" scene. While knocking around the underground music community in Los Angeles, he saw a performance by one-man band Bob Log III that pointed his work in a new direction. Since returning to Austin, Rose-Garcia has become so closely associated with his hometown that for the last three years, Austin has celebrated "Shakey Graves Day" by mayoral proclamation.
Charles Bradley has made a name for himself as a riveting live performer and was named to the top spot on Paste Magazine’s Best Live Acts of 2015. He has taken his show to venues and festivals across the globe including Coachella, Glastonbury Festival and Primavera Sound. The Brooklyn-based 67-year old will release his third album Changes on April 1 via Daptone Records, which Rolling Stone calls one of the “Most Anticipated Albums of 2016.” The remarkable against-all-odds rise of Charles Bradley since the release of his 2011 debut album No Time For Dreaming has been well documented. He transcended a bleak life on the streets and struggled through a series of ill-fitting jobs before finally being discovered by Daptone's Gabriel Roth. The year following the release of No Time For Dreaming was one triumph after another including a breakthrough performance at SXSW, several television performances and having the album named to many year end “best of” lists. The soul singer’s ascent continued with the 2013 release of his triumphant second album Victim of Love, which saw Bradley emerging from his past heartaches stronger and more confident, overflowing with love to share.
In Mind, the fourth full-length record from Real Estate, is a portrait of a mature band at the height of its power. Long respected for their deft lyrical hand and gorgeous melodies, In Mind builds upon the band’s reputation for crafting perfect songs and carries Real Estate even deeper into the pantheon of great songwriters.
On the new record, the band fine-tunes the winsome songwriting and profound earnestness that made previous albums—2009’s Real Estate, 2011’s Days, and 2014’s Atlas—so beloved, and pushes their songs in a variety of compelling new directions. Written primarily by guitarist and vocalist Martin Courtney at his home in Beacon—a quiet town in upstate New York—In Mind offers a shifting of the gears, positing a band engaged in the push/pull of burgeoning adulthood. Reflecting a change in lineup, changes in geography, and a general desire to move forward without looking back, the record casts the band in a new light—one that replaces the wistful ennui of teenage suburbia with an equally complicated adult version. The record not only showcases some of the band’s most sublime arrangements to date, it also presents a leap forward in terms of production, with the band utilizing the studio as a tool to broaden the sonic landscape of their music to stunning effect.
In Mind offers passing nods to the sanguine qualities of earlier releases while also depicting a band in a state of real change. Since the recording of the band’s last album, Courtney had become a father of two and settled into a newfound domesticity living in Beacon, while bassist Alex Bleeker made the move out to sunny California, creating a complicated new set of logistics for the band to work around. Additionally, after the departure of founding member and lead guitarist Matt Mondanile in 2015, the band—Courtney, Bleeker, and drummer Jackson Pollis—faced the prospect of either closing ranks or embracing the changes that bringing in new people would ultimately bring. “It just seemed like a good moment to move in a slightly different direction,” says Courtney, “The idea of bringing in a stranger seemed too weird, but I wasn’t interested in recording as a four-piece and having some hired gun come out to play shows with us. In the end asking Julian Lynch—who we’d already been playing with and we’ve known since high school—to join the band made the most sense. He felt like a full-time member of the band already.” This was also true of keyboardist Matt Kallman, who previously played with the band on Atlas and on that record’s subsequent tour. Joining the band in a more official capacity before the recording of In Mind, Kallman contributed in both sound and scope, writing the keyboard parts and contributing to the album’s arrangements. With a new lineup secured and armed with an arsenal of songs that Courtney and Bleeker had spent the past six months writing, the band approached the business of fleshing out the songs in an almost workmanlike manner.
“It was good being outside of the city,” recalls Kallman. “We got a little Airbnb in Beacon and we rented a practice space inside an old converted high school. We would walk to the high school and play music all day, then go play basketball, go to the health food store or go out to dinner, then go back to the house. We did that every day for, in total, about three weeks. It was nice not having the headache of our regular lives. It all felt very open, like we were planted there to do a job and that’s all we could do was just work on the songs. I think the music kind of reflects that space we were in—free and open and cautiously optimistic.”
Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Cole M.G.N. (known for his work with the likes of Beck, Snoop Dogg, Dam-Funk, Nx Worries, and Julia Holter), the eleven tracks on In Mind deliver the same kind of warmth and soft-focus narratives that one has come to expect from the band—pastoral guitars, elegantly deployed arrangements, a sort of mindful melancholy—but there is also a newly adventurous sonic edge to the proceedings. Album opener—the ebullient pop number “Darling” — announces itself with a wash of synth tones rather than guitars. Elsewhere, on tracks like “Serve the Song” and “Two Arrows,” guitarist Julian Lynch employs a variety of distorted guitar sounds that might have felt out of place on previous Real Estate records, with the latter track stretching out beyond the six-minute mark—the closest thing to a jam the band has ever recorded. The band’s predilection for crafting airtight pop songs remains in full-effect here, with songs like “Stained Glass” and “Same Sun” occupying the same kind of rarefied universe as fan favorites like “Talking Backwards” or “It’s Real.” ‘Where does one thing ever end and the next begin?’ Courtney asks in the latter, ‘I do not wish to retrace the steps I’ve taken / All that matters now is where I’m going.’
Glittering pop moments aside, the record’s most stunning moments are arguably it’s most restrained— “After the Moon” unspools in waltz-like fashion, while album closer “Saturday” offers In Mind’s most pointed take on moving beyond the fascinations of youth: ‘When a stranger is living in your old house / What does where you were born still say about you? / It’d be best to jettison what you can’t redo.’
Perhaps more than on any other Real Estate record, the lyrics on In Mind seem to reflect a struggle between youth and adulthood, the desire for escapism balanced against the increasing demands of responsibility. (‘There’s no place I would rather be right now,’ sings Courtney on “Stained Glass”, ‘I’d love to never leave but I just don’t know how.’) “I feel like it takes touring a record for a few months and playing the songs over and over for me to really start understanding my own lyrics,” says Courtney, “but so much of this record feels like it has to do with my concerns about taking care of my family. I will often walk my wife and kids to the library and then just go out on my own, wandering around the town for three or four hours and writing the lyrics in my head.” Courtney continues, “We certainly never thought this would be our lives, but now that it is, we all want to protect that and nourish it and keep it safe. I think maybe that’s what this record is about.”
As for the band’s increasingly widespread appeal, both bassist Alex Bleeker and Courtney can only theorize as to what it is about their music that seems to strike such a profound chord with listeners. “I think there’s an earnestness to what we do,” says Bleeker. “It’s coming from a truthful place of human experience, but it’s also kind of raw. It evokes something for people, even though we are often dissecting subject matter that seems super normal and undramatic, it’s also relatable. We all grew up with this common, cookie-cutter kind of American suburban experience and we can’t help but write about that. I think there aren’t a lot of people who actually write about that in a very forthright way.”
Per bassist Alex Bleeker, the songs on In Mind reflect a kind of quiet ambition on the part of the band. A desire not to reinvent themselves, but rather to just be the best version of themselves that they can be. “We’re never looking to overhaul anything in a huge way,” he says, “But we do want to grow and explore new territory and use the studio in a different way. We didn’t want to change anything arbitrarily, but it felt good to reach out into some more exploratory space while still holding on to what makes us Real Estate in the first place.”
Sometimes, things just seem to happen for a reason. The pieces fall into place in unexpected ways, and life takes a turn no one could have predicted. This rings strikingly true for the solo career of Memphis, Tennessee's Julien Baker.
For years, Baker and a group of close friends have performed as the band Forrister (formerly The Star Killers), but when college took her four hours away, her need to continue creating found an outlet through solo work. The intent was never to make these songs her main focus, yet the process proved to be startlingly cathartic. As each song came into shape, it became more apparent that Baker had genuinely deep, surprisingly dark stories to tell from her thus far short life (she turns 20 this fall). Tales of her experiences are staggering, and when set to her haunting guitar playing, the results are gut wrenching and heartfelt, relatable yet very personal. There's something wonderfully hypnotizing about Baker gently confessing her soul with such tremendous honesty.
At the prompting of a friend, Baker ventured to Richmond, Virginia to record a number of her new songs at Spacebomb Studios. The tracks from this session were circulated among Baker's friends, meeting high praise and lots of encouragement for the songs to see a proper release. Soon, she found a home on 6131 Records' increasingly diverse roster, and plans were made to release her debut full length, 'Sprained Ankle.'
To call 'Sprained Ankle' a happy accident would be misleading as to the nature of these poignant, emotive songs. Yet no one, least of all Baker, could have predicted she'd be releasing an album, especially as a solo artist. Thankfully, now the world will be able to share in her passion and sorrow.