Generally, we spend some length of time opening a track by track with some details that we found needed to be explained… this is not one of those times. Electric Blue Yonder drops on of the best track by track narratives that we have seen and without adding any fluff of our own, here it is in all of their own words. Simply amazing, push play and give this a read.
MOURNING SOUNDS is a narrative exploring the emotional states created by trauma and grief, illustrated through oceanic metaphors. The album begins out at sea, where, with intoxicating dreams still lingering, the sun rises over the boundless water. Dawn’s early light reveals the listener floating aimlessly among their own emotional debris. In a psychedelic storm of a dream, the individual is pulled from the depth of a self-constructed reality. Awake, and now understanding they are in fact Lost at Sea, a tsunami of panic and anxiety washes over and then recedes, pulling the listener further from the safety of the shoreline into the chaotic rip currents. Now a lost and Lonely Child, the listener sinks into the abyss, where A Thousand Years of Silence pass as thought paralysis takes hold.
On the album’s B-side, the sun rises again, and the listener reassembles in between the separate atmospheres of ocean and air. Escaping the foam as they learn to apply their own direction to the currents of fate, a hand reaches out, asking the listener what they want to do and reminding them they don’t have to be alone in their journey. Perception shifts, and the raging torrents smooth into tropical swells. No longer shackled by the weight of their insecurities, the listener confidently sets sail with a new breeze at their back and the notion of the uplift in Rising Tides. A new day begins.
1. Mourning Sounds:
This record started out on a different path. We had already written much of the B-Side of MOURNING SOUNDS while we were recording our first record, Between Time & Space (B/TST). Our focus at the time was on exploring mythologies around water and islands as part of an artist in residency application. While we were not accepted for the program, we decided to continue developing the project.
I woke up the morning of February 23rd, 2020, just a week before B/TST’s release. The pressure to get everything ready for the album’s debut was finally over, and I felt a sense of serenity and clarity I hadn’t felt in a while. In 2019, the band went through a major change up when our lead guitarist Joseph Johnson departed. We had to rework the band, with Beth picking up the rhythm guitar and me stepping into the lead guitarist spot. It took a good year to grow into the new format and sound, and along the way we found many talented musicians that were interested in collaborating. We had our swing back in our step and some amazing dates lined up, and I was still riding a high after playing our first major music festival back in December. 2019 was a rocky year, but 2020 would be great. I just knew it.
With that mindset, I reflected on the decisions that led me there and all the love, laughter, heartache, and loss that came with it. The sunlight began creeping over the rooftops, and a beam crossed the room and caught my eye. In that glimmer, I found Mourning Sounds. Lonely Child followed shortly after. It’s the only time I’ve ever written two songs completely back to back like that.
Mourning Sounds started out as Morning Sounds, which is referenced in the last track on B/TST. Initially, the title for the song and album was a reference to Pet Sounds, while also reflective of the fact that I prefer the early hours of the morning for creative pursuits. In the following two weeks and over the coming year, it would capture a much greater depth of meaning beyond what I could ever imagine the morning I wrote it.
The song explores a lifetime in three blinks of an eye. We wasted so much time ‘waiting for our lives to begin’. As Confucius said, “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” As the pandemic raged on, the song took on the metaphor of drifting at sea in a life raft. I thought about what it’d be like to reflect on life the same way I did the morning I initially wrote the tune while drifting on that raft. We added the measure with the horns at the beginning because sometimes life feels a little too wacky to be real. The regal introduction rolls right into the song to further express that life keeps moving with or without you.
We brought in local legend Sam Williams to play flute on the track. Williams is a Montgomery native with a storied career performing in the United States Air Force Band, and he is known throughout the community for helping establish Montgomery’s vibrant jazz scene. When he played his parts, I sat in the control room and felt the song gel for the first time. The tenderness in his expression and the character of his breath gave the song the experience and wisdom he carries.
Echoing the title track, Awake is a shockingly surrealist depiction that the truth lies before us but we must choose and then learn to see it. Awake is the moment you wake up from a falling nightmare. It’s the anxiety-inducing realization that the life and world you grew up believing to be real is a shattered reflection of the context of your environment. A WTF moment.
It started as a voice memo while I was driving back from Atlanta. The simple “Do’s” at the beginning grew from the mostly a cappella concept into the studio version. It’s a schizophrenic choir piece that can only exist in the electric world of today.
3. Lost at Sea (feat. Rhetta Simone)
Lost at Sea takes a turbulent turn with a rocking Stones vibe that reflects the feelings of helplessness, frustration, and isolation experienced during the pandemic and other times of societal unrest. This is the song that helped reshape the initial concept into the complete album. Fully awake to the calamitous times, we are forced to take a close look at who we are and where we fit in this world. The prosperity of the generations before us was built on shifting sands that have eroded our foundations of civility. They pushed off their issues for the next generation, and now we’re left holding the bag. We live in a world that aches to face and overcome its injustices, while people take advantage of a broken system to exploit every drop of profit they can out of the misfortunes of their fellow humans. We are lost at sea as a culture, and we need to find our way to the shoreline.
We felt like the weight of this song was too much to carry on our own, so we asked our friend and neighbor Rhetta Simone to join us. Rhetta is known for her work as back-up singer for Brittany Howard, Prince, Robert Glasper, and Jon Batiste, but she has stepped out on her own in recent years as a solo artist. The fact that we all live just a block away from where Dr. King led the historic Selma to Montgomery March and Montgomery’s long history with the struggle for civil rights made this even more poignant for us. This song was written and recorded just steps away from such great history. Rhetta carries her soul in her voice, and with her generational history in such an important place to us, she really was the perfect person to collaborate with in singing this song. We were honored to have her.
4. Lonely Child
Back to that morning… Lonely Child explores the temptation to find comfort in nostalgia only to realize that living in your memories is an escape – the truth is, you can never really go back. It’s a common theme today. Television programming and product branding seduces you with comforts of familiarity in the past. It’s not real. It can’t take you back to your childhood, and the truth is the nostalgia is only for the limited world view you had, as it wasn’t really ‘better’ back then. Acknowledging this gives you a certain freedom to appreciate the moment, and to let go of anything from your past that holds you back.
When a friend took on the job of salvaging an old farmhouse that was slated to be torn down, we knew we had to film the video there. A house that provided a wonderful home for generations had been forgotten and fallen so far into neglect that the new land owner felt the best thing to do would be to bulldoze and burn the building. Upon exploring the house, we found family photos, written records, and heirlooms tossed about in tatters between rats’ nests and debris. It was a real world physical metaphor for the song, illustrating the ephemerality of the seemingly permanent.
1000yrs explores the emotional depths of that feeling after words we can’t take back, when it’s too late to say what we really feel, and what it’s like to feel truly alone. It was a heart wrecker of a song to write. We decided to cut the lead vocals live together to create the feeling of sitting in the room as it’s all unfolding.
The idea for 1000yrs was initially included as part of our artist in residency program submission. After we weren’t accepted, the song stayed unwritten for several years, only finally coming together as a late addition to the album. It has a direct tie-in to our previous single, Children of the Sun, both musically and narratively. It’s a long, long story, but after firing a cosmic ray at the dark star Nemesis to save Earth and watching all the family he knew and loved get caught up in the blast, Russell sank to the bottom of the ocean for a 1000 years of solitude. It’s actually where we found him. You can listen to Children of the Sun to find out more about Russell’s story.
6. Into the Void:
Into the Void is an instrumental track that represents the 1000 years of silence. This is one of the most challenging pieces I’ve written to date. It was born out of my love for Pink Floyd and the soundscapes they produced. The music is meant to flow over you in waves much in the way I physically felt the soaring synth leads in Shine on You Crazy Diamonds. I feel like this was yet another piece that was out of my capabilities when it came to me and that I had to become a better musician to shape the piece into what it’s become.
I performed an early version of the piece for Yuliya Childers, a friend and classical pianist. I’ll never forget the day when I heard her perform Lizst’s Funérailles. It had a major impact on me, and influence on taking on this song. It connects back to our interest in creating an album experience with movements meant to be listened to in sequence. I know that’s not the best ‘business decision’ in the age of streaming and playlists, but I feel there are listeners out there that appreciate the sentiment.
7. Escaping the Foam:
This is the first track on the B-side and signals a thematic turning point in the album. Beth wrote the music and then brought me in for the lyrics. I’m not sure why, but the songs that she initiates tend to become call and response pieces. Blue Sky was like that on the last album. It’s a beautiful and delicate progression.
The idea behind Escaping the Foam was to swim in the moment when a person decides to take control of their fate. The island vibes wash over as you emerge from the abyss. The sirens of depression might try to call you back out to sea and you may find yourself lost in the foam for a while, but when you start swimming in a direction instead of drifting with the currents, that is the moment that everything turns around. It was fun to lean into a cheekier B-52’s like vibe on this one, and I think it sets up well for the transition into the Perfect Suite.
8. Pre-perfect (Perfect Suite I):
Pre-perfect was the last song added to the suite. It’s just on the other side of that moment when you decide to step out of the void. A divine hand of friendship reaches down and pulls you up to the surface. You remember to find solace in people.
This was a blast to make and really starts the psychedelic transition. When we started writing the track, I thought, “I want to write something that will be fun for Russell (our bass player) to play”. We performed it instrumentally at shows as a sort of warm up for Perfect and over time I started free-styling lyrics and the song grew out of that. In a world with robotic perfection, this song is rarely played the same way twice. Caleb Elliott and Kimi Samson brought it to life with an incredible string section, and Chad Fisher stands out with his trombone parts. After all that serious business, why not have some fun?
9. Perfect (Perfect Suite II & III):
The B-Side was built around Perfect. It’s the oldest song on the record and the first song I’ve written that takes on the episodic format, leading us to start merging our music into movements. It’s also the last song that I collaborated on with our former band mate Joseph. Perfect is an anthem for self-acceptance – a love song for life and a celebration of exuberance in living it.
I wrote Perfect on the porch of a house on Southard Street in Old Town Key West in 2015. I’d recently worked with a friend, Mike D, to design the renovation of this house, and would come down as part of his crew to work on the project a couple weeks each month. On this particular trip, Joseph joined the crew, so we made a little more time to hang out on the porch and play music. It was one of my first solid design gigs after leaving the firm I’d worked for (I used to be in the architecture business), and I was full of doubts and uncertainty in my life. Over the course of that year, I met so many wonderful humans that lived with their spirits freed. The relationships I developed helped me be honest about who I was and what I wanted out of life.
The previous summer, I’d developed a deeper appreciation of Brian Wilson’s genius after a wild night in LA, when the Kings won the Stanley Cup. That night, I may have walked through a movie set on the way to a favorite locals’ bar, found myself lost in a speakeasy, and ended my night on the floor (after a delicious food truck burrito) listening to Smile Sessions on vinyl while the room spun around me. From that moment an idea for a psychedelic beach/surf song evolved. Beth and I worked up what became Part II (0:00-2:35) and started fleshing out the progression for Part III but hadn’t come up with any lyrics yet. Joseph and I were messing around with Part III when the lyrics came to me. Someone rode past on a bicycle with the biggest smile and ‘boom!’, we had the second verse.
Joseph contributed the line, “Living’s hard and dying’s easy…” ‘. The gravity of that still hangs with me and provides a poignant counterpoint to the song. It’s easy to give up. Believing in yourself and being honest with yourself about who you want to be – that’s that hard part. Up to that point, I had lied to myself and gone with the ‘safe’ option. I believed that a 40+hour work week at a stable employer was what we were all ‘supposed to do,’ and I let my art wither because I could never find the time for it. The experiences from that year helped give me the confidence to step fully into a creative life. There’s so much history around it. I will always love this song.
10. Rising Tides (Perfect Suite IV):
Arriving at Rising Tides, we’ve made it through the emotional journey from grief to acceptance to lust for life. With new confidence, we’re ready to leave the island and set back out into the uncharted waters of life. It’s the first day of your second life, and now that you’re aware of it, you don’t have time to be someone else’s work horse. Drop whatever it is you’re doing and go catch your own wave. Live for today!
To track horns for all the songs in the Perfect Suite, we worked out a guide part with Beth on French horn and then brought in Chad Fischer on trombone with La’Roy Bodiford on tenor saxophone together to build out their parts. They were incredible to watch. Jonathan Avant added trumpet and flugel parts to round out the horn section. There were a lot of challenges while working to keep everyone safe during these recording dates, which were during the winter of 2020. While we would have liked to record all of the horns together at the same time, in the end I think the space freed up La’Roy and Chad to shine in ways they may not have within a larger section. I love that. I think this track also speaks to what’s to come with the next record. We’ve made it through the darkness and have listened to the Mourning Sounds. Now we are ready to fly.
11. Wa Wa Wa Water:
There are hidden meanings in everything these days, and sometimes we make meaning out of nothing. This bonus track started from something extra between Chad and La’Roy when they were messing around after recording Perfect. It was almost completely abstract (still is!), but we recorded layers on top of what they did in a reverse engineered kind of way. See if you can figure out what we’re talking about.