“Oh gosh, it’s a sad story, the loss of a keystone species in the Maine woods,” Zak Kendall tells American Songwriter in an interview about GoldenOak’s latest song “Ash”—premiering today (June 16). The single is their fourth and final single ahead of the Maine-based duo’s forthcoming album Room To Grow, due out June 25.
The lyrical lamentation traces the inevitable loss of the native Ash trees in their home state, at the devastating hand of the Emerald Ash Borer. “The invasive beetle has found its way into the Maine forests and has survived and spread because of climate change,” says Kendall. “Ash trees have a deep history in north woods and it’s devastating to see these trees falter.”
“Ash” delicately etches one of several pressing reasons to fight climate change presented throughout their new collection. Kendall and his sister Lena entangle their intricate harmonies in the opening lines, painting a poignant portrait of a disrupted natural balance:
Burn down / All the places I have found / Deep roots in the northern Ground / Only Ghosts know their name / They haunt the woods from where they came.
The track list reads like a reckoning. “Islands,” the first track off of the album addresses the rapidly rising sea levels and the injustice of the implications hidden elsewhere, out of sight.
The following single, “Falter,” dives further into this perspective, detailing the uniquely human quality of corruption. Reminiscent of a late 1960s protest tune, the track perpetuates the irony of political money etching its name in geological history, and the implications of the most privileged people continuing to expand their carbon footprint, endangering less responsible populations in more fragile ecosystems.
“It was a crazy process of learning and rethinking my songwriter knowledge, avoiding a crutch,” says Kendall. In that vein, his approach developed in a new way, putting himself in the path of inspiration rather than his previous practice of awaiting a brilliant spark to overcome him. This meant reshaping an intentional process-focused style of songwriting.
Engineered by Ryan Ordway and Dan Capaldi, mixed by Ordway and Sam McArthur, and mastered by Adam Ayan, GoldenOak’s second studio album is a call to action. In putting scientific data from far-reaching corners of academia to song, the band expands accessibility to the tools required to address the climate crisis on a more broad level before it’s too late.
They recorded the album at Monico Studios—a repurposed barn situated between rolling farmland outside of Portland. GoldenOak began wrapping up sessions the week Maine saw its first case of novel coronavirus. They did not return to the studio until June to add vocal overdubs, leaving several weeks for contemplation.
GoldenOak began as two wilding children running through the Kendall’s backyard, and was more firmly established with their 2016 coming-of-age debut, Pleasant St.
In attempting to define the roots of their dynamic soundscape, Kendall asserts, “I think it puts together the two directions that Lena and I try to pull the band. While she reaches for the rhythm and groove of soul I strive to ground us in more traditional folk, it’s a classic sibling battle, but our music naturally falls somewhere in-between.”
A blues-tinged take on a timely matter, “Ash,” with a hand from Brett Lanier on steel guitar, reached further into the soul-side of their sonic tendencies
“Living in such a privileged place it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the effects climate change is having on the ecosystems we live in, but its effects are here, and in some instances they are irreversible,” Kendall adds.
Yet, he concludes, “I’m never going to give up looking for hope, for an answer to this question. I’ll always seek that space for my unborn child to thrive in a world.”
Listen exclusively to “Ash” before the release on June 17 below. Pre-order Room to Grow here.
Photo by Elizabeth Leclair