“I’ve been wanting to make this album since I started writing music,” John Splithoff says of his latest album All In, out today (April 23). Growing up just outside of Chicago, Splithoff knew that music was in his future. After a rollercoaster of a career, All In, is the culmination of what Splithoff was meant to share with the world.
“After releasing singles and EPs over the course of the last eight years, I wanted to make something that felt good to listen to from top to bottom,” Splithoff tells American Songwriter. “Although there is a lot of variety in sound and style throughout this record, I think it stands as a cohesive body of work. I’ve been living with these songs for a long time now, and I like to think that half of this record is extroverted while the other half is introverted. A balance of outwardly confessional love songs with self-analytical inner turmoil, these songs help make sense of what life has been like for me the last year and a half.”
Splithoff offers American Songwriter readers a track-by-track rundown of his new album, All In.
“NOTE TO SELF“
“My brother has always been someone I love sharing music with, so starting the album with an uplifting voicemail he left me one morning seemed fitting. ‘Note to Self’ serves as an intro for the album and the lyrics are some of my favorite words I’ve written. They’re a reflection on how I felt at the start of making this record – a reminder to never stop creating and never try to be something I’m not. Prior to this album I was in a state of stasis with my writing, and I noticed some of my creative friends were struggling in a similar way with their art. With a communal uncertainty, and the universal unpredictability that would follow in 2020, I found comfort repeating the line “everybody’s trying to get through.” At the time of recording I had been listening to Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear” and was influenced to stack a lot of vocals and not be too picky about there being fifty Johns singing at once.”
“My landlord called me on Christmas Eve in 2019 while I was with family in Chicago and told me my apartment had been broken into. I immediately flew back to New York and saw our place was a mess – furniture was flipped over, drawers were pulled out, all of our clothes were in piles on the floor, and there was shattered glass everywhere. A lot of our things were taken, the most sentimental for me being the blue Fender strat I grew up playing. When I was writing this song, I went back and forth between writing a confessional love song and focusing on that break-in, the “thieves” I mention in the chorus stand for anybody I felt had tried to get the best of me in the past and help me let go of the importance of material possessions. I remember having the instrumental playing in my headphones on a loop and I sang the vocals in my apartment till 5am in the dark. I loved getting lost in the making of this song.”
“’Fahrenheit’ is about constantly trying to fill a void and being self-aware about it – dealing with the patterns in people’s behavior when they keep searching for a sense of euphoria, no matter the vice. I wanted the lyrics to be matter of fact but also playful in their delivery over the track, while the narrative is a self-realization for taking one’s own temperature, coming to terms with living a toxic lifestyle. I wrote and recorded this with Alex Mendoza at the end of 2019 and we finished production on it in Boston.”
HOLDING ON TO ME
“’Holding On To Me’ is about being in a total state of infatuation, plain and simple. I wrote the chords on piano over 4 years ago, and the demo resurfaced when I was looking for songs to include on the album. I was inspired by the tempo of Calvin Harris’ “Slide,” Nile Rodgers’ guitar playing, and watching videos of people roller skating. It made me want to create something that drifted in a similar space that paired nicely with warm weather. I recently picked up a pair of roller skates after finishing this song and I gotta say, it’s going really well.”
“I wrote ‘Steady’ at home in NYC at the end of 2019 with Ben Antelis and Mike Campbell. At the time, I felt a lot of doubt about making music and was stuck creatively. More often than not, writing songs for a living is incredibly difficult to turn into a “steady” job, and these lyrics came from a place of gratitude for the people who keep me grounded and have helped me get through just about anything. After demoing out the song at home, I went to Los Angeles for a month to work with the producer duo Likeminds, and came back the day lockdown was issued in New York.
“Checking in with friends and family through everything last year was key to staying inspired and encouraged. The last year has made me very nostalgic and going through 50-plus years of archived family history to create the visual for the music video brought up a lot of emotions. More than anything, it served as a reminder to do better at keeping up with my relationships, and I hope watching the video makes people want to call their dad, mom, sister, brother, partner, or distant cousin twice removed.”
“My friend recently said to me, “You don’t really have any songs in minor keys.” To which I responded “Listen to tracks 6 & 7 on the LP.” “Thrive” hits a feeling of nostalgia in the same way that Seal’s “Human Beings,” Jamiroquai’s “Traveling Without Knowing,” and other UK artists did for me while growing up in the 90s. The inspiration for a lot of this record came from a place of isolation and overthinking when I had become fed up with digesting too much social media while penning these lyrics. I kept hearing people say, “It looks like so-and-so is thriving!” “As a business, we’re looking to thrive within 2 years time.” The word “thrive” kept on popping up, including ordering groceries from Thrive Market. It made me start to think about what success really looks like, and how the lens of curated social media can be exhausting when you get used to mainly seeing people living their best life. I recorded my fiancée, Liz, singing the “Da-Da-Da’s” that happen after the first chorus while we were eating lunch one day and she cringes every time she hears it.”
“So far I’ve talked a whole lot about the struggles and insecurities that went into the writing of these previous songs. ‘WGYG’ disregards all of that for a pure celebration of life and love. Another song I wrote with Mike Campbell and Ben Antelis – it’s also the first song I started recording with the producer duo Likeminds out in LA, two of the most talented producer/engineers I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I had never met them before going out to work with them, we just connected through mutual friends and they dug my demos. We vibed right away when we started working on this song, and we ended up producing five other songs together for this album. Jesse played bass and drums, Chris played synths, organ, trumpet, both programmed drums and percussion, while I played guitar, keys and synths. The environment they have is amazing for making music, and it was probably the happiest place I could be right before the world started to panic. After producing 6 songs with them, I came back to NY the day lockdown was issued last March.”
“NOT A THING I WOULD CHANGE (INTERLUDE)“
“I think the chords and melody in the last 45 seconds of ‘Fahrenheit’ are hauntingly beautiful when taken out of context and stripped down, so I brought them back here to serve as a bit of a breather after ‘WGYG.’ I think the mood of this interlude and the next song are how I felt a lot of the time. At the core of this washed out lyric, “Not A Thing I Would Change” comes from a place of getting lost in nostalgia and is a line that resurfaces from the ending of ‘Fahrenheit,’ it’s not easy for me to explain…but sometimes I just find myself feeling exactly how this track sounds.”
“SLOW TO RISE“
“’Slow to Rise’ trails the mood of the interlude by trying to find some solace in dealing with a lot of built up uneasiness. It took a while for the words to come to me for this one, but they’re a meditation on how I’d leave my apartment to take a walk around the city everyday to get out of my head. Even before quarantine started, I found myself in this cycle of feeling like the days were blurring together and I had a hard time putting my finger on what my problem was. After going in regularly for Covid testing, I thought about how so many people are looking to have someone tell them exactly why they’re feeling a certain way both physically and mentally, and there’s a longing in this song to get relief by having someone tell you, “It won’t be like this forever.
“I had a demo of these chords with the melody laying around when one night I recorded the rain falling outside my window and heard an ambulance in the distance around 1am, it was a very ‘New York at night’ moment. I went on to write and produce this song in Georgia, recording my Anderson telecaster through an old red knob Fender Twin amp and having Jake Goldbas track drums from upstate New York. The outro of this song is a voice memo of me playing guitar and singing in a bathtub. When I’m in the right state of mind, this is my favorite song on the album.”
“GOOD TO GO“
“One of my biggest influences growing up was Pink Floyd – David Gilmour’s solo on ‘Time’ made me want to learn how to play guitar. The first band I played with in high school had only two gigs, and all we did was play Pink Floyd covers at each one. ‘Good to Go’ comes from a progressive rock influence heard on The Wall, mixed with the Lightning Seeds and ‘Connected’ by Stereo MC’s. I remember seeing the latter song in a trailer for Blow back in 2001. I obviously had no idea what the movie was about at 10 years old, but I remember thinking the guy looked super badass carrying his briefcase to the music in the trailer. I think ‘Good to Go’ has a similar briefcase carrying aesthetic, it’s a song to strut and drive slow to. It’s about grinding it out through ups and downs to reach your goals, despite whatever wins or losses, and stop overthinking things. This caps off the introverted songs on the album.”
“The last of the extroverted songs, and the last song on the album – ‘All In’ winds it down to recount a bit of history between Liz and I. The two of us were neighbors growing up outside Chicago. I used to hop the fence when we dated in high school. We broke up when I went to college and didn’t speak for 6 years until running into each other at a bar in NYC – I was out for a friend’s birthday and she was on a date. Soon after, we caught up and became friends for a few years before she moved to Australia for work. One day she messaged me on the other side of the world to tell me my music was playing on the radio in a cafe in Brisbane. She moved back to NY and we eventually got back together…and now we’re engaged. I wrote this with Ido Zmishlany in Brooklyn after telling him that story. This song, along with this entire album, is about being “all in” with all of your relationships, with yourself, and with committing to do the things that make you happy, healthy, and inspired.”