When Seattle-based musician, Daniel Lyon, was born, he was premature and weighed only three-pounds-eight-ounces. As a result, for the very first few days and weeks of his life, the infant had to spend his time in an incubator, watched by nurses. There, he says, when he cried, the nurses would take him into a room and put on a radio and, more often than not, he would stop his wailing and listen to the songs. One wonders if he learned to cry just to get to the speakers! Nevertheless, today, music continues to comfort Lyon, front man for the Pacific Northwest rock band, Spirit Award, which is set to release its next LP, Lunatic House, in March 2021 and debut its newest single, “Lily of the Valley,” here today.
“They’d take me into their office all the time,” Lyon says, with a laugh. “I feel like that has some kind of significance.”
As Lyon grew up, though, music stayed in his life. At ten-years-old, he began to follow in his older brother’s footsteps. His older brother started to pick up the guitar and had even began lessons. So, something of a tag along at the time, Lyon mimicked his brother’s new habit. Growing up in a small Ohio town, Lyon says, there wasn’t much else to do anyway. Music was relaxing, cathartic. He enjoyed making it. It wasn’t tangible, it wasn’t easily explained. It just felt powerful. Later, at sixteen-years-old, Lyon went on a month-long road trip with friends, which cemented in him a love for travel. Not long after that, Lyon joined a band in Cincinnati, toured a bunch and, in 2012, he landed in the Emerald City.
“I had no job and not a lot of money,” he says. “I just did it.”
At first, Spirit Award, the band he founded, was a project with multiple members and songwriters. But, more recently, the project came come to be just Lyon’s creative output. He writes all the parts, plays all the instruments. In 2018, Spirit Award came out with its acclaimed 10-song LP, Muted Crowd. Now, two years later, fans are interested in what the new record may sound like. Without giving too much away, there is a strong pulse to the LP, an industrial looming that portends drama. Produced in collaboration with engineer Trevor Spencer (Father John Misty) and drummer James Barone (Beach House), the album has grit but also meets a high sonic standard.
“One of the big influences that we were trying to emulate was the band, Suicide,” Lyon says. “They use a lot of drum machines and have this lo-fi grit but still with this weirdness to it. In general, we wanted things to be pretty fuzzy but not, like, super lo-fi because then I’d just record that in my bedroom.”
The record is angular, rich with heavy low-end and throbbing, delayed bass lines. There’s a sense of release on the album combined with a pleasant, ethereal heft. The record recalls other Northwest greats like Perfume Genius and even Alice In Chains. All of the songs, which began barebones, evolved as the days and weeks stretched out in the studio. For the new single, in particular, Lyon says he wanted to simultaneously combine a dance vibe with a weightiness. From there, he built and grew the song’s foreboding framework. As the name might suggest, the record was inspired by the idea of a haunted house where each room – each song – is a new place to induce goose bumps.
“We all came blind to it,” Lyon says. “We listened to my demos and made up what would make sense. Some songs were really fleshed out – it was fun to work on that together in the studio. James and I, most of the songs were me playing bass and him playing drums live with Trevor engineering. It was nice to have a small crew of people.”
For the release of the record, Lyon partnered with Share It Music, a non-profit Seattle label founded by Cayle Sharrat, which is distributed by Sub Pop Records. As part of the deal, Share It donates twenty-five-percent of the record’s profits to a charity of the artist’s choosing. Lyon decided to donate the money generated from his record to the ACLU. The mission of the band, he says, is to try and do more than just make music. Today, of course, there is a need for help and charity. And as Lyon continues to look to the future, he hopes 2021 will bring good news as opposed to the reams of bad it showered him with in 2020.
“I have no expectations now,” Lyon says. “At the beginning of this, I had already taken time off to write the record and record it. I wasn’t playing shows but I had tours lined up for March and April and beyond, for going back to Europe. All that is out the window now, of course. It was a wakeup call, too. Sometimes plans go horribly awry.”
But with each day, there is a new opportunity. In each hard time, there is at least a sliver of hope that could lead to a better future. That’s the reality of life and the reality of music, in many ways. A song may mean one thing to you on one day and another a week later it may reveal something totally new. The only thing one can control, therefore, is to stay listening.
“One thing I’ve been thinking about recently,” Lyon says, “is just how music in different spaces or different times in life can mean something totally different to you. I’m fascinated with how it hits you, how there is a different meaning to a song depending how it relates to your life somehow. That’s the magic of how it works in people’s lives.”