There are the have and have nots. There are those that are looked after, while others are forgotten. Trekking through some small desert towns in California, this societal imbalance was even more evident to singer and songwriter Luke Rathborne, galvanizing him to explore destitution, a sense of being stuck in time, and those rare saving graces for the neglected on “29 Palms,” a slower churned tale told through a love story of survival.
“I wrote it after a trip I took to the desert and just thinking about all these people in America who are really just the forgotten, the placed aside, and the waywardness that can take people over when they feel like they’ve been left behind,” Rathborne tells American Songwriter. “The characters in this song are on their last chance, or maybe somewhere past it. It feels good to pull up the rocks and take a look underneath. Here we are with a few guys on their last lap, and we don’t know what’s gonna happen next, but it might not be good.”
Co-produced by Rathborne and Yale Yng-Wong in Brooklyn, NY, the tracks for his upcoming, third album, tentatively titled Ordinary Woes, came to in Rathborne in dreams—literally. He’d wake up each morning with a new song that was vividly gifted to him.
Every thing is perceptible and penetrating for Rathborne, who has also directed videos for Method Man and Jenny Lewis. Earlier this year, he even took the helm of his video for first single “Ordinary Woes.” Fused in anxiety, insecurity, and a sense of lostness, the more electrified “Ordinary Woes” is more manic in its movement than “29 Palms.” Its frantic motion is complemented by slo-mo and swift visuals and punctuated animation—outlines, words, circled in eyes and other scratched over footage of Rathborne in various parts of New York City.
Completely DIY in his art, after moving to New York more than 14 years ago, the Maine-born artist eventually started his own label, True Believer, booked his own shows, and has already pulled in millions Spotify streams in the process since his self-produced 2007 debut After Dark (recorded when he was just 17) and follow up, 2013’s Soft.
The second single off Ordinary Woes, “29 Palms” is a tale of hardship and yearning for hope that can’t help provoke empathy for the underserved, and is told through the eyes of a forlorn character in explicit lyrics People waiting for their pay, and it never seems to come / You got soldiers there, who died out on the road / No one’s sayin’ it’s wrong or right… Stuck in time, I don’t know how we fit this part / Stuck in time, I don’t how we ever start.
“I can’t help but find some of it is a relationship to time I can’t figure out in my songs,” say Rathborne. “It’s always there, looking back, and it’s not something I can seem to shake. I’m always looking back, and forward at the same time. Maybe it’s a bit about that too.”