There’s something about Neil Young that lit a fire in Jude Flannery. Young’s 1992 album Harvest Moon had a particular impact on the Philadelphia-based artist since it served as part of the soundtrack of a snapshot in time when Flannery first moved to New York City in the early 1990s, and a moment of “immense personal growth” for the artist.
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“I always think about Neil Young, the way he is able to create such incredible songs with a single instrument and vocals,” Flannery tells American Songwriter. “I remember watching him perform Harvest Moon on SNL [Saturday Night Live] surrounded by a bunch of acoustic guitars. It’s hard to find the video of that performance, but it was magical and made a lasting impression on me.”
Driven by Young’s simplified instrumentals and more humanistic narratives, Flannery began working through a collection of songs he had been gathering over the past seven years for his debut, Quiet By Your Side, out Oct. 28.
Produced by and featuring The Walkmen drummer Matt Barrick, bassist and guitarist Quentin Stoltzfus of Light Heat and Mazarin, and War on Drugs’ keyboardist Robbie Bennett, along with Annie Nero on backing vocals, Keir Neuringer (The Irreversible Entanglements) on saxophone, and Zena Kay on pedal steel, Quiet By Your Side was a collective of musicians as much as it was a collection of dreamier folk acoustic introspections of Flannery’s life.
Quiet By Your Side traces the ins and outs of relationships, connections, and divisions, and the internal wrestle of finding oneself, from the more romantic “Stars” and the soulful “Not So Ready,” revisiting when he fell in love with music, and the slow-moving “Don’t Mind You Asking”—the first track Flannery recorded with Barrick and Stoltzfus at their Silent Partner studio—to their recent single “Fighters,” his missive on everyone’s “inner fight.”
Flannery spoke to American Songwriter about piecing together Quiet By Your Side and the story behind his new single “Fighters.”
American Songwriter: This being your debut album, how did you approach beginning the writing process?
JF: I’ve been working on the vocal melodies for these songs for nearly seven years. These melodies were captured on my phone during the in-between moments in my life over that time. I probably have over three hundred little snippets that I have combed over and distilled into these nine ideas.
AS: What is it that ties the songs together on Quiet By Your Side?
JF: Quiet By Your Side explores how connection and expectation are inextricably linked. From a lyrical perspective, I was drawn to thinking about relationships with my partner, my son, my family, and close friends and the journeys those have taken, especially during times of uncertainty. Musically, I wanted the sound to be grounded in natural instruments with alien accents because that is how life feels at times. Acoustic guitar is a basis for everything but I also wasn’t afraid to pull it back to let another instrument tell the story better. This record celebrates the beauty that can be found in loosening one’s grip and just sharing life’s journey with the ones you have chosen to know deeply and who in turn have chosen to know you, too, and to appreciate the comfort that comes with that.
AS: Where does “Fighters” fit in the context of Quiet By Your Side?
Jude Flannery: This song imagines that, in an increasingly divided world, our inner fight may be what we most have in common. Personally, my inner fight is about being who I need to be for my family and who I need to be for myself. They are different expectations for me. It explores the journey we all go through and the moments that drive the fight within us. It touches on a theme throughout the album where the struggle is easier when we have someone with whom to share the uncertainty. Musically, it covers a lot of the things we do on this record, mixing natural, acoustic instruments with unfamiliar sounds and effects.
AS: You have a solid group of collaborators on this album. How did Matt Barrick, Quentin Stoltzfus, and Robbie Bennett get involved, and what direction did the music take as you were fleshing everything out in production?
JF: Matt and Quentin co-produced the record and helped shape the sound in different ways. They recognized the need to build around the core melodies and knew who to bring in to add what was needed. Matt is great at adapting to the needs of the session. He can quickly go from adding percussion ideas to slowing the session down to make sure we know what we are trying to do. Quentin is great at seeing the color of sound, from the instruments themselves to the recording gear. He helps me understand which combination of gear will help create a particular sound and can discuss the sound science behind his approach. Robbie as a contributor really helps bring out the emotion in a song. He finds a way to build on what is there yet still finds ways to shine in the moments in between. The Rhodes performance on the title track, “Quiet by Your Side,” is a perfect example of that.
When I initially brought these ideas to Matt and Quentin, I wanted to find a way to get in the flow. I didn’t bring any pre-recorded material, so I asked that we start with a single mic setup and I recorded 1 min versions of each song back-to-back. As we listened to those versions, it gave me a chance to see where everyone’s energy was—in terms of my own performance and everyone else’s ideas. This began a process where we focused on songs where there was a spark and it was a great way to harness the energy of the collaboration.
AS: Now that Quiet By Your Side is out, what’s next for you?
JF: I’m excited to bring these songs to the stage, both solo and with a band. I feel these songs really are meant to be played live to get the full effect. I also continue to collaborate with Matt Barrick at Silent Partner and we are working on some new material that we hope to release in the spring of next year in the form of an EP.
They [new songs] encompass some ideas that didn’t quite fit into Quiet By Your Side the album but show another side to my songwriting.
Photo: Courtesy of Tell All Your Friends PR