Saunder Jurriaans Faces His Past, and All its Monsters, on ‘Beasts’

Saunder Jurriaans has been fighting monsters for some time. Nearly a decade earlier, as he was coping with severe depression, Jurriaans started unraveling a number of often imaginary “creatures” impacting his life and mental health at the time. What pieced together over the next several years was a revelation that turned into Beasts, a narrative of songs exploring moments of solace in the darker times, a reverence of the past, and a greater understanding of his current life, and all its remaining “beasts.”

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“The whole album is a beast and each song is a beast,” says Jurriaans of debut solo album.

Hynoptic from its lo-fi opening chants of “All Just Talkin,” and slow jolt of “A Different Shade of the Time” with Jurriaans affirming I’m falling faster than light / Faster than I can scream / I must be crazy / I must be. Pillowed by mesmerizing instrumentation, Jurriaans’ cinematic soundscape is weaved into each chapter of Beasts‘ storyline, sloping through a meditative journey magnified on “Easy Now.”

Originally written while Jurriaans was trying to dig out of a deeper depression, “Easy Now” is a song that has taken on new meaning over time, and one that’s more reflective of current times. “As I keep listening to it, it has taken on a larger meaning in what’s going on in the world today,” says Jurriaans. “It’s about the current situation, and the way everybody’s separating and forgetting about each other in a weird way.”

Moving through clapping percussion and tribal beats, director Brady Corbet (Vox Lux, The Childhood of a Leader) matched the motion of “Easy Now” in its video, featuring dancer Celia Rowlson-Hall (choreograher for Alicia Keys, MGMT) in her own self-choreographed piece, shot in the back of a moving truck near Jackson Pollock’s house in Springs, NY, and where he passed away in a car crash in 1956.

“There’s just a real divide, and it’s almost like we’re trying to fix things, but somehow we’re pushing each other farther apart,” says Jurriaans. “‘Easy Now’ is an anthemic cry to try and put us back together.”

Adding a momentary break, “The Small Follower” offers a slightly uptempo respite before the crunching build of the six-plus minute “Ghost Walk.” Easily transfixing throughout, Beasts‘ mercurial score spirals within Jurriaans’ intricate arrangements, from the melancholy trance of “All the King’s Men” and “Last Man Standing” into classical strings saturating “Brittle Bones,” and the chaotic movement of “I”m Afraid (I’m Awake). “The Three of Me” keeps its exploratory tone covering all psyche bases, before Beasts‘ more prog-induced close of “Miles To Go.”

Since Beasts was predominantly written in 2013, it’s difficult for Jurriaans to trace the origins of a specific track’s “monster,” though newer songs “Ghost Walk,” “Last Man Standing,” and “I’m Afraid (I’m Awake)” were written when he was in a different place, mentally. 

“When I’m listening to a record, I want it to feel like even though all the songs have a line through them, there’s a new experience” says Jurriaans. “Even if it’s not on every song, maybe there’s an arc to the record that brings you to a new place. It becomes a story. It’s not just the same kind of feel the whole time.”

Moving on from his early psychedelic-prog rock with band Tarantula (later named Priestbird) to composing for TV and film—working on “American Gods,” “Ozark,” Boy Erased, “The OA,” Enemy, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, among other movies and series—Jurriaans admits that releasing his first solo album was the most daunting task.

With dozens of songs building up on his hard drive over the years, Jurriaans found himself revisiting them every few months—changing a lyric here, re-recording a vocal there, or writing an entirely new song or two—until a couple of years ago, when he decided to finally compile everything into a body of work.

“I didn’t really know what to do with them [the songs], because I was scared to put them out,” admits Jurriaans. “Everything was changing so fast, and I felt like a deer in headlights, so I left them there.”

Eventually, Jurriaans started sending tracks to friends and business associates to get more feedback. “Gradually, I was just trying to build up my self esteem to put it out,” share Jurriaans. “I was dealing with my own self criticism, but I think as far as what I decided to put on this record, I think they just organically flowed together. It felt right. There was nothing that I felt I forced on the album.”

Recorded prior to the the pandemic, Jurriaans, who moved from New York to Los Angeles a year ago, says he’s grateful that he can still work from his home studio during this shutdown, including composing various score for film and TV, something Jurriaans first dipped into while working on 2010’s Two Gates of Sleep, directed by a fellow Rhode Island School of Design friend Alistair Banks Griffin, and composed along with long-time collaborator, and former Priestbird bandmate, Danny Bensi.

“Film scoring has created a lot of my creative bandwidth,” says Jurriaans. “It really expanded my toolbox as a musician, not just by forcing me to learn other instruments, and writing with other instruments, but the texture and storytelling added so much to my skill set.”

Saunder Jurriaans (Photo: TJ Martin)

Pulling in former Priestbird bandmate Greg Rogove, along with and Bensi on Beasts, most of the instruments were played by Jurriaans, while the abstract depiction of creatures on the album’s cover art was contributed by his wife, artist Patricia Iglesias.

Between the steady Spotify streams and the attention the new album is getting, it’s all beyond anything Jurriaans imagined for Beasts. “I put a lot behind it, and there’s a lot of love for it,” says Jurriaans. “That for me is a huge boost to my self-esteem as a solo artist.”

Jurriaans adds, “I was so scared for so many years of those songs. When I decided to put this out, my goal was literally to get it out and hopefully 100 people that I didn’t know might listen to it, and that would be enough for me, and then it could disappear.”

With more songs to go and in the midst of working on new Netflix original films The Devil All The Time and The White Tiger, the HBO doc series “Lady and the Dale,” and an upcoming documentary on Jacques Cousteau, Jurriaans is also busy producing his new podcast series “Giant Steps.” 

Inspired by individuals leading healthier lifestyles, Jurriaans, who has already ran two marathons within the last five years and says it helped him escape the darker parts of his life, wants to address the physical and mental benefits of long distance running.

“At first it was kind of like a fitness thing, but now it’s become an almost spiritual practice for me,” says Jurriaans. “I had this idea that maybe there are people like me out there—artists, musicians, directors, writers—that gravitate towards long distance running, have a similar, regulatory experience with it.”

Working along with editor and sound designer Matt Hannam (“The OA,” Vox Lux, Wildlife), each episode will feature its own original score. Jurriaans’ first batch of guests include novelist Julian Tepper, director Antonio Campos, musician Sondre Lerche, tattoo and visual artist Minka Sicklinger with upcoming appearances by Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! and others.

“It’s turned into this interview-based podcast with a full sound design and score, so it’s more immersive,” says Jurriaans. “We’re just going to see where it goes. It’s really like a whole new world for me, and that’s scary.”

Between running and Beasts, Jurriaans has managed to tame some of those entities that used to haunt him, and still linger. In a much better place now than when he first starting writing Beasts, Jurriaans has had plenty of time to reflect on each song, what it means, and if it still resonates now. “I always try to read and look at what the song is about and whether it applies to myself or what I’m going through in the moment,” says Jurriaans.

“A lot of these songs came out of a specific period of time, but as I revisited them, I was always very conscious of what it represented about me in that period,” he says. “It was important to me to make sure that they were still relevant. Maybe I’m not in that same place, but I still struggle with similar issues. Hopefully wherever people are at, they can relate to them in some way.”

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