I’ve kept this Young Mothers recording a bit of a secret for a long while now, and it just felt right to release it into the world today. Give it a listen.
EPIPHANY SCHOOL happened very naturally, very easily, and very quickly. I was out of work and living off savings, watching a lot of Battlestar Galactica and drinking a lot of Evan Williams. I’d just spent more money than I should have making a big, fancy record and moving to the city, only to find myself several months later, letting that record linger on the shelf, not working, not going out, hardly speaking to other people. It was ugly. I had five days left in town before going back to Arizona for the holidays, and I didn’t want to show up as low as I felt then. I’d written five songs since I’d moved, and the mission, or at least the opportunity for a mission, seemed clear. Five days, five songs. I’d wake up in the morning and apply for as many jobs as I could, then spend each night recording each song. That was good.
Let me tell you a little about the songs.
Writing this song took close to two years. The first line of the first verse and the last two lines of the second had come to me in a quick flash, then nothing. A year and a half later, I was smoking a cigarette outside of my apartment on New York Ave in Crown Heights when the rest fell out of my brain. I rushed upstairs and typed it all out in a Mac Notes file, played it through a few times, then let it sit for a month or two after than before recording it. I started working on this record, and it was the obvious choice for the opener. The meter changes and slight swing led me to perform the percussive elements rather than program them, and I would guess that a more than slight intoxication led to the choice of playing my coffee table with brushes instead of breaking out and setting up a snare and kick. It worked out well enough.
The seed for this song came out of a long jam with Nate Jasensky. We were very excited by a pseudo-slap part he’d come up with for the song on my acoustic bass, but he wasn’t around much for the next week or two when I did the bulk of the work on what would become the final recording, so that part got pushed out by the concept I came up with while tracking. I think that upset him, which made me pretty sad, but the idea had already taken hold and I couldn’t abandon it.
I made a great demo of this song with Tommy Cormier, and decided to take the individual parts from that demo, turn them into samples, and assemble a final product from those edits, happily I might add.
Oh, The Morning!
I barely remember writing this song. I know I smoked a lot staring out my window at the police precinct across the street, so I probably had done just that, grabbed my guitar, and felt the heat coming in from the Winter sun when I played that figure first. This song is definitely about feeling like a failure and wanting to cry about it, then getting mad at yourself for feeling discouraged. Music’s hard. If feeling discouraged makes you choke up inside, don’t be a musician. This was definitely me telling myself, “shut the fuck up and stop being such a baby about it.” I didn’t listen.
This one’s the doozie, isn’t it? At least in my mind. Again with the windows and the wind… I wrote the first few verses and just hated the whole thing and didn’t want to write it. But the damn song kept running through my head, and that’s generally the test. Nate Jasensky was my roommate then, and he held a very impressive arsenal of guitars in his possession that I took advantage of in his absence around that time. That got the nylon and 12-string guitars on this recording, which, when used together, proved a crucial salve. The ice clanging against glass heard at the beginning of the record is no sample, and it was plenty late at the time of this recording’s creation. Layering often offers a great opportunity to mask imperfections with more imperfections. I wish I’d thought to add some harmony vocals at the time. The hard drive I made this one died not long after, so I’ll never be able to add the pretty harmony parts Fen Ikner later added to the few live performances of this song we made together.
Stuck On The Outside
I don’t remember writing this one either, really. Maybe it started with that opening riff. I haven’t listened to this recording in a long time and am particularly happy with the way that intro turned out!
But what a bummer song, huh? I remember around that time I had just lost a lot of friends and felt just positively disconnected from everything around me. It also felt like nothing new, like that was how my whole life had been. Not true, but feelings are powerful things.
I wanted the record to be creepy, I knew that. It had to feel like it was coming from somewhere beyond the static, beyond the places most people let their minds go, somewhere like that. But it also had to taste like Burt Bacharach, you know? Sweet sweet sweet, with an intricate arrangement. I think that this is a really shitty recording, but I love it to high heaven and feel very proud for having made it.
A Song Worth Singing
This song’s the oldest of the lot and wasn’t written in NYC and had been recorded probably better before. I think it might be a Buddhist song, of sorts. It’s pretty much about how the world is one unending story of change and suffering, and the only path to some form of happiness is through letting go of as much as possible and accepting your status as another bit character in a story that doesn’t have a plot, let alone a protagonist. The funny this is that I know the words say something very different, but i still think that the interpretation above is correct. It’s how the song feels.
Anyway, I’d recorded this one years before, and it’d become my stepfather’s favorite song that I’d written. He didn’t like the quadruple layering I’d put on both the guitar and vocal on the original and asked for me to make him a “clean” version someday. Christmas was coming up, I was broke, and I thought a “clean” copy of the song would pass as a gift. Musicians are shitty people, by and large.
But simply having made this recording in the same sessions as the rest, which were meant as a document of my creations since having moved to Brooklyn, didn’t mean it had to be on the record. But aside from serving as a document, this EP also was probably meant to act as proof that I was doing pretty much okay out here. I wanted to be able to bring this home and tell my people “I’m totally not falling apart”, even though I was, and if I let this collection end with “Stuck On The Outside”, I couldn’t do that. Essentially, this was added for appearance’s sake.
Again, Nate Jasensky’s 12-string came in handy. It’s a tender little song and really needed an airy, sweet quality to it. I think that the other recording that caps off the After Work EP is the superior recording, but I still might prefer this version.
And then I went home, set myself to clean living, and returned to New York to jump start my life, which turned out to include securing, in the same day, both an internship on the radio show Afropop Worldwide, and a position as a barista in a lowly little cafe at the foot of a tall office building in Brooklyn Heights. It did not include putting this record out, or playing many shows, or for a while playing much music at all. Progress is not a straight line.
But making this music made me feel like I’d moved forward, at least a bit. From the start, I’d wanted that other record I mentioned at the beginning, On the Couch with Young Mothers, to be a refined, polished thing, and EPIPHANY SCHOOL’S indulgence in my love for aggressively lo-fi recordings was a direct response to and perhaps a rebuke of that (unmet) perfectionism. (On the Couch with Young Mothers remains unreleased at the current date, the obvious target of my next burst of productivity, whenever that should arrive.) EPIPHANY SCHOOL, or at least my love for it, represents both an abdication of the desire for professional-grade recordings, and an acceptance of my imperfect nature as a vocalist, a musician, a songwriter, an audio engineer, a producer, a person… Seeing as that acceptance has come and gone, over and over again since it’s first arrival, I’ve now found it worthy of commemoration, namely pairing it with a pretty, pink cover and preposterously self-indulgent liner-notes.
I hope you enjoy it.