Song of the Day: Jeremy Enigk – Life’s Too Short

Laura Totten

from Enigk's recent performance at The Triple Door exclusively for KEXP
photo by Laura Totten

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s featured selection, chosen by Afternoon Show host Kevin Cole is “Life’s Too Short” by Jeremy Enigk from his 2009 release Ok Bear available through Lewis Hollow Recordings.

Jeremy Enigk – Life’s Too Short (MP3)

This week we bring you a selection off the new release from Jeremy Enigk who’s album OK Bear was released earlier this month. Many may recall Enigk as the former frontman of the mid-90’s Seattle-to-MTV band Sunny Day Real Estate who were often considered progenitors to the “emo” genre (which is a term just as despised as “grunge” around here). Whatever you called their music though, fans of SDRE were often powerfully drawn to the band and followed them through their on-again, off-again episodes and reincarnations (The Fire Theft), and even beyond as Enigk journeyed out on his own. His first solo album (released in 1996 during one of the off-again periods) Return of the Frog Queen was a marked difference in style-more orchestral and quieter in tempo and feel. It was heavily inspired by his recent conversion to Christianity and evoked powerful images in the listener as he characteristically played with restraint and intensity in his vocals. This change in style influenced SDRE’s next album when they reformed in 1997 but ultimately proved to be too much and the band broke up again (and most would say permanently-though rumors still fly about a reunion) after just one more album together.

The reason I’m rambling on so much about Sunny Day Real Estate and Enigk’s early career is that to me (and I’m sure I’m not alone) OK Bear brings me back to early SDRE. I am and have been a fan of Enigk both as a solo artist and with the group and find OK Bear to be a good reconciliation between what originally drew me to his music and where he’s taken his listeners since leaving the band. For example, today’s song “Life’s Too Short” has that more visceral feel of original Sunny Day songs while still maintaining the more ethereal qualities of his solo work. It could just be that OK Bear was recorded with a small group of performers in a more traditional “band” type of arrangement, but I like to think that it was something that inspired him as he began to incorporate more of the old SDRE songs into his setlists of late.

Regardless of my personal theory, Jeremy was kind enough to answer a few questions about the album and its inspiration.

Is that an old picture of you on the album cover?

Yes, I believe I was 7 or 8 years old in that picture. I’m pretty sure it was the first day of school as well. My parents would buy me clothes before each new school year, but I couldn’t wear them until the first day of school. I remember being very excited and thinking I was so cool in my new shoes.

You recorded all or part of this album in Barcelona right? Did that experience influence any of the music on the album or just the title?

The album was recorded in Sant Feliu De Guixols which is a town north of Barcelona on the coast of Spain. It is very beautiful in some places. The location influenced the music on the album only because all of the musicians who played on it are from there. On a couple songs Santi, Victor, Ricky and Ramon did some traditional Spanish Flamenco clapping. It is very subtle though. However, the writing process was really no different then if I had done it in Seattle. When I sit down at the piano, it is just me and the piano. The outside world is faded out. It is a very internal process. The most direct influence can be seen in the lyrics of the song ‘Sant Feliu De Guixols’ which are naturally about my experience there.

From what I’ve heard so far, a lot of the album sounds like a home-coming to long-time Sunny Day Real Estate fans. Have you been trying to get some distance from this style of song writing? What was it that brought you back?

I haven’t intentionally distanced myself from the SDRE sound. Our sound was something that we all created as a collaboration. Typically I write pretty mellow songs, but when handed to the band, they would end up being quite heavy and powerful, which was usually exciting to hear.

On OK Bear Santi (Producer, Guitar) and Victor (Drums) were both SDRE fans and I believe intentionally drove the songs in that direction, probably because they missed that style coming from me. I would just write a simple song and watch them do whatever they wanted to it.

I’ve seen you perform as just a man and guitar (or piano) and with a full orchestral accompaniment. How do you translate your arrangements between the two-do you write with one or the other in mind then add or subtract layers?

I try to play the songs the same way, whether solo or orchestra. So it is still solo acoustic, but with accompaniment. However, I have to be very careful with the orchestra because the players are following a strict pattern written on paper that I cannot deviate from or the whole thing could fall apart.

Religious themes have been a major part of your music, particularly as a solo artist; do you continue to find a lot of your inspiration from the divine?

Yes, I am continually inspired by the thought of God. Its gravity is always pulling at me. Almost everything in my life whether it be a choice I must make, or my beliefs, or even my own music passes through this sort of ‘God Filter’. So naturally I cannot help but to write about it.

This is the third release under the Lewis Hollow Recordings label; do you find it difficult to be involved in all aspects of producing an album? Some musicians have a hard time switching between the creative and business sides of being an artist is that something that you find challenging as well?

Fortunately my good friend Josh Myers runs the business side of the label and really makes it very easy for me. He is a musician as well, so he understands how one can lose creative sight due to a pressing business issue, but he seems to have the fortitude to deal with it. OK Bear would probably not be released for another 3 years if I were running it alone.

Finally, can you tell me anything about today’s song of the day “Life’s Too Short?” Is it autobiographical? What was your inspiration for this song?

“Life’s Too Short” was inspired by experiences I had while meditating many years ago. Both wonderful and terrifying. It essentially taught me that life is too short to worry about.

Currently there are no upcoming shows posted on Jeremy’s MySpace page, but keep an eye on it as he hopes to tour to support the album in the future. Here’s a series of clips from Jeremy’s recent performance at Neumos backed by the Seattle Rock Orchestra:

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