Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of 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 selection, featured on the Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, is “We Were Guests Here” by Solvents from the 2010 album Forgive Yr. Blood self-released on Bee Resin Records.
Listening to Forgive Yr. Blood, the latest album from Port Townsend-based Solvents, is a folk-punk indie rock joy all the way through. The melancholic, urgently melodic vocals get into your memory and leave elegant lived-in ruminations alongside sharply funny lyrical observations about working class love, life, failure, and desire. This is indie-based pop, but not chilly or arch, more like a warm blanket given by an old friend as you sit down by the space heater in his basement to chatter over old times and flames with a little bourbon. The fact this is music is created by an engaged couple who played together in a traditional Irish folk band, with a friend on drums, in an area known as a laid back, inspired artists community is not surprising.
The middle of the eight song CD is the tour-inspired confessions of “We Were Guests Here,” on which singer-songwriter Jarrod Paul Bramson (also guitar, bass, piano, some drums, etc.) captures that smoking-behind-the-club-after-an-exhausting-set, before-hitting-getting-in-the-van-again mood perfectly. We also asked Bramson about his unique relationship to band-members Emily Madden (violin, vocals) and percussionist Sasha Landis.
“We Were Guests Here” is a rougher sounding rock song for you, a more aggressive anthem. (You could have a lot more of these, but there’s a great deal of variety on your CD Forgive Yr. Blood.) Is this the first way it was played when it was written? Was it written with the band? Are most of your songs?
“We Were Guests Here” was written one night after some drinking had happened. I wrote it alone on an acoustic guitar. Honestly, I remember saying to myself, “I want to write a song that sounds like the 13th Floor Elevators version of the Bob Dylan song ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” I think I was just buzzed enough to justify “lifting” the melody and twisting it to my liking. At first I was pushing for a slower, trippy version, but Sasha held on to that beat and Emily agreed with him. I couldn’t argue it anymore and I’m happy with the final result.
For the most part, I will write the “basic” song on my own. Sasha and I will work them through basic recording (guitar, drums, scratch vocal). Then, Emily writes most of her parts while shes doing her overdubs. The recording process plays a HUGE part in the songwriting.
The lyrics seem to be about war; the road (whilst touring?); maybe both, and “starlings / were not darlings,” so maybe a traitor too — ? Can you reveal what inspired the lyrics?
Its basically about the confusion and beauty of being a person, or a concise being. Its also about tour. The line “on the set list/we were restless and raw” is basically me in some fucked up cowboy bar in Pendleton, OR, playing and looking at the set list, wishing to god I was home!
The “starlings” line was inspired by…???? I’ve been asked this before and I really don’t know. I like how it sounds and I like the imagery. Its not everyday you get to rhyme starlings and darlings!
Jarrod, you played guitar in co-Solvents’ Emily’s father’s traditional Irish folk band. She plays delicious violin and sings with you now, but did you meet her after playing “weddings and contra dances” with her dad?
I grew up playing in punk/rock bands. Eventually, I kinda hit a wall in music. At that time, I didn’t wanna do rock music and I was scared to show people my “folky” songs. I had known Emily for a while and I was sort of jealous of her as a musician! We were “friendly” but not too close. Then, she asked me to play guitar for her and her dads Irish Fiddle tune band. (Emily was a member of her dads band, too.) It was a good excuse to get out of the house and turned out to be really fun!! It also really helped my rhythm and chord changes. We played a bunch of weddings and contra dances out here on the Peninsula. Once we started doing that, I thought it might be cool for her to play on my songs. Both projects really inspired us to start playing again and the results were instantly great.
What music did you guys grow up on? (I’m going to guess material both very autobiographical and often political.) Any artists you can name? How the hell would you know to just play Irish guitar for a folk band, and also start writing such fully fleshed out music on your own as a bedroom trio?
Of course, the Beatles loomed large in my childhood. Along with Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Mamas and the Papas, Beach Boys. Truthfully, the first time I heard the”garage days” EP by Metallica was the real moment I said “OK, I have to play music.” Then punk music! Lots of it! (Then I was) on to The Cure ( my favorite!) and The Smiths, Joy Division, and then Seattle — Sub Pop Records! Mudhoney, Young Fresh Fellows, Coffin Break, Seaweed, Soundgarden, The Melvins, Flop, Nirvana (“Smells Like Teen Spirit was the first guitar riff I ever learned!) Husker Du changed me in ’94 too! So late, I know, but that was it for me. Then on to Sugar and Bob Mould. I’ve been to like 15 Bob Mould acoustic shows! I was such a fan. I went out and bought a 12 string acoustic guitar with the intent of baring my soul in song. Not so good…
Was Sasha Landis playing drums when you played out with Kimya Dawson and Karl Blau? How did you meet Sasha? And of course, how did you hook up with those artists, and how did those tours go?
Karl and we have done tons of shows together and he helped mix our last CD, Madonica. Karl is a dear friend and a huge inspiration. Hes played drums for us many times and recorded us as well. I’ve also played drums for him and a bit of piano at shows. We’ve planned a bunch of tours, but have yet to go on one with him.
Sasha has been around town forever. Hes a bit younger than me so I’ve kinda watched him grow up. Basically, we invited him to jam one day and it clicked! Beyond his amazing drumming skills, He has been a true believer in the music since day one. Which is HUGE to this band existing. I really enjoy playing with him. Sasha has drummed for us on three West Coast/Southwest tours.
Kimya Dawson lived in Port Townsend for a few years. I got to know her though this open mic that I was hosting at an all ages coffee shop called the Boiler Room. We did shows some together as well. Fast forward a few years: Kimya emails me and asks me to tour with her through the Midwest and up the West Coast. It was my first tour and I was solo. It was really great! Seeing Kimya in action was mind blowing! I learned a lot from her on that trip and I’m very thankful for it.
What’s your discography — and especially past albums that you would recommend to people who pick up Forgive Yr. Blood and fall in love with its eight songs of emotionally moving, densely rhythmic, melodically dazzling melodies?
I’ve put out a lot of cds!!!! at least eight or nine. The super early ones are out of print, but I’m planning on putting together a “best of the early stuff” CD soon. As far as whats available: Madonica, Manresa Castle, I Hear the Desert is A Lonely, Hot Place to Die…
You can get these through our website or online through i-Tunes.
Why do you choose to stay in Port Townsend? They have quite a wonderful arts community there, right? Do you play out much locally?
Port Townsend is a fantasy world! It’s not real! It shouldn’t be able to exist but it does… it’s not like anywhere else I’ve ever been. We have so much support here! Our friends and family are the best. In fact, its hard to tell who’s a friend and who’s family anymore. I get so much inspiration from the people I surround myself with here. Everybody I know is an artist and their work is all very unique if not strange and totally genius! The isolation is key. Its close enough to get places but far out enough to be untouched. There’s no way we could do what we do anywhere else.
We do play locally a couple times a month. We are lucky to have such good friends and fans here. They keep coming to see us and are very supportive.
Is the musical diversity on Forgive Yr. Blood – featuring a barrel-house piano romp (“Empty Vessel Blues”) right next to a fuzzed out “Check Yr Head” style city-swamp hip-hop/rock jam — typical of your live performances, or are you stretching out a bit for this release?
We can do every song on this album live except the last song “The Coastal Plain”. The live versions are different but just as good, if not better.
What are your immediate plans for “We Were Guests Here,” and for the band tour/music scene/further release wise?
We are planning on touring down to SXSW in march for sure! We would love to play more shows in Seattle, Olympia, Tacoma and Portland as well. Were really hoping to meet some like minded bands to play shows with. Also, we would love to get on a label!! I want to make a real record REALLY bad! We are currently working on new songs for a new album, to be done in in early summer 2011.
Solvents plays their next show at their CD release at 9 PM this Saturday, December 18, at Sirens in Port Townsend. They are indeed planning on tours for Forgive Yr. Blood and playing the upcoming SXSW festival as well. Check for further updates on their MySpace page.