Typhoon, Laura Gibson, Lost Lander
View a promo video for the show here.
I once came very close to dying (bug-bite, failed organs), and though my life was spared thanks to thanks to modern medicine and a kidney given to me by my father, nonetheless I live with a persisting sense that my time is borrowed. My resolution–what I intend to do with my finite allotment– is to reach some small, yet conclusive understanding of my life in particular and the world in general; an understanding accomplished, in part, through a combination of music and words.
The last record we made, Hunger & Thirst, is a record that purposefully confuses physical sickness with ontological sickness, i.e. that most desires are only symptoms of the desire to be someone else. This new record picks up where we left off, though this time “purposefully confusing” the idea of time as a place. It imagines that my past is a composite of old houses and apartment buildings, that my memories are these little artifacts strewn about, and then there’s me with a single candle, picking up the artifacts one at a time and examining them by the dim light.
Songs as personal as these perhaps ought to be burned or buried rather than be paraded before an audience. But there is something transfigurative in playing music with so many close friends–what starts out as a solemn, solitary attempt is turned into something both communal and cathartic. I think we even have fun at times.
A New Kind of House (the title itself is borrowed from the brilliant poetry of Zach Schomburg) was artfully recorded on location (our house) by repeat-collaborator Paul Laxer; the artwork was beautifully realized by Ricky Delucco, and we have Tender Loving Empire to thank for so tenderly helping us put out a record a second time.
kyle ray morton / 01.11.2011
La Grande (pronounced in the way of the American West, without any hint of French inflection – “luh grand”) is a town just east of the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon where native Oregonian Laura Gibson found inspiration while writing the songs that would become her new album of the same name. Gibson describes La Grande as a place that “people usually pass through on their way to somewhere else, but which contains a certain gravity, a curious energy.” She’s done more than her own fair share of traveling, playing over 200 shows in North America, Europe and Asia since the release of 2009’s acclaimed Beasts of Seasons (Hush Records), and La Grande is, in part, an album about journeys and transitions.
The energy of the title track kicks off the record with a battering ram beat, hitting the ground like a herd of galloping horses. With a Tropicalia pulse, dirt-kicking distortion, whimsical woodwinds and heart murmur hooks on “Lion/Lamb,” and rail-jumping rhythms, majestic melodies and beyond-the-grave broadcasting of “The Rushing Dark,” La Grande plays like an imaginary film score. It’s an album about strength and confidence – about the tension between wildness and domesticity and the courage required to embark upon either path, about asserting one’s will rather than submitting – and it’s a significant departure from Beasts’ subtle meditations on frailty.
The thematic notion of aggressively taking matters into one’s own hands was at the front of Gibson’s mind during much of the process of developing La Grande, a period in which she also took on the task of transforming a 1962 Shasta trailer into a makeshift studio/private writing place. The twin projects of restoration and transformation – all that sanding, painting and do-it-yourself problem solving – seeped into her music, a sometimes surreal blend of styles that doesn’t belong to any particular decade or genre, but leaves the listener with the distinct impression that something old has been repurposed in a brilliant new way.
One reason the sound of La Grande is so purposeful is that, for the first time, Gibson remained in the producer’s chair throughout its making, bouncing between home- recorded vocal sessions – piling as many as 15 Laura Gibsons on certain tracks – and proper takes at Type Foundry Studios alongside engineer and good friend Adam Selzer (M Ward, Norfolk and Western) and some great players including Calexico’s Joey Burns, members of The Dodos (Meric Long and Logan Kroeber) and The Decemberists (Nate Query, Jenny Conlee), clarinetist Jilly Coykendall, and the drumming duo Rachel Blumberg and Matt Berger (affectionately known together as “Blumberger”). Don’t get the wrong idea, though. While La Grande’s stage is shared with some very special guests, Gibson is at the center of every last note; contributing bits of bass, guitar, piano, pump organ, vibraphone, synthesizer, marimba, even a marching drum. The result is richer and more revealing than any of her previous records – two solo albums and an experimental LP with Ethan Rose – but it never loses sight of her start as a young singer-songwriter who felt more at home playing in an AIDS hospice (where she had a standing weekly gig for two years) than in Portland’s vibrant (and at times, overwhelming) indie music scene.
Inspiration for Gibson’s work is also drawn from the geography and history of Oregon itself, as reflected in La Grande’s cover imagery. Raised in the logging town of Coquille, Gibson notes, “So much of my upbringing was tied to the forest – economically, visually, culturally.” The cover photo, revealing Gibson lit by a fire in the dark Oregon forest, conveys both the wildness and strong-willed-ness of the record. The blanket Gibson is wrapped in, which has resided in her family home as long as she can remember, also ties back to La Grande. Woven in the nearby Pendleton Woolen Mills, the ‘Chief Joseph’ design represents strength and bravery (Joseph was the Nez Perce chief whose people were eventually evicted by the American military from the Wallowa Valley just east of La Grande, but whose efforts both as a leader of resistance and as a peacemaker made him an icon).
Gibson’s previous work was praised for its timelessness, for the almost vintage quality of her voice. But of course her art and outlook aren’t solely influenced by the past. “I am someone who loves old things and could easily dwell in nostalgia,” she explains, “but I really felt this needed to be a statement about the future – about moving forward fearlessly – and I think the process of making the record and the finished album reflect that desire.” As Gibson sings on the ninth track of La Grande, “Time is not against us.”
As Geoffrey Chaucer was a forester/poet and Norman Jolly was a forester/cricketer, Lost Lander’s Matt Sheehy is a forester/songwriter. Sheehy’s day-to-day workplace is the mighty wooded expanse of the Pacific Northwest, where the landscapes are as newly raw as can be found anywhere on earth—where mammoth trees take root in fertile volcanic soil and a frigid ocean batters the rugged coastline. And with the same physicality that Sheehy works with the contours of the earth, so do his songs chronicle the terrain of the human heart.
DRRT is Lost Lander’s debut recording, but it is not Sheehy’s first foray into music. As a member of the duo Gravity & Henry, the former Alaskan released and toured behind two albums; after their dissolution, Sheehy released the critically lauded solo effort Tigerphobia in 2008. Through his work as guitarist for Ramona Falls—the project of former Menomena keyboardist/vocalist Brent Knopf—and in fronting his own band the Menders, Sheehy has established a firm foothold in the thriving Portland, OR music scene. Now with a live backing band that includes musicians Patrick Hughes, Dave Lowensohn, and Sarah Fennell, Lost Lander marks the newest and most significant chapter in Sheehy’s musical career.
With Knopf as producer, the two worked in a variety of locales ranging from the weather-beaten yet devastatingly beautiful Oregon Coast to the sodden interior of the Olympic Peninsula’s rainforest. Taking advantage of Knopf’s skill with systems and recording software, the pair sculpted an arresting collection of tracks that grew far beyond the song’s origins on Sheehy’s guitar. Sheehy and Knopf then enlisted a gallery of Portland musicians—including Nick Jaina, Akron/Family’s Dana Jenssen and Seth Olinsky, and many others—to contribute to DRRT, often spontaneously recording the guests’ parts as they were hearing the tracks for the very first time.
From the first notes of the album’s stunning opening track, “Cold Feet,” it’s clear that the results are something uncommon. Lost Lander’s sound is that of mechanized complexity working in perfect tandem with cutthroat human honesty. There are dense clusters of guitars and heart-stoppingly pretty keyboards; there are intricate layers of human vocals and fat, squelchy bass notes; there’s percussion that chitters with all the complexity and grandeur of a forest of insects. But what matters here are Sheehy’s songs. Dealing with heartbreak, joy, and the never-ending mystery that is human interaction, his melodies maintain an endearing innocence even as they’re expertly assembled into watertight vessels. The album’s title itself, DRRT, could be considered a computer-esque version of “Dirt,” and one of Sheehy’s chief concerns—in both forestry and songwriting—is that marriage of nature and technology.
The name Lost Lander came from a dream Sheehy’s mother had about Wisconson's Lost Land Lake, where she spent much of her childhood, and it captures the dueling forces of memory and the unknown that permeates so much of DRRT. Lost Lander is a force to be reckoned with, one that’s as elemental and generative as the forests where Sheehy spends his days.