Album Auto-nalysis is a regular Counterzine feature where we ask some of our favorite artists to breakdown their albums track-by-track, to provide further insight into the thoughts, feelings, and artistic processes that went into making them. For this edition, we asked brothers Nick and Chris Gandolfo-Lucia and Sam Shopp of bedroom pop/indie folk project Birdspotter to detail their new album ‘A Garden Everywhere You Go’.
Christopher: This song is about someone else having a nightmare. It’s like: imagine yourself lying beside someone who is getting rough-housed by a real no-good figment of the dreamworld; this is the first 34 seconds of the song. Second 35 is when they wake up for just a moment, and seconds 36 through 115 are the feverish sleep and cuddles that follow.
Nick: I still don’t quite know what to do with the fact that our album starts with the line “bad dream happened again”, although I do read the instrumental two-thirds of the song as a cure for that bad feeling. It’s almost like those tender, caring moments are precipitated by some kind of external badness coming in. In some ways the whole album feels like a refutation of that, shall we say, “unkillable badness.” [“You vs. the Unkillable Badness” is a song on our first album, Aperture, which we released last year]
Nick: I’ll come back to this later from a different angle, but “Daze” and “Going for a Nice Walk” are sister songs. They take up the same problem from opposing perspectives but rely on very similar logic. Both work by delivering the listener to the last line of the song. For “Daze”, the backdrop of someone important to you having left under disoriented circumstances leads to this hallucinatory confrontation with the person where, above all else, they offer to make you feel okay again. This was the first song I wrote for the album, and I wanted the entire thing to feel soft and dreamlike. Not in the traditional bedroom pop lexicon where that’s code for soak everything in reverb and pads; I wanted it to feel like a current, something that could be followed effortlessly. In its earliest iteration, it was just a duo between Sam and I where he played electric piano and I played guitar.
Sam: That early demo version would give me chills. So much warmth was coming off those two instruments together, I was getting legitimately giddy.
Nick: Incorporating drums into this song was a disaster. It took me like three weeks of just waking up and programming drum beats for like six hours to get anything that worked at all. I would make a beat and send it to Chris and he would be like “you know that doesn’t work” and then I would just try something different.
Christopher: I told him to program a part that sounds like the drums from “Family Curse” off the new Beirut album and he did and that is how the first drum machine/snapping part began to take form.
Nick: The middle of this song especially took forever to sort out, but that’s probably my favorite moment on the whole album. There was this moment mixing it when I could finally hear each part clearly and it just sounded so good. Up until then I was pretty unconvinced that we were actually going to finish the record.
3. “Red Rover”
Sam: When Nick and I recorded “Red Rover” in the attic of his West Philly apartment, we’d go out for cheesesteaks and toss around vague images that we hoped would shape the song. For a while, all we had was a piano melody and these imaginary fields of foxtail grass, black cats, broken wrists, etc. Those dreamt-up places were the main drivers of the song, I think, second only to the steaks.
Nick: Lee’s vegan steaks were the main thing I missed about Philly when I moved.
Sam: Man, fuck. So good.
Nick: Actually recording this song was, shall we say, nonlinear. Sam sent me a demo, I told him we could knock it out in a night (lol), and then we ended up working on it for like…months. It’s probably worth noting that “Red Rover” and “Goodbye! Goodbye!” were the only two songs that weren’t recorded in that week before I moved. “Red Rover” was a lot of fun. We did the song in FL Studio, then later Chris and I redid it in Cakewalk (the program we used for everything else on the album; as a total aside if you are a DIY music person you should really check out Cakewalk) using some of the original .wav files and rerecording some new parts. My old roommate Christina also did vocals on this song and “Goodbye! Goodbye!”. To be honest, I’m still pretty unhappy with the mix on “Red Rover”, but I think that’s for reasons that have to do with a bit of an identity crisis in the music: we often used (what I would consider) really hi-fi arrangements, but recorded in less than ideal conditions with very little understanding of what we were doing. I think the whole thing feels too produced and arranged to get that lo-fi cred, but not well honed enough to be hi-fi.
4. “Two Cats in the Alley”
Nick: I genuinely wrote this song in an hour. I wrote it in the middle of the night after a brief ‘Sad Time on the Phone’ with my partner. Very simply, it’s about the opacity of one’s own feelings when you’re really in the belly of depression. I got off the phone and couldn’t stop thinking about how hard it was to understand my own feelings, and to even understand if I was genuinely trying to do good and be kind. The song is a reflection on that sensation but reinforced by this understanding that, if you look hard enough, there is always something to ruin your day. I think that, especially for people who have any kind of mental health problem, it can sometimes be very hard to know if you are upset because something hurtful has occurred or just upset for more diffuse reasons. Obviously that’s an artificial binary, but alas, we lowly sinners need concepts with which to reason.
Christopher: I want to point out that the first time we played this song it was as a full band, and the second half (what’s now that pulsing dance-y section) was much more of a straightforward punk section. It changed a lot in the recording process and it seemed like Nick really reconsidered what he wanted the song to do and what he thought it could do.
Nick: I was really just trying to recreate that full band feeling for 99% of the recording process. Ultimately I had to contend with the fact that it couldn’t be done without a real drummer, and we didn’t have a real drummer. I ended up listening through everything else on the album and eventually decided that the second half of the song needed to pull on something dancier akin to “Red Rover”. I had already decided that it should directly follow “Red Rover” on the track list. This was sort of fortuitous; the repeated lyrics from the first part of the song feel more meaningful once they are re-contextualized in the context of something high-energy but not angry.
5. “Home/New Thing”
Christopher: This was the last song written for the album. As the story goes, we frantically recorded this album in the week before Nick moved to Canada, and so I wrote this song in the weeks leading up to that recording time as a way of understanding and coming to terms with his move. I wanted to convey the intimacies of home and the strangeness of a home left behind while also underscoring the fluidity of these things—he was leaving, but he could always come home as well. To me, this is the simplest song on the album. It’s about my brother moving away from home and me saying to him, “if you come home / it’s just another type of new thing”.
Nick: I remember you sent me a demo of the song while I was in Georgia. You were like I just wrote this and I think we should record it. We didn’t even really know which songs were going to be on the record yet. I’m really delighted with how this one came out, though. It ended up being a really sweet reflection on what a home is. I listened to it a lot on the flight to Saskatoon.
6. “Goodbye! Goodbye!”
Christopher: Nick, what happened here?
Nick: Well, this song is sort of a remix of another song that doesn’t really exist. I had a few chords I really enjoyed playing on the piano and I just sang “Goodbye” over it for like 5 minutes. I played it once for Sam and he was (rightly) sort of appalled, and suggested that I… not play it anymore.
Sam: Tough love baby.
Nick: I still liked the chords, though, so one night I recorded them into my bootleg copy of FL Studio and sampled it until I had something that sort of flowered. That ended up being the main theme of “Goodbye! Goodbye!”. Sam came over that night and we recorded the vocals and gave the song some structure. The whole thing was done in one night, but I remixed it incessantly after that.
Christopher: You might say this song was the last penny in the drawer.
Nick: I am not sure if someone would say that.
7. “Sunbathing in November”
Christopher: This was the first song written for the album, first demoed in the fall of 2016 — what a long time ago! — and is about 80% GarageBand stock instruments. I demoed most of it in my dorm room, wrote the lyrics a couple months later, quickly tracked them over the second chorus, and then called it a night and watched The Crown. I wanted to write something about vacancy and I wanted to focus heavily on the song’s textures: I felt like emphasizing texture would let me make something that would have the capacity to take on a lot of different emotions, which was always the goal with this song.
Nick: Yeah, I remember you sending me the demo for this song in, like, 2017? It was probably my favorite song of yours at that point (so much so that I used it in a film – but that’s another story). I really enjoyed not hearing the vocal until the end of the song, which ended up being sort of a nice foil for “Oracle”. This was the last proper beat I made for the album, too, and in the end all I really did was spice up the OG GarageBand beat. It’s probably the best beat on the album. Except for that one part in “Daze”. That jawn slams.
8. “Going for a Nice Walk”
Nick: As I sort of alluded to earlier, “Going for a Nice Walk” and “Daze” are sister songs. Both of them attempt to talk about moments when reality becomes so impossible, so surreal, so inconceivable that it transcends itself and becomes a kind of poetry. The objects and people you encounter are so overloaded with meaning that the distinction between what is literal and what is symbolic is no longer tenable. You feel a kind of intrinsic relationship between the form and content of life. Okay, sure, but what the fuck am I saying? The whole song works by delivering you to the last couple of lines about the spring breaking the ice open. It’s the ideal Romantic (capital R) moment in which there is perfect symmetry between internal and external states, so much so that the boundary itself feels a bit pedantic. That’s why the narrator recedes in the final stanza of the song.
Christopher: But, to be clear — the ‘city of bridges’ is Pittsburgh, according to the internet. I’ve always thought it was so cool that you wrote such a beautiful song about Pittsburgh without ever even visiting it.
Nick: Well, I guess it could be Pittsburgh. Biographically, it’s the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I visited a friend (who would later become my partner) there and I couldn’t stop thinking about how the Saskatchewan River ran right through the middle of the city and, consequently, is criss-crossed with bridges. Sabrina (my partner) told me that in the prairie it’s known as the city of bridges. Truthfully I was also reading a lot of Italo Calvino and remain fascinated by the idea of places that have really specific identities but are also quite porous, becoming other places, becoming memories of other moments in that place.
Sam: Death of the author, baby; Saskatoon is Pittsburgh now.
Christopher: I think the right way for me to begin talking about this song is by pointing out its structure. I write a lot of songs in this kind of bipartite form, where the song basically has two movements that touch on the same narrative in different energy levels, emotional registers, time signatures, or aesthetics — I do this on Aperture in “You vs. the Unkillable Badness” and “Sandy Hair”, and on A Garden Everywhere You Go in “Oracle” and “Riverbed”. For me, it does a couple of things: it’s a way of underscoring the fact that there’s always a performative dimension to the narratives that we tell in songs, and I think it can also be really useful for expressing the thematic component of the story.
Nick: Yeah, this has been the aegis of CGL songwriting for awhile. I definitely envy your ability to write this way. I always end up writing too many parts and putting together some kind of jigsaw Frankenstein song. Anyway, for this particular song that structure posed a lot of production challenges. Largely because when we recorded your guitar part the song was still unfinished. We didn’t really know what was going to happen between part A and part B, and we didn’t actually know what would happen after your vocal finished in part B.
Christopher: In some ways, I think that production trouble came from the fact that this song (like “Oracle”) is my attempt to use this structure for a love song. I think there is a pretty formulaic way that this song structure can be used to mope, and here I was trying to turn it into something more hopeful or happy-making. We sat on the question of how to do that for pretty much the entire recording process — “Riverbed” was the first song we had almost every part for, but the last 30 seconds of the song were a mystery to us until literally the last moment of the recording process. We finally nailed it down during our last recording session the night before Nick moved: it was almost 4 A.M. and I just sat down, listened through the end once, and then plunk’d it out on the ol’ pianoforte. I think this song wound up as the last on the album mostly because of that final piano melody — we felt like that moment was really ecstatic and represented the optimistic side of the album in a meaningful way, so we wanted to let it ring and become a retrospective filter for the rest of the album.
Birdspotter’s ‘A Garden Everywhere You Go’ is out now digitally and available to pre-order on cassette via Z Tapes here. Cassettes are set to ship next month. Be sure to follow Birdspotter on Facebook, Twitter, and Bandcamp to keep up-to-date with the band. Further reading available via our friends at Various Small Flames.