Album Auto-nalysis is a regular COUNTERZINE feature where we ask some of our favorite artists to breakdown their albums track-by-track and provide further insight into the thoughts, feelings, and artistic processes that went into making them. For this edition, we asked Nick Van Huis of Detroit dream/twee pop band Of House to detail their new album ‘Feelings’.
1. “It’s a Start”
Nick Van Huis: “It’s a Start” was the first Of House song I wrote. I had started writing the Of House music while I was still with my old band Young Punk. Young Punk was a much more experimental, ambient, R&B/future Soul band. I loved making that music, but I was still writing music like “It’s a Start”, which would not have fit with what we were doing. As a result, Of House became an outlet for me to write these simpler songs while I was in Young Punk. Originally I had no plans of releasing the music, I just wanted to get it down. It was only after Young Punk decided to take a break that I decided to release this music publicly.
“It’s a Start” works as an album thesis. “I want to be Tarantino / But I feel like Michael Bay” speaks to the idea of having lofty ambitions and maybe not hitting them, or feeling doubt about what you are trying to achieve. Working on art alone can make you self-conscious about what you are creating. But ultimately you need to be comfortable with yourself and believe in what you are doing, which is what “It’s a Start” is all about.
Musically, I wanted Of House to reflect music that was more ‘rock’ leaning and put it to the metronomic/motorik beats that I really love. Something like Dinosaur Jr. mixed with Neu!, or Yo La Tengo mixed early Magnetic Fields — when they were using more drum machines. Marrying the hi-ii instrumentation with the lo-fi vocal production. A lushness that wasn’t too overproduced. “It’s a Start” definitely leans more towards a more rock sound, but I think it works as an album opener because it addresses lyrical themes heard throughout and preps the listener for sounds to be heard therein.
2. “Record Store”
NVH: When I was working on the music that would become Feelings, I got engaged, planned my wedding, and started my life with my wife, Amanda. Amanda would be — and still is — a very important part of Of House. Not only was she a sounding board for my ideas, she also sang on almost every song on the album. Her voice brings a softness that my singing voice lacks, and creates more of a dream pop vibe that I was shooting for.
“Record Store” is all about the excitement of being in a relationship with someone and sharing something you love with them. For me that was always trips to the record store. Getting new music and sharing it with someone you care about, learning about what they like and what you have in common, is something I really cherish about my relationship with Amanda. There are also Easter eggs throughout that mention bands and albums that we both really love.
“Record Store” was also the first song where the pieces of what I wanted Of House to be musically started falling into place. The repetition of the rhythm section is meant to wash over you, creating a trance-like atmosphere that the other instrumentation and vocals can play against. In my mind this created what I believe to be the first ‘realized’ Of House song.
3. “Ask Me to Run”
NVH: “Ask Me to Run” is another song about relationships and how you can get in your head about what you and your partner are thinking and feeling. “In my head / You are so mean / You are so cruel / But that’s just me”. If you only give in to those insular thoughts, you’re doomed. Through the lyrics I wanted to communicate that you can have doubt about a relationship, but that doesn’t invalidate the positive feelings you have about the other person. What matters is if they ask you to run, you do it despite feelings of doubt.
Musically, I wanted to incorporate the Highlife, Soukous, and Chimurenga music that I have always loved into an Of House song. This is especially heard in the breakdowns where layers of guitars weave around each other to create an almost orchestral sound. I’ve always loved Thomas Mapfumo, Kanda Bongo Man, and their contemporaries. If you are interested in the sounds in this song you absolutely need to listen to those artists and dig deeper into their catalogs.
4. “Pre-Coffee Contemplation”
NVH: Because the music of Feelings is a little scattershot, I wanted to create a few ambient instrumentals that could function as palette cleansers between groups of songs. The coffee songs function to break up the album into thematic chunks while also telling another story within the album. “Pre-Coffee Contemplation” evokes the morning hours before your day has really started and you can take time to reflect.
5. “Here 4 U”
NVH: “Here 4 U” is another song where the lyrics border on twee. The song is all about being there for someone no matter what they are going through. It’s a simple message of devotion that I wanted to convey in a really blunt way so the message wouldn’t get lost in translation. “Here 4 U” plays in the same sandbox as “Record Store” musically. The repetition of the drum machine and instrumentation wraps around you while the lyrics take you in. The synth lines showcase the first time I really started to use keys as a lead instrument, not using organs and pads that only fill out a song. Those elements are still there of course, but the synth gives the song a buoyancy that makes it more fun. “Here 4U” also has my favorite guitar solo on the album.
6. “The Man Upstairs”
NVH: The title of the song is a tribute to Robyn Hitchcock, who has an album with the same name. “The Man Upstairs” is a simple power pop song about how we all need to be kind to each other. Living in a city, even a relatively small city like Detroit, we are constantly surrounded by people but we don’t always connect with those around us. Just say hi to your neighbors. I think that’s an important message that gets lost too easily.
All of the elements of Of House songs are found in “The Man Upstairs.” Repetitive drum machine beats, lots of down stroked guitar chords played against jangly lead figures, fuzzed out solos, and hooky synths all come together to create a lush musical environment.
7. “Post Coffee Euphoria”
NVH: The second instrumental on the album. This was actually the first instrumental I had written while making Feelings. This song was where I came up with the idea for the coffee songs. After I wrote it it reminded me of the first moments after you have your coffee in the morning. When you feel motivated and like anything is possible. I’m a person that is very sensitive to caffeine so I really feel that surge of endorphins after that first cup of coffee.
8. “Just Words”
NVH: “Just Words” is the emotional centerpiece of Feelings. I made the choice to have only my voice on the song because it is me singing to Amanda. It is meant to deconstruct how I write love songs, detailing all the components that go into a devotional song. It’s also a plea. I may not always have grand romantic gestures, and we may want to tear each other apart from time to time, but I’ll always have words for her and I’ll always mean them. And sometimes that’s enough.
This is the first song that really leans into the shoegaze and noise elements that I had applied more subtly throughout the album. I wanted the bridges to be really forceful musically to back up what I was saying in them. I have to give a shout out to Stephen Stewart, my close friend and musician who mixed and mastered Feelings. This song was probably a nightmare to work with because it vacillates between really quiet to really loud on a dime. He did a great job mixing and mastering the whole album, but he really did a great job with this song in particular, making sure it didn’t break the eardrums of anyone listening to it.
“Just Words” also has my favorite lyric on the album. “An ocean’s no ocean / Without a few waves”. Every relationship has its hardships, but those are an indelible part of any relationship. You can’t really enjoy the good times without making it through the bad. After all, “an ocean’s no ocean without a few waves”.
9. “Rise Up”
NVH: I wrote “Rise Up” right as the MeToo movement was starting to gain steam. This song is all about how men like me have to take shitty men to task. We have to actively help dismantle a system that was built to benefit us at the expense of others. We need to use our privilege to lift up others that don’t have the benefit of that privilege.
This song poured out of me in the course of an afternoon. I was so mad at the world, and especially those that could be so horrible to women. As I was writing the lyrics Amanda helped me better convey what I was trying to say. I had written a verse about how we all have mothers or sisters so we need to stand up for them. Amanda explained to me that you shouldn’t only be motivated to take action against violence or harassment because it happened to someone close to you. Those egregious acts shouldn’t happen to anyone, period. She not only helped me complete the song but she made me see the way I had been viewing these issues had been extremely limited. We shouldn’t need an inciting incident to “Rise Up”. We should do it because what is happening is wrong and that needs to change.
10. “Post Post Coffee Euphoria Crash”
NVH: I have an anxiety disorder. This makes me very susceptible to the effects of caffeine in both positive and negative ways. If “Post Coffee Euphoria” is the feeling you get after you drink your coffee in the morning, “Post Post Coffee Euphoria Crash” is the feeling you get when you’ve had too much coffee. We all know the feeling of having too much coffee and getting jittery. For me, too much coffee doesn’t only come with the jitters, it comes with the deluge of anxiety that comes when you’re feeling slightly off. The stacking guitar lines are meant to convey competing thoughts that you can barely contain as they bump up against each other, fighting for space, until it all crescendos and you can’t contain the madness happening inside you. This song, to me, best conveys what it feels like to fall into a downward spiral of anxiety.
11. “I Give Up”
NVH: The last two songs on Feelings are a thematic pair. Lyrically, I come back to the theme of self-doubt in the face of creation a lot with Of House. Because I write and record this music alone, it is all too easy to feel like what you’re doing doesn’t matter or isn’t good enough. I like to work alone and create these songs in the ways I want them to be created, but it is difficult to not have a sounding board until after a song is completed. My process in Of House is to write and record a song, and then play it for Amanda and my band — who plays live with me and records the parts I write for new Of House songs. I know I can trust them to tell me the truth about things they like or dislike about a particular song, but “I Give Up” is about the moments when I‘m alone and before I reach out to other people. I like the creative control that working alone gives me, but when you’re by yourself it can be hard to not give in to your baser doubts.
Lyrically, that is all right upfront in “I Give Up.” This is the only other song that doesn’t have Amanda on it, and that was also a conscious decision. Because “I Give Up” is about the loneliness that can be felt as a lone creative, it felt appropriate to only have my voice on the song. This song also incorporates more of the dreamier elements that I try to convey in Of House songs. The synth line isn’t as buoyant as other Of House songs and mixes within the song as opposed to being the driving hook. The song isn’t all gloomy though. The extended outro works to be triumphant. Dovetailing with the positive message that is to come in “Get Free”.
12. “Get Free”
NVH: “Get Free” wasn’t the final song I wrote for Feelings, but it was always going to be the last full song on the album. This is the song where I loosen the shackles of self doubt just enough and I begin to feel good about what I am putting into the world. Of course, this being an Of House song, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are still allusions to self doubt and wondering if what I am making is good enough, but “Get Free” isn’t meant to completely cast those feelings aside. I’ll never get free of those feelings. They are a part of me and my artistic process. They can be frustrating and sad, but they also help me get to where I need to be in a way. There is no moment in the song where I truly “Get Free” but that’s ok. Getting free, to me, means incorporating into yourself those aspects that may feel counterproductive. That way you can go through them. There is never a true breakthrough moment in the song where everything crescendos and you can the song breaking free. But “Get Free” is meant to be more subtle than that. You don’t have to bust through a wall to get outside. Sometimes you just need to walk through the door.
13. “Post Post Post Coffee Euphoria Crash Resolution”
NVH: And that brings us to the end of Feelings. The last coffee song had to be a resolution. The feeling of calm when everything finally falls into place. When euphoric highs and anxious lows level out, and you are left with the calm that comes with knowing that everything is going to be alright. It’s not a huge cathartic revelation, it’s the small feelings that we feel most of the time throughout our lives. That’s what I hope people take away from this album. There are highs and lows in life, but it’s the middle where we live most of the time. And those are the “Feelings” that matter the most.
Of House’s ‘Feelings’ is out now and available pay-what-you-want here. Be sure to follow the band on Facebook and Instagram to keep up-to-date with their music. For more words on Of House, you can check out our 8track, where we featured “Get Free”.