“Ben Seretan” out October 28th
Double LP, cassette, and digital
Big release show at Shea Stadium, October 29th
Pre-order LPs and Digital here, cassette tapes here.
“Ben Seretan” is an album that was made with a wide coalition of friends, recorded in chunks partly in Greenpoint, partly at home, and partly in my mother’s condo in a senior living community. Essentially we’ve been working on it for two years, although one of the songs was written back in 2011. It’s a cup overflowing with guitars, buddies, noise, tenderness, feedback, songs, joy, crashing cymbals, dreams, lullabies, choirs, cellos, jangling bells, at one point even flugelhorn, and my grandmother’s instruments. It is mostly self-released, in collaboration with Hope for the Tape Deck. An earnest attempt at synthesizing everything I love and fear into 53ish minutes.
Here’s the deal with editions:
There’s a double LP with two differently colored discs (edition of 250), a cassette tape released by Hope for the Tape Deck (edition of 100 - first 22 feature a hand-made slipcover), and obviously digital versions. The LP version includes a bonus track on side D called “The Windmill Sings.” The tape version is all of “Ben Seretan” on side A, and a 53-minute organ drone called “Costa Mesa Plays Itself” on side B. Both “The Windmill Sings” and “Costa Mesa Plays Itself” will also be released digitally on October 28th with their own album art.
BUT WHO ARE YOU?
I’m a California fella who moved to the East coast to go to school and then moved to New York. I grew up going to church, playing the cello, and swimming in the ocean. I don’t go to church anymore. I went to Wesleyan University. I’ve organized a series of concerts at sunrise. I have a tattoo that says “Ecstatic Joy” on my chest. What else?
I’ve been playing music and releasing things at a crazy pace since 2011 - three full-length recordings for solo electric guitar and voice, a collaborative LP with the Early, a cassette tape, an hour long nature film/ambient guitar record, a 90+ minute continuously performed opera/song cycle, a tour-only CD-R, a couple of home recordings of what I call “long music,” plus some YouTube vids and recordings and releases with other bands and probably some other stuff that I’m forgetting to mention. Here I’m trying to pull all the threads together.
BUT WHAT IS THIS RECORD “ALL ABOUT?”
The answer to that is elusive. Here’s a large amount of speculation/theories:
Just out of town, across the Missouri river, there’s a small hill that rises with a monument to Lewis and Clark at its peak. Nothing else is elevated out on the plains, so you look out and see all of Omaha - the freightliner train tracks, then the river, then the airport, then the scattered skyscrapers, then the endless fields. I thought that maybe I could see California from there. I thought about two things - first, the time that Alex and I drove up Mount Royal in Montreal and had two tourists take our picture, and second, how amazing it was that we had come to Omaha and played music there. I was huge into the Saddle Creek Records message boards when I was in jr. high and this was something of a dream come true. And me and Nico and Alex had driven out here of our own volition, to sing and to get stoned on a goat farm in early spring. The sun set.
THE VERY SAD BREAKUP:
A lot of musicians and a lot of press surrounding the whole music thing involves people talking about the Important Life Events that went into making something. Especially for people who aren’t super well known. Like, she was Sad about Something when she made these songs, he was Angry about Circumstances, or they Went Off and Did a Thing. And while these kinds of things are helpful for understanding the thrust of a piece of music, or maybe it’s “vibe,” I think it can often cheapen the experience - turn it into a byline. Make it an emotional “riff.” I dunno.
It’s obvious if you listen to this record that there was a Very Sad Breakup. It’s true. It was very sad. But I’m not going to go into the details in a public way. We felt what we felt and went through the things, and these are the sounds and words that I later made. We’re good now, probably better and more profoundly well than if we hadn’t done the thing.
There were other things that I don’t want to publicize. Memorial services, bad dates, and unfortunate coincidences all come to mind.
There are lots of Things for everyone. You might be going through a Thing right now. I am, for sure. But making music isn’t about those things, exactly. Not for me, at least. It’s about me and my loved ones planting a flag - brilliant, billowing, as wide as a city block and covered in pink and yellow sequins - and letting it unfurl on the stone face of the outcrop. It reads:
LIFE OOZES DILIGENTLY ON
HAVE FUN AND TOUCH SOMEBODY
WHENEVER YOU ARE ABLE
I’m not a graceful man. I mean, just yesterday I tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and totally ate shit on my way to a concert I was seeing at a semi-fancy space. I say the wrong thing or - even worse - I don’t know what to say and I say nothing. I snore and roll around a lot in my sleep. My lack of grace is evident to me. But I don’t feel that way when I play guitar.
Alex Tatusian and I met in high school while we were both waiting for our parents to pick us up after school. He asked me if I liked Led Zeppelin. I said yes. And really soon we were playing music together. We’ve been playing music together for 12 years, and the fact that we finally made a beautiful recording where he plays drums makes my heart sing.
Before I went off to college, our high school band played a final show in our friend’s backyard. There was one song in particular that didn’t have an ending - we would just play it until we could no longer play it, and this performance involved taking our clothes off, being wrapped in Christmas lights, Alex sweating so much he was steaming, and everyone there jumping in the pool. Things came loose after that - I remember being in a shower with 5 other people and eating sundaes at the diner at 5 in the morning. It was an immense and nearly painful joy that I’ve been chasing since.
During one of our shows at Shea Stadium, Dave Lackner was taking a particularly rad sax solo and Alex and I turned to each other - nearly at the same time - to yell “I love you!” over the music.
My whole life, my grandma lived near the beach in Los Angeles. But she grew up in Queens, and later lived on a small island in the East River called North Brother Island (there’s a good Radiolab episode about that very island - amazing that she lived there). She used to work in the Flatiron building folding sheets in the linen section of a department store. We came here together when I was a kid (my first time in NYC) and she warned me not to buy the knockoff watches from the dudes on the street. I did anyway, and it broke within the week - a total waste of 20 dollars. I think about her a lot walking around the city.
She had this off-white chord organ plugged in next to a rotary telephone in the upstairs living room of her house. She’d play me “On top of Old Smokey” on the organ with me on her lap, and out the window we could see the Pacific and the weird oil-drilling islands they have off of Long Beach. Then we’d play cards, usually.
Her chord organ is the first sound you hear on this record. A little later on, you hear me playing her beat-up classical guitar and singing in my mom’s condo.
FRIENDSHIP PART II:
In 2011 I went out to Portland, OR to make a record with my friend’s band. It was great - one of those things you just decide to do and then do.
While I was there, Alex Lewis and I played music together for the first time. The other dudes had places to be the morning we started working, so Alex and I workshopped some guitar stuff. And realized within minutes that our guitar playing was similar and astoundingly complimentary. We played our first show together as a duo that week and we’ve been doing it pretty regularly ever since.
Alex has seen me at my worst. I mean, there was this one time when we were looking for a shipment of some CD-R inserts we made…UPS had some issues delivering to his building, so we went and tried to pick up the thing at the local branch. We were leaving for a good stretch of tour the next day, so it was time sensitive. And of course - like obviously - they didn’t have the thing for us to pick up. Normally, I would have been chill about it (I hope), but I was really upset about other things in my life and I really lost my cool. I was like angry-crying about this stupid thing and Alex talked me down gently and gracefully. He was just straight-up nice to me, which should be and is a common thing but isn’t valued enough. And all the way down to Charlottesville, I explained what was going on and drove in the rain. Finally, we got to where we were going and slept beautifully on a pull-out couch in an actual log cabin. In the morning, we walked slowly down the dirt road and went to the field where you could see the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Alex’s guitar playing on this record is nice and gentle and graceful and so, so lovely. And all the times I play something pretty, I’m halfway trying to play something that sounds like him.
MOVING AROUND PART II:
Going somewhere is a reliable way to turn the passing of days in your life into a sequence of small, wonderful films. Anecdotes and observations that you can’t help but share at length after a couple of beers.
A partial list of small, wonderful films:
The first time I hiked all the way to the Indian River waterfall my first summer in Alaska and screaming for joy until my voice went hoarse and the momentary terror of losing the trail twice on the way back, swimming in Barton Springs twice in 24 hours, meeting up with Jake across the border at a Thai restaurant in Montreal, that time Alex and I got invited to a secret Toro y Moi show in North Carolina, watching cars drive up and down the sand on a beach totally illuminated by illegal fireworks in Washington state, playing during a snowstorm in a bookstore in Hudson, NY, making out with a friend I rarely get to see next to a man-made park when we happened to cross paths while traveling and drinking spicy ginger ale in the backseat of her car, watching wild ponies run in the salt marsh in Virginia, swimming naked after midnight and under a yellow moon in the summer in Vermont, my brother and I riding broken bicycles during the World Cup drunk on absinthe in Germany, riding a ferry to a small island in Maine, my brother’s wedding near the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, riding the Staten Island Ferry with a long list of friends and family, going to the top of the Tower of Learning and looking out over all of Pittsburgh, even our weird and painfully awkward night in St. Louis.
I was kissing someone for the first time just outside the Astor Place subway stop in broad daylight when I got a call from my sister. It went to voicemail.
My mom was not doing well. A surgery she was having took a turn for the worst and by the time of my sister’s phone call, she was in a medically-induced coma. I made plans to fly home to California.
By the time I got west, the doctors had revived her and she was beginning to recover. She was awake and in care at home, so I spent my time there helping out however I could, but mostly talking quietly and buying groceries. I thought it might be important to document everything that was going on, so I brought a little field recorder with me and interviewed a few people. During one of these interviews, my Mom told me about the experiences she had while she was in a coma - the passage of time, muffled voices, buildings filled with light, warmth, deep happiness, and a sense of loss upon leaving. That’s really stuck with me, and has become a recurring theme in music - the feeling and experience of a blissful coma and being taken out of it.
When I was very little, my Mom used to sing me to sleep. She sang this one song about Babar the Elephant, and “Away in the Manger,” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” a version of which is the final track. It fades slowly into a humongous wall of feedback.
FRIENDSHIP PART III:
I first saw Nico and Michele from across the living room after I played a show at a venue that was just an apartment where people lived. No stage, ratty PA system, and a dude headlining that was beloved but trying way too hard. It was cramped, I wasn’t into it, and my attention wandered. I scrutinized the faces in the crowd. These two seemed nice - Michele with a septum piercing and a bored look, Nico tall and stooped in a leather jacket.
Right after that, it felt like all the structure in my life was coming out from under me. Like gravity had suddenly been suspended, or that somehow the floorboards of my room were vanishing. Less and less to stand on.
I later officially met Nico and Michele on the sidewalk outside of a different show (people lived in that venue, too, actually). They were smoking cigarettes and I was drinking a tomato juice. Michele and I made plans to work together in her studio space, and that weekend I carried my amp up three flights of stairs and played while she painted. They were kind and we’ve been friends ever since, playing music together and enjoying an endless parade of coffee in plain, white cups. Once Nico and I talked a couple other people into going with us to watch the sunrise in Coney Island in February. We bought 40s at a bodega through bullet proof plastic and Nico held my clothes while I ran into the water.
So much living went into making these sounds
And there’s still so much for us to do