Barry Uhl: The Stargazer’s Bible

Barry Uhl: The Stargazer’s Bible

Here’s the content I wrote and helped edit for Barry’s second record, which he self-released earlier this month. This time around (in addition to the snapshot below and his onesheet / mailing), I worked with him a bit on the cover layout and song sequencing, did the heavy lifting on his website redesign, and shot new promo photos –all of which I wrote about in more detail on my main site here. Once again, I’m as proud of him as a person can be, for doing such amazing work. And once again, I’m floored that I was able to lend a hand in the birth of such an intensely personal project. 

The Stargazer’s Bible, the sophomore album from Barry Uhl, is a fiercely autobiographical piece. Drawing on a series of departures — love, religion, a marriage — Uhl folds his experiences deeply and intentionally into eleven careful, engaging compositions.

A contrast to his previous release, The Stargazer’s Bible sees the setting aside of fictional character development to yield to the scars beneath. Treading the line between pop and psych, oft-heavy themes of personal journey manage to shine from a surprisingly melodic place; a hazy, fuzzy requiem to lost commitments.

Written, recorded, mixed, mastered at home, The Stargazer’s Bible is a true DIY achievement.

So, you’re finished. Talk to me about the record.

With this record, the goal was to say something personal. I don’t want to say things like, “it’s emo,” or “it’s a departure.” It is emo and it is a departure. Sure. But more than anything else, this record is vulnerable. It’s personal. It’s me making sounds based on struggle. My last record was a series of stories, and this time, I didn’t have room to tell stories about things I didn’t understand anymore, because all that was there were the things I couldn’t make up. In a way, this record was unavoidable. There was no trying this time — it all just came out of me.

That said, I don’t want to inflict too much of my own meaning on it for other people. I think it’s more important for people to understand how, not why, I’m trying to show everyone what it’s like to be me. What it’s like to be inside my head. I’m putting some skin in the game — this is real life. This is how I express myself. It’s darker, more serious, more frustrated than anything I’ve ever done. So coloring it and forcing it into a box by using words — it limits things. Dudes who had a hard time with Mars Hill might be like, there’s a song about that for me here. Or some girl who went through a shitty divorce and grew up in the church and got turned upside down, she may understand what I’m saying.

Here’s a good example: when I listened to the Gold album by Starflyer when it first came out, it was — there was nothing on the cover of that record. there was no writing, it just had a bunch of crests. Pictures of symbols, wings coming out of shields, and it was gold on the cover. That’s it. On he back it just said “written and performed, etc., all glory and power to our Lord” or whatever — but when you listened to it, it had nothing to do with Jesus, you know? Or the color gold, or crests. The guy was just having a really hard time with a girl. I didn’t know anything about him at the time, or what his angle was, and I just had my own experience with it. That’s what I’m hoping to achieve here.

So far as actually constructing these feelings, making this record felt like… like discovering Atlantis and running out of air before you get to it, and having to go back. I saw what needed to happen and could hear everything, but I ran out of — it got too hard. I had to go back. With my next record, I’ll try again. I didn’t want to burn my wings flying by the sun — yet. I’m not ready for that. I want to keep them a little longer. I don’t want to sound like, with this record that I gave up or anything, because that’s not the case. I definitely didn’t. But there’s still more in me to figure out. Hopefully my next one will get even closer.

Anything else?

Every single thing in that record is in there for a reason. Music is easy to take for granted, but here — each instrument, each moment is there for a reason. That, and I hope it helps somebody. That’s it.

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Love and Mercy

Love and Mercy

Look, I love a good biopic. I always have. For me, well-done biopics merge with Actual History in a blender in my brain: memories of The Doors (film, books, internet, Feast of Friends, that one reunion tour) are interspersed with scenes from The Doors; photographs and albums that house the memory of Johnny Cash get tangled up with flashes of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. I think, having always been some sort of a writer, that my brain likes to be told stories in one fell swoop, postcards and faded photographs in a shoebox to touch and smell and fill in the spaces between views. With all this said, I had high expectations for this weekend’s visit to the movies for Love & Mercy, and I’m happy to report back that it did not disappoint.

I can’t recall a time in recent history when I’ve sat through a film, got to the end, and wanted to have the theater to myself for a second viewing immediately following. Love & Mercy is so intimate, so painful, so intense, and so joyous all at once — I laughed, grieved, was completely deflated and found absolute hope all in the span of two-ish hours spent in the back of the theater. Impeccable acting and intensely personal subject matter merged with golden timing to deliver what is by far the movie of the year for me — and as somewhat of a superfan, I’d even venture to say that casual fans of the Beach Boys / Brian Wilson would enjoy it just as much.

Five stars / four thumbs up / all the awards there are to give.

heaven adores you

heaven adores you

While heaven adores you was not the best documentary ever to see the light of day, I’m super grateful for the attempt by the filmmakers to put a chronology of Smith’s adult life together, stitching into a quilt all the pieces of footage floating haphazard on the internet, long slow pans of locations in Portland and New York and Los Angeles beneath interviews and all those perfect songs.

What I’m left with this morning is “Happiness” on repeat, the urge to seek out old friends I’ve broken bonds with to mend our fences, and a gentle reminder to call your mom.

Montage of Heck

Montage of Heck

So, I went to see Montage of Heck last night and I’m still trying to sort out how I feel. On one hand, there were elements that worked REALLY well, moments that were profoundly (and uncomfortably) intimate, and I felt like the combination of interviews / recordings / home movies provided a lot of insight.

However, I think I would have preferred there to be like, 30% less reliance on the notebook imagery and in place of it, more… substance, maybe via a wider variety of interviews? There was so much to it, and not enough, all at once. I left unsettled, and I’m sitting here this morning with a space in my gut I can’t quite reconcile, which makes me glad I went as a ticketholder (vs. press) — I have no clue how I’d ever be able to write an objective review about any of this.

On that note, kudos to Sean Nelson for doing such a good job conveying All The Things in a way I don’t think I could ever begin to touch.

David Nixon: Bladfold

David Nixon: Bladfold

New Media, for me at least, currently feels akin to a wave of highly concentrated, wholly mediocre ‘art’ that’s being delivered in shiny, small-batch, test-marketed packages. It’s gotten to the point where it all looks the same, and some of it even sounds the same, which all forms the perfect storm to leave me in a state of intake fatigue. And so I find myself unable to devote time and energy to even engaging with New Media of late, as much as I’d like to try. With a yearn to experience good art, and without the energy left to invest, I mean — why listen to a garbage album when you can hit shuffle on your folder of Elliott Smith records? I rest my case.

Enter Bladfold.

From the casual notice of a screening to the first moments in the flickering light of the dark theater, I was hooked. Hand-assembled and crafted with care, work like David Nixon’s Bladfold is exactly what’s missing in my world these days. Honest and expressive, it’s one of those true diamonds in the rough, but the kind that’s best left in a raw state — more accurately, the proverbial penny in the diamond mine — seemingly custom-crafted to restore my faith in all things artistic. Much like the bulk of what “Awesome” is prone to deliver, this short film is a hybrid of glorious storytelling, a brilliantly quirky score, and a vulnerability-cum-bravery that’s practically untouchable.

Bladfold hasn’t played outside of a few small screenings, one of which I had the good fortune to attend last month, but hopefully it will find it’s way out to some festivals or bigger showings later this year. In the meantime, here’s a taste:

 

Barry Uhl: An Account Of The Happenings At Wretched Knob

Barry Uhl: An Account Of The Happenings At Wretched Knob

I can’t think of a better way to start my new blog than by posting one of my favorite essays I’ve written to date: an editor’s letter for the project Barry Uhl released last winter. I was fortunate enough to not only serve as editor for the written portion of the project, but I also assisted him in managing the creative elements of the release as well. It was fun, fulfilling, and wound up being the touchstone for me to move into a whole new phase of my creative life. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. ❤

To know Barry Uhl is to know a profound interconnectedness. Our most obvious example is his current project, and what begs me to be sitting down in an attempt to describe him in the first place: the illustrations, stories, and soundtrack known as An Account Of The Happenings At Wretched Knob.

Conceptualized after one of those lightning-bolt conversations with a coworker in Jackson Hole, Wyoming almost eight years ago, Wretched Knob is a snapshot into the world according to Barry. The project was birthed as one piece: an album with a book of stories and illustrations, with no separation between. Like lost moments deep in the stacks of incredible albums, happening upon the shiniest gem in the dustiest bin, Wretched Knob is an experience; one laden with dark landscapes and a lush narrative on an XTC-steeped baroque-pop fringe.

Barry should know his deck of cards by now, and he does: he grew up leaning into the music scene, first in Aberdeen, then Seattle; earned a music composition degree in his college years, and eventually got turned on to Gorey and expanded the tack he’d always had for illustration as a young adult. His personal catalog is vast, having put in his ten thousand hours under several disciplines, and spends time these days as a full-time artist, working on a bevy of his own projects and touring with Damien Jurado as part of his live ensemble. Read more