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Don Francis (2011)
This little EP was made during a trip to Europe with my great friend and musical collaborator Mike Nardone. I had spent a year living with him and two other friends in the top two floors of a town house in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood from the summer of 2010 to the summer of 2011. Mike's room and my room were both on the top floor so we saw each other every day and would hang out all the time. The two of us quickly became like brothers.
We went to shows together, we formed a "band" with our other roommate Daniel Lee, we threw massive dance parties and learned a whole lot about ourselves during that year living together. I think I even died my hair blue at one point.. Anyway, when the lease was about to end and everyone was moving out, Mike and I planned a trip to Europe on a whim and set the date for early July. We knew we weren't going to be roommates again and I think we both wanted one last hurrah before going our separate ways.
During our trip, he had his camera and I had my portable Zoom microphone. We flew into London and then to Paris and from there we started traveling by train. We continued on northeast into Brussels and finally into Amsterdam. Nardone got to go on into Germany and then The Czech Republic while I had to go back to the States to start some lame internship.
Anyway, I played a few songs off of our then upcoming album 'You Me & The People' that Mike, Dan and I had written while living together. Although the album wasn't yet finished, I was very excited about it and wanted to test some songs out in a live setting. But really most of the music on this EP is played by people that we met along the way. Street musicians from Paris and a professional pianist from Brussels are but a few of the many colorful personalities that appear on this little EP.
I tried my best to capture the feeling of leaving the country for the first time and of being on a journey with a dear friend. I also tried to stay in the background and let these new acquaintances of ours take center stage. I named the album after an elderly man I met in an airport during the trip. I can't remember which airport it was but we had a good conversation.
I barely took any pictures during this trip, my Zoom recorder was my tool for capturing the moment. I made this EP for the same reason I make all my albums, to capture that specific period in time forever. Now I can revisit it whenever I want. Just like a time capsule.
You Me & The People (2011)
First conceived in the fall of 2010 and finally finished in the winter of 2011, YM&TP is NN’s first full length LP and at that time it was the most ambitious project I had ever taken on. The album was primarily written in a 4 story apartment building on Halsted St in Lincoln Park. At the time I was living with Mike Nardone and Daniel Lee and we occupied the top two floors with some other friends. It was a crazy time in our lives. Dan and I were 20 and Nardone was 19 and as many are at that age, we were all starving for new experiences.
We named our apartment ‘Warmhau5’ and started throwing parties every month. Word spread around Columbia and DePaul campus and soon these parties were attracting over 100 people from all over the city. It was completely insane. We would blast dance music, drink heavily and indulge in all sorts of questionable activities. Warmhau5 soon became the place to be for pretty much everyone at Columbia College and I met many people through these parties. When the parties became too much to handle I would sometimes lock myself in my room and only let in people that I knew. I would teach them a specific knock and when I heard it I would open the door and we would spark up some weed and great conversations would always arise. This is how I started bonding with people like Seth Engel who became one of my best friends on this planet. During one party we hung out in my room and I showed him the beginnings of ‘Worst Storm Since 69’ and he came up with a guitar harmony that I included on the final recording. After about four or five months the cops would always come to shut down the parties. I’ll never forget one night we threw a bash for our friend Travis’ 21st birthday and when the cops showed up he slammed the door right in their faces.. What a total legend. They then proceeded to come in through the back door which was wide open.
During the week, when the party goers were all gone and the house was quiet, I would often chat about music with my roommates. Mike and Dan were a constant inspiration to me in those days. The three of us usually hung out in Nardone’s room because he had the best speakers and a nice record player. They both introduced me to countless bands that year. Mike would bust out records by toe, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Anathallo and The Books while Dan would show me stuff like Minus The Bear, Broken Social Scene, Elliot Smith and Mogwai. I would bang on and on about how great Gorillaz, Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens and Radiohead were and we would endlessly play each other our favorite songs while neglecting our school work. We weren’t exactly straight A students back then.. But I was studying music on a much deeper level than I ever had been before and I have those two to thank for that. Their influence on me made it’s way onto this album in a massive way. I think the album sounds very Midwestern. Mike is from Michigan, Dan is from a small town near Champaign Illinois and I’m from Arlington Heights so we’re all Midwestern boys.
Songs 1 and 11 (the first and final tracks) were both written on the same winter evening during a record breaking snow storm that was nicknamed the "Snow-pocalypse." The two songs were completely different in every way imaginable. However, I decided that we would bookend the album with these two tracks and the other tracks in between, that had yet to be written, would serve to bridge this musical gap & hopefully make a piece of music that was both eclectic and cohesive. One of the better acoustic numbers ‘We Ran In Tandem’ was conceived when Daniel walked into my bedroom one night playing my vintage 1960s Stella guitar with a gentle finger picking pattern that he thought Mike & I might like. We ran with it and stayed up until the early hours of the next morning honing the track down into a complete song. We recorded almost the entire song into GarageBand using the built in microphone on my old MacBook Pro. We tracked individual vocal parts in the bathroom because we liked the reverb sound it had. Super janky but it somehow worked.
When it came time to add additional layering to the bridge section of ‘We Ran In Tandem’ we decided that cello and trumpet would work nicely. Dan provided some gorgeous cello parts but we couldn’t seem to get ahold of a good trumpet player to add the final touch. Then one day when I was walking around the neighborhood I ran into my old Friend Andy who I had met all the way back in the 4th grade. We had bonded during our time in the school’s musical theatre program but because we then went off to different high schools I hadn’t seen or spoken with him in over 5 years. Then all of a sudden there he is on the street outside my apartment. We lived right across the street from DePaul University and he was currently studying there.
Andy also had an incredible talent for playing the trumpet and was the star player of his middle school and high school jazz bands and had won many competitions and awards for his virtuosity. I asked him if he still played and if he would be interested in playing on a song I was working on and he grabbed his trumpet and came over that very same day and did what you hear on the album. He transformed that song into something much more hauntingly beautiful. His parts were very minimal but packed full of emotions and atmosphere. Back in 4th grade, Andy taught me how to sing in harmony when we were on a camping trip and to meet him again randomly on the street and then collaborate on a track was one of those beautiful moments that the universe just gifts to you if you’re in the right place at the right time. There was a lot of that going on back then.
This album also marks the first time I ever played/recorded music with my great friend and collaborator Terrill Mast who has since played on almost every consecutive NN release and is an integral part of the band’s sound. On the track ’Sunstoned’ which was mostly improvised on the spot, you can hear two musicians getting a feel for each other. Making that song with Terrill was one of the most enjoyable and liberating recording experiences of my entire life at that point. He had this extremely freewheeling approach to recording back then that was extremely attractive to me. It was an approach that was very different compared to Mike and Dan’s recording methods. I was very keen to work with him again in the future and he eventually became my closest collaborator. He had just turned 19 when we recorded ‘Sunstoned.’
One last story I’d like to tell is about the track ‘I Know The Truth.’ I had originally written this track during the summer of 2010 and recorded it in full using GarageBand. I was really proud of it because it sounded completely unlike any other songs I had written up until then and I wanted to include it on the album. Then one night, during one of those out of control Warmhau5 parties, my laptop was stolen because I stupidly left it sitting out in the open. I was very naive back then.. Those parties would inevitably attract people who we didn’t know and some of them had less than pure intentions when attending our parties. Vinyl records and instruments were also stolen but the worst was definitely when my MacBook disappeared. The next day I was lamenting to Mike about how ‘I Know The Truth’ was probably lost forever and he said something like “Nah man, we can re-record it together and make it even better.” So Mike, being a true brother, invited me into the makeshift recording space that he had set up in the laundry room and we bashed out the version that you hear on the album in about two days. Mike used to play in his parent’s wedding band and they would occasionally play this song over the PA and watch people go nuts much to his amazement. It’s a very special track that stands on it’s own in our vast catalogue of songs. We’ve never done anything remotely like it since.
Every song on this album feels like a new discovery of what we could achieve sonically. The track sequence runs the gamut from folk, ambient, instrumental freak outs, Chicago tinged indie rock, electronic pop to straight up dance music. It is a mixture that on paper would not work at all but with the way we sequenced the tracks it actually has a flow from song to song that feels somewhat logical. I think I really wanted to make a record without the limitations of choosing one specific genre to come from musically. This philosophy of musical restlessness and refusing to stay in one spot is something that has remained with the band through our entire career. We always want every album we release to contain lots of variety and to surprise the listener with what comes next.
As our lease came to an end in the summer of 2011 things were definitely changing. Mike, Dan and I were still as close as ever but we all had different plans for the future and we knew that we would not be able to renew our lease at Warmhau5. Dan would end up moving back to Champaign for 3 years and Mike would move into a place in Little Ukrainian Village with his then girlfriend. I eventually moved into a condo called The Roosevelt Collection in the South Loop with Terrill and another friend where I would eventually put the finishing touches on the YM&TP album. Some songs like ‘Château d'If’ and ‘Converted Attic Space’ were written and recorded with Terrill at The Roosevelt Collection, the former being worked on with Mike Nardone who had come over for a nocturnal visit. Though Mike, Dan and I would never again be roommates, I think we all feel like that year living together held some of the best times of our college years and we will always cherish those memories. I’m so glad that we’re all still such close friends.
YM&TP is quite significant to me because it marks the beginning of many ideas and concepts that we would continue to mine for years to come. We really felt that we had something special and that we had a lot to prove to the Chicago DIY community so we poured everything we had into this album. And what we ended up with was an album filled to the brim with great songs that I still hold very dear to my heart even to this day. It was also the first album I made that people actually told me that they liked. I remember handing out CDs for free at DIY house shows and then having those same people come up to me at the next show a week later telling me how much they liked the album. Girls especially liked it for some strange reason. And that's always a good thing. I think we somehow managed to capture the spirit of the times with this album and I suppose that is what any artist aims to do with their work.
Every story has a beginning and You Me and The People is ours.
Sync Up (2012)
Written during the last few months of 2011 and the first few months of 2012, this album marks an interesting transition period from the singer songwriter type material that takes up half of our first album into a far more abstract and electronic approach to songwriting. This album is made to be a sort of soundtrack to an anime that doesn’t exist. Because of this there are very few lyrics to be heard on this album.
After my year of living with Dan and Mike was over, I knew that we weren't going to be able to live together again. Dan had moved to Champaign and Mike moved in with his then girlfriend. The lease was up on 2315 N Halsted and I needed a new apartment and two new roommates by the start of the 2011 fall semester. I also wanted a change of scenery and had my eye on the South Loop.
Having been very excited by our first collaboration I asked Terrill if he would move in with me for a year and he agreed. We eventually decided upon a condo at the Roosevelt Collection which was pretty near the South Loop. Our other roommate ended up being our dear friend Mehdi who we had both met and bonded with during the previous school year. Mehdi is a very intelligent and eccentric individual and ended up being a perfect fit for our dynamic. He was a huge source of inspiration for Terrill and I at the time and had a gift for getting people together and throwing great parties.
This album was started while I was still putting the finishing touches on the You Me and The People album. So for about three months Terrill and I were working on both of these albums at the same time. Terrill really took the leading role on this album and although I play on 8 of the 9 tracks, he conceived nearly all of the tracks on his own.
This album also features the talents of Matt Nauss on 2 tracks. During our time living together Terrill was a completely unstoppable musical force. He recorded a new song about every two days and by the time our lease was up the following year (summer 2012) he had written bout 75 of his own solo tracks.
While making this album we were constantly watching a lot of 90s anime and I think that influence shows. Often times, after finishing a track, we would blast it out of our cheap monitors while watching a scene from an anime on the TV with the sound muted. That is where the title "Sync Up" comes from. Sometimes we would even throw parties in our condo at night and set up about 3 or 4 TVs that would each be playing a different anime all with the sound muted while we blasted our original music to go along with it. This created a trippy experience that was greatly enhanced by the taking of various psychedelic drugs and smoking tons of weed.
But parties and drugs aside, the important part of that year with Terrill and Mehdi was the brotherly bond that we all formed which still remains as strong today as it was back in 2012. Another crucial thing about that year for me was being able to draw inspiration and learn from Terrill and his creative process. Terrill’s approach to recording was completely alien to me at the time and really re-invigorated my creativity by implementing techniques that I never imagined previously. Getting to spend a year with him, watch him create and working together on this album was an immense privilege that added so many colors to my pallet. This album stands as a testament to Terrill and his unique artistic vision.
The end of 2012 was a very strange time. Looking back on it now, it seems unreal.
I had finished the lease with Terrill and Mehdi at the Roosevelt Collection and moved into a place on the 8th floor of a wonderfully odd building called River City. For the first time since 2010 I was living alone in Chicago until I could no longer take it and convinced Shailaun Manning, an acquaintance from a party at the Roosevelt Collection, to come and live with me for a few months. Before leaving the Roosevelt Collection, I had recorded a few pieces of music that would eventually make their way onto this album. One very early track was Lilith, recorded with Michael Byrnes and Terrill Mast in his bedroom, it was the last piece of music I recorded at the Collection before moving out.
After finishing up Sync Up I still had very little ideas as to what direction I should move musically. All I knew was that I wanted to have no limitations and take the techniques I learned with Terrill and push them even further. I also wanted to make an album that was completely different from anything anyone else was doing in Chicago at the time.
Terrill had returned home for the summer and I was looking for someone else to collaborate with because Mike Nardone was very busy with work and we only managed to make one full track together. Dan had moved away to Champaign and although I would visit him from time to time by taking the Megabus, we only managed to make one full song and that one didn’t make it onto Thingamajiggy. Terrill and I would start writing together again when he came back for the fall semester.
Anyway, wanting to write music with someone new and different, I called Brandon Studer who had been introduced to me by Terrill. I remember him recording a song with Terrill that sounded very Morriconian and I loved it. We decided to meet at his place in Bucktown. When I arrived at his place I remember being awestruck by what was inside. Brandon lived in a warehouse that was completely cluttered and filled with gigantic oil paintings that he had been working on. He called this place The Bunker and in one little sectioned off bedroom he had a small home recording set up. We started recording new music straight away and became very close friends almost immediately. He was a deep well of inspiration and someone who I still look up to as an artist. Brandon is a man of may talents and when he makes music he does so with no limitations. I began to visit him in the Bunker at least twice a week and would continue to do so for the next 8 months until he moved to Pilsen in 2013.
The Bunker was a place to hang out as well as a place to make art and once Terrill got back in town we would often hang out there and write songs. I would usually arrive to find the both of them already hard at work on a piece of music. It was a magical place where we were free to create. It also had no windows & a few rats.
As the 2012 fall semester began I made a few new friends. One person I met was Nagi Nakayama. She had moved to Chicago from a small college town in Missouri and I was introduced to her by a new friend named Fino Li whom I had met in one of my classes. Nagi was sort of looking for a new place to live and I was in need of a roommate since Shailaun was leaving in early November. We became fast friends and after introducing her to Brandon, the three of us became an inseparable group. Through the cold final months of 2012 Nagi, Brandon and I would hang out in the Bunker, drink beer/wine and watch movies until 3am. It was a magical time and by December of that year about 3/4 of Thingamajiggy had been recorded.
It was an album that was just being made as life went on. Life was exciting and I was trying to capture the feeling of what it was like to be alive at that specific time, for me and my group of friends anyway. Brandon, Terrill and I made countless songs in the Bunker and discarded many of them. The ones that made it onto Thingamajiggy are the most extreme and unhinged (or “cracked out” as we used to say) Brandon very much believed in the absurdist art philosophy and the music we were making was very much in that style. Each song was meant to be its own demented fucked up world. The record had a lot to do with madness and lust. I guess it was where we were at at the time. It was an intense time in our lives.
Brandon also had a strange sense of humor in his lyrics. Brandon wrote songs that were funny and whimsical while simultaneously being faced with usually a very disturbing or even frightening subject matter. It almost made me uncomfortable at first and that is when I knew that he was the perfect person to work with if I wanted to learn more about making records. He opened a door in my perception of music, art and life. He pushed me to dig deeper and get darker. Get weirder.
Come 2013, all my friends went off back home for the holiday. Terrill to Virginia, Brandon to Ohio, Fino to Shenzhen and Nagi to Hiroshima. Before going away, Nagi had moved all of her things into my place so that we would be roommates for the remainder of our time at Columbia College. Brandon came back first and when he did he brought back some disco-style drum loops that I just loved immediately. We went out to buy a case of beer and when we returned to the Bunker we went to work on what would become Lofty Fruit Melancholia. When Nagi got back from Japan Brandon and I picked her up from O'Hare and played it for her in the car and she definitely got a kick out of it.
Getting a few months further now into 2013, everyone was coming back to Chicago again for the Spring semester. Brandon would soon have to move out of the Bunker when his lease was up and when he finally moved out, I went with him to find him a place in Pilsen. By the time the lease was up Thingamajiggy was also just about finished. We recorded a few new songs in his new place which he called Turquesa. Some of those tracks were オオスズメバチ and Don’t Stop Don’t Doubt, the latter having a beat that was ripped and looped from a $1 thrift store CD I bought in Chinatown. After those songs were finished I decided that Thingamajiggy was done.
When I hear it now, even though its incredibly rough and somewhat cobbled together, I hear the beauty in it. I hear music made by people that were all so very close to each other and were in a completely freewheeling stage of life where anything went and nothing was too insane. I hear confusion and sadness but I also hear a lot of love. It will forever be the weirdest fucking album we've ever made.
After finishing 'Thingamajiggy' in the summer of 2013 I already knew that I wanted to do something much different for my next project. I was recording a bit of music with Terrill Mast and Seth Engel around this time & was listening to a lot of 70s & 80s Japanese singer songwriter music that Nagi had introduced me to. I was really into Haruomi Hosono, The Plastics & Akiko Yano at the time. I would listen to the album 風街ろまん almost everyday back then. The influence of that album must have rubbed off because the music I started to make was much simpler and more oriented around acoustic instruments.
Also during 2013 I had begun to write music with my friend Fino Li. After realizing that she had an incredible voice, was into writing music and had been in a high school rock band back in Shenzhen called "Hello Kitty & Gun Powder" I was determined to ask her if she'd like to sing and write lyrics for a few pieces of music I was working on. She said yes and we began to collaborate on and off throughout 2013. Fino and I were both huge fans of Japanese media and culture and had originally met in Japanese class at Columbia College. At my roommate Nagi's request, Fino and I recorded a cover of 'ひとつだけ' and really had a blast recording it at the Owlrey with the help of Seth. After summer had turned into fall and then into winter, Terrill, Seth Fino & I had written a decent amount of new music.
The concept behind the album was the idea of being a foreign person in a distant land. The word "見知らぬ人" means stranger and I was daydreaming a lot about taking a solo trip to Japan. Around November 2013 I finally made the decision to go to Japan and the daydream suddenly became a reality. I bought the ticket and made some loose plans to meet up with Nagi in Hiroshima. She left for Japan in mid December and I told her I'd meet her sometime early in the new year.
And so on January 3rd 2014 I left Chicago bound for Japan. I had been studying the language for about two years at that point and was eager to immerse myself in the culture and see how well my speaking / communication skills faired if I went alone.
Anyway, after arriving in Narita and taking the subway to Tokyo I ended up spending a few days traveling around Tokyo. After that I made it to Kyoto where I wandered around for two days before traveling to Hiroshima by shinkansen on my 4th day to meet Nagi. She was born in Hiroshima and this was the first chance I had to visit her in her hometown.
While I was waiting for her at the station I sat down on a fountain and began strumming a nylon string acoustic guitar that I picked up in Kyoto. Pretty soon after I started doing this a woman rode her bicycle up to me and sat down beside me. She explained that she was a musician and that she played the piano. She was drawn over to me when she saw me with the guitar and wanted to talk. After talking a little more she told me her name was Asami and she invited me over to her house to play music and eat home made Korean food. That sounded great so I ended up visiting her place a few days later and she played the instrumental piano track that I decided to call あさみちゃん (Asami-chan) the name that she asked me to call her by. I don’t know if she wrote the song or if it is an old classical piece but I was blown away when she played it for me. I recorded her performance and many other special moments on my portable Zoom microphone. All of the live performances you hear on the album were recorded in different places around Hiroshima, Miyajima island or further south in Kagoshima city. Some recording was also done in Kyoto. All thanks to my trusty Zoom. The guy at customs thought it was a stun-gun.. I'm lucky I was able to keep it with me.
After I met with Nagi at the station she took me to stay at her parent’s house for a little over a week in a town called Hatsukaichi. There she showed me countless amazing things, took me to all kinds of beautiful places and introduced me to many wonderful people. Spending time in Hiroshima with Nagi, her friends and family was truly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Ten days after after first arriving in Hiroshima I decided to continue traveling south through Japan. Nagi and her mother saw me off at Hiroshima station and after I said goodbye to them I took the bullet train further south through Honshu and then into Kyushu until I finally reached the city of Kagoshima where I was planning on meeting another friend and spending a few more days there with them exploring the city and surrounding countryside. I had to leave my nylon string guitar at Nagi's house. I promised that one day I'd come back to get it.
Upon returning to Chicago I recorded more songs with Terrill, Seth and Fino on and off as the months went by. Some were recorded at home in River City, others were recorded at the South Loop Hilton Hotel and others were done at the Owlrey with Seth. After those songs were finished in the Fall of 2014 I decided that I had amassed more than enough material. I took the best tracks that I had recorded in Chicago and combined them with my favorite live recordings I had captured in Japan and sequenced the tracks so that the album would jump back and forth between the Japan recordings and the Chicago recordings. I then ended up with an album completely unlike my previous three releases. Part live album, part covers album & part travelogue. I was thrilled with the results.
Although I saw many places while visiting Japan I have to say that Hiroshima holds a special place in my heart. This album is partly my travelogue but at its core it is a simple love letter to Japan, a place where I was treated with nothing but kindness and respect.
In the Sumer of 2014, I got a WeChat message from Fino saying that she was coming back to Chicago with a mind to record some new songs with Seth and I. This came completely out of the blue and was very exciting news for me. Fino was in China at the time and I was thrilled that she would travel half way around the world for the soul reason of making music with me. But that was Fino's style back then, spontaneous and inspired. Needless to say, I was down and I began to demo out a lot of acoustic guitar based instrumentals in preparation for her arrival.
When she arrived in Chicago we immediately got down to business writing new songs. I called up Seth and luckily was able to book some last minute recording time in a few different local studios. We had fresh material and were very excited to capitalize on this momentum and go record the new songs right away. We had a blast in the studio and after a week had come away with mixes of three beautiful new compositions that we all really loved. She hung around for another week with us in Chicago before flying back home to Shenzhen with the rough mixes. And just like that, she was gone... Again...
One of my favorite recording memories is just watching Fino get behind that condenser mic and sing her lyrics so gracefully. Fino sings in three different languages on this album and I think that her energy and talent for weaving melodies really give this album a very unique edge. Her and I really had a special chemistry and I wish that we had been able to make more music together. To me, this is kind of the Fino album and sadly, after Lifa, Fino and I would never again get the chance to work that closely on music. I sometimes wonder what could have been if we had continued to write and perform together. She is such a unique talent.
However, this album is also a poignant one because it marks a few more significant lasts and firsts.. This was the last time that Nagi and I would collaborate on a song. She wrote the lyrics to the final track "Sam's" and just before Fino arrived in Chicago in the summer of 2014, Nagi had moved out of our place in River City and back to Japan where she would go on to live and work in Tokyo for a time. As for firsts, the song "上下" is the first track that Cheer and I would sing together on. We put the track together in her apartment in Chinatown and enjoyed the process so much that it sparked a creative partnership that would last for many years to come.
Upon its completion and release, I got the sense of having finally reached something that I had always hoped to one day achieve. I really loved the sound of Seth's production on these full band arrangements. they held elements of all the best things from our past work as well as a few new elements and sounded a lot cleaner than our past recordings. I especially loved how the album featured many different languages, vocalists and all of their unique perspectives. It seemed more like a story with reoccurring characters as opposed to an album from the perspective of one individual. It felt like a personal triumph that had been achieved through intense collaboration.
I had finally found the Nature's Neighbor signature sound. But the times were changing fast. College was over and I was now entering a new stage of life with Cheer by my side. I got a job at a used record store in Wicker Park and Cheer and I moved into a bigger unit in River City. Then, a few weeks after this album's release, I would end up proposing to Cheer. It was the end of an era and the dawning of a new one. It truly was an amazing time..
Coming off of the only Nature’s Neighbor tour we ever did in early 2015, I was pretty burnt out on playing shows and really wanted to record new music. After fishing around for a few new approaches to recording the idea came up to make an album with Seth in the Owlery, a practice space on the west side of Chicago. The idea was to make an album with a consistent drum sound and a cohesiveness that none of my previous albums had ever attempted before.
Leading up to making this album I had always recorded songs on a laptop, usually with just one microphone in whatever space I could use at the time. I would mostly record in bedrooms or living rooms of my / other people’s apartments around Chicago. But for this album Seth was at the recording desk and we were working in a place that felt more like a real recording studio. It had no windows and felt like a place where I could block everything else out and focus completely on recording. We used much better recording equipment and really tried to make a rich and full sounding album with many different textures while still retaining a cohesive sound that would mainly be achieved by using the same drum set up on every song.
Cheer and I were still living at River city at the time in unit 528 and we were jumping through hoops trying to prepare all of the paperwork for her Green-card application to the USCIS because her visa had expired or was just about to. We had been married in a courthouse downtown in February of that year. When I wasn’t working at the record / video game shop in Wicker Park I was demoing out songs on Cheer’s laptop at home. It would be the last album I would make while living in River city.
Because Cheer and I had recently married we were planning a three month long trip to Nanchang to visit her family. A lot of what this album ended up being about was the preparations for securing Cheer’s permanent resident status in the US and preparing to go back to China. Cheer participated very heavily on this album singing lead vocals on many of the tracks and creating much of the album’s artwork. Without her special touch this album would be significantly worse and much more boring.
This album also marks the return of Brandon into Nature’s Neighbor as a player, producer and writer. He had a huge roll to play on a few of the songs and wrote most of songs 8 and 9 himself. Brandon also convinced me to use his small collection of analogue synthesizers and stop relying on MIDIs so much. It was the first time we had worked on music closely together since the making of Thingamajiggy three years previously.
Another significant thing to note about this album is that it was the last one where Terrill was still living in Chicago. He would move away from Chicago at the end of 2015 back to his hometown in Herndon Virginia. After this album Terrill and I would mainly work together long distance through emails.
More than halfway through making the album we had the privilege of moving over to a studio then called Minbal where a few of my friends like Mike Nardone had interned. This was a real deal recording studio with an old console from the 80s and all the choices of mics, outboard gear and amps you could dream of. Seth was able to get us in there at a discounted price and recording in that studio was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had making music in my life. There were many vintage keyboards and guitars there and also a piano from the 19th century.
After about 9 months of recording on and off we had basically finished the album and it was time for Cheer and I to go to off to China. We said goodbye to Terrill who would leave Chicago for good about a month after we left, we moved out of River City where I had been for the past three years and got on the plane to Beijing. While in China I had countless incredible experiences. I was privileged enough to visit places like the Forbidden city and the Summer Palace in Beijing. And later in our stay Cheer and I would take a week long trip to Sanya which is a city in Hainan. Sanya is probably my favorite place in all of China but Nanchang will always be the most special to me. It was wonderful being introduced to all of the family on Cheer’s side. It was such an intense and meaningful experience being in China that I had to demo out a song when I was there. So I texted Seth explaining to him that we had one more song to record once I got back to the States.
Upon returning from China Seth and I got together and recorded the final song for Pidji and it was quickly mixed so that we could get the album mastered and put out through a small Chicago label called Sooper Records. It will always be one of our strongest albums.
Drawing in Pen (2017)
After recording Pidji with Seth at the Owlrey and Minbal studios I really wanted to make a laptop album again. I wanted to go away from the live band sound that was so prominent on Pidji and go for something a little more abstract for the next one.
Upon returning from China, Cheer and I moved up to Lakeview and for the first time in 5 years I was living in the north side of Chicago. I set up a small recording station in our studio apartment with one USB condenser mic, acoustic guitar, a MIDI keyboard and a laptop. It was overly simple but I enjoyed the freedom of being able to record on my own again uninhibited by studio schedules.
After Brandon returned from a trip to Hong Kong he moved into an apartment in Edgewater and I would often visit him there as he worked on mixing his album “Ennui Heart.” He taught me a new technique that proved to be they key to unlocking the direction this album would eventually take.
Brandon showed me how to use the EXS24 sampler which allowed me to morph the pitch and speed of any sampled sound with my MIDI controller. A few days later I went out to Irving Park with my Zoom to get some field recordings. I recorded the sounds of logs, leaves, stones, insects and metal objects. After recording these sounds I returned home and made a rhythm track out of the samples using the technique Brandon had shown me. I wrote all of track nine track in 3 hours that day and decided that all the songs on the album should be written using this sample based approach. I would gather strange and raw samples from my immediate environment and then use them to create the core of each new track. The end result is an album full of strange and warped sounds but also mundane every-day sounds.
After a few more songs had started to develop I found myself getting stuck. This was usually the point where I would go over to Terrill's apartment and he would help to further form the tracks. But because he was no longer living in Chicago I did not know what to do until I realized that Terrill and I could still write songs together long distance via email. I sent him a few tracks and luckily he loved them and started adding his own layering to them which greatly enriched the sound of this album. I was glad that we were still able to write together even though we couldn’t pass at the laptop back and forth like before. After he left Chicago it became painfully clear to me just how important of a collaborator he is to me personally. I found myself obsessively listening to his 2012 album "Flash Fiction" while making this album. Song number eight is dedicated to him.
Cheer was interested in collaborating with me on this album as well, finding the home recording approach much more comfortable. She was reading a book about ancient Chinese mythology and contributed some wonderful lyrics in Mandarin that described some of these mythological characters and their adventures. Her vocal performances on this album are particularly strong.
The end result is an album with a far smaller cast of collaborators that is shorter in length but equally as vibrant in its instrumentation and overall effect as Lifa and Pidji. More importantly, I proved to myself that I could make a really good album on my own with just a laptop and a few instruments.
Vein Matter (2017)
Mike Walker, Brandon Studer (aka Wren Smiles), and I started this album seven months ago via email and kept bouncing ideas off each other. It was like piecing together Frankenstein’s creature for its reanimation, and we were mad scientists at work. Then things eventually came to a slow stop sometime in May, and the three or four tracks we had produced with began to gather digital dust. You know how it goes.
Fast forward a few months to this August when Radhika Bhatt and I set out on a trip to Chicago in a car packed to the brim with musical instruments (plus we kidnapped Zachary Klaus on the way) to stay with Mike Walker and Cheer Zhao at their apartment in Edgewater. I had left the city over a year ago and it was my first time coming back. During that trip we all reconnected, reveled, and recorded five of the eight tracks that are on this album. Also featured is Austin Thomasson (aka Austin James Christ) who provided some spacey guitar during an all day recording session at his place in Logan Square. We had regained our momentum and set out to finish what we had started.
To me, Vein Matter encapsulates many of our collective dreams and feelings of Chicago, and of leaving something we love so much behind us as we continually venture onward into the next chapter of our lives. As such, I am happy to leave this behind for you all as I make my way across the globe to live in India for eight months. Cheers!
- Terrill Mast
After making 3 or 4 very maximalist and multilayered albums I wanted to make a very simple acoustic album and set myself a few rules. No click track, no MIDI instruments and most importantly of all, no drums or percussion of any kind. It was a very comfortable recording experience using just one USB mic and my laptop to record all of these songs.
I sent three of them off to Terrill and I think the piano layers he sent back are some of the most beautiful performances he's ever done on a Nature's Neighbor album. I also reconnected with Daniel Lee in a big way on this album as well. Visiting his home in Oak Park we sat down and played acoustic guitars just as we had back when we lived together in 2010 and 2011.
At the end of it I came out with 9 acoustic tracks. Simple songs for a very complex time.
Ur is our last album for the decade. It serves as a wave goodbye but also hopefully a doorway into new possibilities. Ur was initially inspired by a conversation with Seth Engel about trying to write songs by starting with the drums first and avoiding typical guitar based songwriting by using more synths and pianos. I also was very interested in recording an album at Pallet Sound in Bridgeport. Seth and I recorded this album at Pallet in 13 separate 10 hour sessions spread out between the months of February-August 2018. Mixing then began several months later and was finished around the end of that same year.
I was incredibly fortunate to have the pleasure of working with some new friends on this album. Most of them were introduced to me by Seth. All of these musicians have brought so much more life and richness into this album than I could have ever hoped to do on my own. Seeing each one of them in the studio working was a very exciting and educational experience for me and I was extremely impressed with how each one of them approached the recording process in a unique way.
This album is a new mixture of musicians and so the resulting sound is really quite different than anything we've put out previously. This time around Seth has definitely been more like a bandmate than simply the recording engineer and drummer. Him and I wrote nearly all of these songs together swapping instruments and bouncing ideas off of each other. Often times we would go into an all day recording session with basically no plan for what kind of music we were going to record that day.
Not all songs were written this way however. Sanzhi Pod City is an old song that I had written way back in the fall of 2012. I had tried and failed many times to record it over the years and I was happy to finally do a solid version of the song. I was also lucky that Pallet had a lovely Steinway baby grand piano available to play. Pallet Sound is a wonderful studio. I've never enjoyed the recording process quite as much as I did this time around.
Now that it is finally finished and we have come to the last year of this decade I can look back on everything leading up to this day and smile knowing that it was all necessary in order for us to bring you these 10 songs. I hope that you connect with and enjoy this album that for us was such a pleasure to make.
Wind City Airport (2020)
After finishing and releasing ‘Ur’ I knew that I wanted to do one more album at Pallet Sound. I had fallen in love with the studio while making the last album and thought it would be a good idea to start a new project with Seth in that same spot with essentially the same equipment. But I also knew that if we were to record another album in the same style as ‘Ur’ I would probably lose my mind. So I just went back to writing simpler songs on guitar and piano.
In the beginning of 2019 Cheer and I flew to Nanchang where we stayed with the family for about a month to celebrate the Chinese New Year. One day during our stay I wrote the opening track ‘Counting the Minutes’ on our family’s upright piano. Upon returning from China I was feeling very inspired & new songs were coming very quickly. So I booked studio time and kept writing. We worked on it for almost the entire year until finally finishing it in November.
This album is for anyone who is stuck in an airport / airplane with a good pair of headphones and a lot of time to kill. We may be delayed for now but I know that someday soon we will all reach our destination. Fly safe.
Tall Order (2021)
The story of ‘Tall Order’ and its long-form companion, ‘Otherside’, begins sometime in April 2020. I hit up my buddy Mike Walker and offered to write a single for Nature’s Neighbor. Mike at the time was in a refractory period following the 2020 release of ‘Wind City Airport’ and took some convincing, but we eventually produced ‘Otherside of Town’ in our respective quarantine spaces. We had intended for it to be merely a single, but the project quickly became a three song EP. Then a five-song EP. Then seven. Finally we settled on a solid album with 12 songs featuring our friends from around the country.
Four months later we had completed production for the album and began the mastering stage with Nate Amos. I was experiencing my usual separation anxiety when wrapping up any project. Mike and I had so much fun making this album and I didn’t want it to be over just yet, plus we had gotten sidetracked from the original goal of producing only a single! So I sat down at my keyboard and jammed along with a very basic 808 beat that could serve as a seamless transition between ‘Monday Morning Drive’ and ‘Pocket Lullaby’. I played around with several chord progressions until finally settling on a seven-minute take which became the skeleton of ‘Tall Order’. The name was inspired by something our drummer, Seth Engel, had said to me earlier that year when he was mastering one of my solo albums. I showed Mike the demo and he thought it was cool but stipulated that we had to focus on finishing one thing before starting another and, of course, he was right about that.
As we continued putting the finishing touches on the album I would escape into ‘Tall Order’ to keep adding layers until it became a medley of almost every song and style on the album. Then we took it a step further and decided it would be cool to get every artist featured on the album back for the single. It took months to figure out who went where and what each section needed, and even in the final days of it’s mastering I was still changing things around. Now, almost a year later, we both feel like it’s finally time to close the book on the ‘Otherside’ saga and let other people hear it for a change. The irony of it all is that we’re starting at the end of our journey with this single release but, after all, that’s what we set out to do in the first place.
- Terrill Mast
Produced and written mostly during the first wave of COVID-19, this album was my saving grace during the insanity that was 2020. The idea was initially kicked off by a text message that Terrill Mast had sent me in early April. He asked me if I wanted to make one song and at first I was hesitant. My previous album did not get the kind of reception I was hoping for and I was feeling uninspired to make anything new. When a difficult situation arises my initial instinct is to respond to it by writing songs, but I felt completely spent and overwhelmed by the global circumstances.
Looking back on that moment I would say Terrill sent me that message at the perfect time. He said, “I wrote this song and it needs your voice. We can make it a Nature’s Neighbor single. I want to feel like I’m a part of this band again.” After a while I said yes, and that song became ’Otherside of Town’ which ended up being the final track and the theme for the whole album. Our idea to release a single quickly turned into three songs, then into a five song EP, then seven, then nine and before we knew it we were sitting on 12 brand new tracks. It came together so damn quickly, I was shocked.
We worked in isolation, Terrill in his basement in Virginia and me in my condo in Chicago, both recording everything at home. There was no going into the studio this time for obvious reasons, except for Seth Engel to record his drum kit. Working via email is something that Terrill and I are very used to at this point, and it was so refreshing to work with him again. The two of us hadn't worked this closely on an album since 'Vein Matter' in 2017. In many ways it felt like a sequel to that album, and even echoed a few lyrical motifs from it. I am forever thankful to have such a strong creative partner with such a distinct voice. I am even more grateful for the fact that Terrill had the sense to give me that push I needed to start writing again. Terrill basically single handedly produced this entire album.
While Terrill and I shared vocal and lyrical duties for the album, he sang on it far more than he had before on any previous NN release. We were both inspired by imagining what the other was going through. While I spent most of my days looking out onto Chicago from the balcony of my condo, Terrill would walk through the forest of his backyard in suburban Virginia. Because we were separated by roughly 750 miles we could only talk about and speculate on what it must be like to be in each other's position during this difficult and tumultuous year. The lyrics on this album really show the infinite amount of empathy and love we have for one another and how we are strongly connected despite the physical distance.
Terrill also brought some new faces into the fold. Benni Perkins is the first person to have played on a NN album without having first met me in person. Extremely talented and a welcome member of the collective, Benni sang the lead vocals on 'Shades of Yesteryear' and gave one of the most compelling performances of the entire album. Some old friends also made appearances as well, like the brilliant Brandon Studer who contributed the first sections of the 8 minute epic 'Bold Move' and of course his voicemail recording in ‘First Mother’s Day’. Perry Cowdery provided beautiful guitar layers, and Seth played drums on five songs.
While making this album it really felt like the world was falling apart all around us and I think the songs strongly reflect that feeling. We poured all our fear, joy, and reflection into this album. We really did. At times it felt we were all just barely hanging on, but we made it through, thank God. Although we have yet to see the end of this dumpster fire we call 2020, I have high hopes, and I’m glad we were all able to pull this one off.
Of all the albums we’ve made over the years, You Me and The People was always the one that I've wanted to revisit the most. This is for a few reasons. Reason number one being the fact that this album marks a very special time in my life where I feel my songwriting took a massive leap forward. It was also the time that I first began to truly collaborate with other musicians, which is the whole point of Nature’s Neighbor. Almost all the songs on the YM&TP record are very solid and probably stand the test of time better than any other collection of songs from the band’s early work, that being the college years from 2011-2014.
The songs are all great and I’d hold them up against anything. The production on that album however is another story entirely. Which brings me to my second reason for revisiting these tracks. Let’s face it, back then I was self producing this album and I really had next to no idea what I was doing when it came to mixing. Basically, every song on the original album suffers quite a bit due to poor mixing choices. They are all very muddy, especially when it comes to the low end frequencies. I had no idea what EQ was and I also did a very crude job with the album’s mastering. So revisiting these tracks 10 years later gives us the chance to do them the justice they deserve by creating clear, richly detailed mixes and a nice warm master.
Now, one might ask the question, "why go through the trouble of re-recording these songs from the ground up?" If you want to revisit the album, why not just polish up the original mixes and remaster them? And my answer to that is that I wish I could, but sadly, all the original project files were lost when my old hard drive crashed. We can never re-access the old mixes. They are forever lost. So the only option was to recreate the songs from scratch. And to be honest, even if it were possible, re-imagining these tracks was a lot more fun than simply touching up the old mixes.
It also just felt great to dust off this old album and dive back into it 10 years later. I was 21 when we originally released YM&TP and Terrill was just 19 years old. We were so young and proud of our creation and I remember handing this album out at so many basement shows back in 2011/2012. And the response we got from our peers and friends was very reassuring. Basically, everyone really loved this album when we put it out and for me it was the first time that I was recognized by my peers which really did mean a lot at the time.
Selecting the three songs to remake was also pretty easy. Terrill and I immediately chose these three tunes because we felt that they would fit well together. ‘Worst Storm’ is probably the one NN song that I have played live at nearly every NN show we’ve ever done through the years. Terrill and I played it every night on our 2015 tour. ‘Tankerbell’ is an old fan favorite and was an obvious choice for revisiting. ‘Converted Attic Space’ is definitely a deep cut from the original album but seeing as it was made exclusively by Terrill and I back when we lived together in 2011/2012, it also seemed ripe for revisiting.
I think that we have definitely achieved what we set out to do when we initially decided to revisit these tracks. We have successfully breathed new life into these three songs and have given them the re-appraisal that they always deserved. The dream is to one day revisit and remake all of the songs from the original album, releasing three at a time in a succession of little EPs until we finally have recreated the entire YM&TP album. But if that pipe dream never comes to fruition, we will at least have this EP to show that we were able to successfully recapture that magic from the original 2011 album but this time in high definition. In a way, it felt like being a director going back to an old film that I had made early in my career and getting the chance to re-edit it in order to get a bit closer to the original vision.
So now, exactly 10 years to the day the original album was released, we give you YM&TP Mk2. For those of you that were around to hear the original album, we thank you for sticking with us and hope that you like these versions as much or maybe even more than the originals. For those of you that have never listened to the original 2011 release, here are some old tunes that mean the world to us and we hope that you can get something out of them. Enjoy the music.
Nighttime Underpass (2022)
This track was made directly after both Will and I left Chicago. Will had moved to California and I to Kyoto. Will and I are no strangers to long distance recording, having made the Walking Around album all without ever being in the same room even once, we are very comfortable with that dynamic.
Due to this, the instrumental track ‘Nighttime Underpass’ came together in just two days and a few emails. It felt great to make something so spontaneous and to see it come together so quickly. It serves as a colder, more desolate counter-piece to the warm and inviting Walking Around album due out later this year.
Go get lost somewhere deep in the city... It’s a dark rainy night and you didn’t bring a jacket so your hands are shoved deep into your pockets and your shoulders are tense. Still you’re so mesmerized by all the dripping neon lights that you don’t even notice that you’re starting to shiver. You might just disappear down a dark alleyway, never to be seen again.
Walking Around (2022)
Once day back in 2018 when I was recording Ur with Seth at Pallet Sound, the door opened and a guy named Will walked in. Seth had told me that someone was coming to repair the Fender Rhodes and so it was not a complete surprise to see him. I was however, surprised by how immediately friendly Will was despite never having previously met me. He quickly fixed the Rhodes and hung out with us in the control room while we played him some of the mixes we were working on and chatted about music we both were into. When it came time for him to leave and for Seth and I to get back to work he gave me a big hug and expressed interest in working together sometime. I must have made a remark to Seth about how nice he was because I remember Seth saying something like “Yeah man, he’s also the best pianist I’ve ever met.”
After getting back home from the studio, I watched the Pallet Sessions video Will had recorded for the Puddle Splashers YouTube channel in which he performed his piano instrumental ‘Arctic Fox’ and I was totally blown away by his virtuosity and by the beauty of the composition. I then downloaded his 2017 piano instrumental album ‘Set Adrift’ and immediately fell in love with the music. I knew then that if I ever formed a new lineup for Nature’s Neighbor that I would need him on keyboards.
About a year and a half later I had made plans to record two tracks from my album ‘Wind City Airport’ on a Pallet video session and that meant that I would need to form a new live band. I called Will and we found a day to meet up and talk about it. I met him downtown at the school he taught piano lessons at and we then drove over to Pilsen to get some tacos at Los Comales and discussed the details. He was again very enthusiastic and after a few rehearsals we successfully filmed those two songs at Pallet.
When I sat down to watch the videos, my favorite part of the whole thing was easily watching Will play. He laid down some of the most incredible layers and his performance was totally engrossing. After that video session we both knew that we would need to record some music together but we didn’t know what it would sound like or how we would go about doing it.
Then the pandemic hit and everything screeched to a halt. Everything except the endless amount of DIY music that seemed to be exploding onto streaming sites like Bandcamp. I quickly noticed that Will was frequently releasing some incredible ambient music onto his Bandcamp page and I became addicted to his albums like Music For Quiet Spaces and Window. I would listen to those albums when I went on long drives around the city and his music became part of my soundtrack of 2020. After listening to Window for probably the 50th time, I finally decided to reach out to Will and tell him how much I loved it. He had been hitting me up through instagram with propositions of creating music together and after a little back and forth we finally decided to make a full length album together. This concept eventually evolved into Walking Around.
I had just finished recording Otherside with Terrill and was ready to start a project that felt completely different. So in December of 2020 I recorded the guitar parts for the title track and sent them over to Will. Within a day or two Will sent me back this incredibly beautiful track that he had crafted from the fragments I had sent him a few days earlier and it was then that I knew we had stumbled upon something very special. We then began sending tracks back and forth until we had amassed about 4 tracks. It was at that point that I suggested to will that we bring Terrill on board. Will made a leap of faith when he agreed to bring Terrill on, a person who he had never met previously and whose music he was not familiar with. But Will trusted me and when Terrill entered into the project it quickly became obvious that the three of us had a very unique chemistry. We were making an incredible album and we knew it.
Writing music long distance style with these two incredible musicians was one of the highlights of my entire songwriting career and it really helped me get through the end of 2020 with a smile on my face. The album we ended up with is probably the most ambient collection of songs that I have every worked on and I absolutely love the entire album from start to finish. It really is something special. We created vast musical landscapes that you can easily lose yourself in and the whole album will take you on a journey that leaves you feeling transported by the time it is finished. We hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed the process of creating it
Live in Shimane (2022)
This live album was recorded at the Pasar Moon music festival in August of 2022. Pasar Moon, a restaurant in Shimane prefecture, holds an annual week long music festival every summer where people come from all over Japan to camp out and enjoy a week of live music, home cooked food and good company. It has been going on for just about a decade at this point and this year we were lucky enough to take part thanks to Taro Inoue.
The first day I met the legendary musician Taro, I was in Miyama visiting a cafe owned by one of my former students’ parents. She invited Taro to come by and meet me because she thought we might get along due to the fact that we’re both musicians. She said he’d be turning up sometime in the afternoon and sure enough, after downing a few cups of coffee, in walked this guys with ripped jeans, a hoodie and a mandolin case. We had a quick jam session and after we put our instruments back in their cases he invited me to his house to listen to some records.
As the records spun we talked about music and I remember mentioning that I really wanted to play a live show in Japan but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to do so. He thought about it for a second and then right then and there he invited me to perform at Pasar Moon. I asked him if he was sure since we had only known each other for 2 hours at that point but he said something to the effect of “It’s cool man, your music is good.” I told him that I wouldn’t let him down.
Fast forward a few months and there I was, standing on stage with my great pal and collaborator Shintaro playing the songs we wrote and arranged together in front of a very receptive audience on a beautiful summer evening in Shimane. It was one of the most enjoyable live shows I've ever played and for the last song Taro joined Shin and I for a rendition of the American classic 'Man of Constant Sorrow.’
Thank you Taro from the bottom of my heart for including me and Shin in this beautiful music festival. I'll remember it fondly for the rest of my life..
The Glass Album (2023)
Recorded in 13 sessions over the course of 4 months, The Glass Album was produced by Seth Engel and I at Ohmstead studios in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. The studio was run by our good friend Adrian Kobziar, and I would say it’s the nicest studio that we have ever worked in. Adrian has a wonderful collection of mics and outboard gear as well as a very extensive array of amps and instruments available for clients to use. He possesses an intimate knowledge on how to mic a drum set to a magnificent effect, which he displayed on this album. I think this album has the best drum sound of any of our previous works.
This was the last album I worked on before moving to Japan in October of 2021 which gave the recording sessions a feeling of urgency and finality. When I make an album with Seth I am always saying “this could be the last time” and he would usually just roll his eyes and laugh but this one really did feel that way because at that time we had no idea when I would be returning from Japan. Because of that, we really put a lot of extra effort into this one and made sure that every song was very strong and that the album had no weak moments.
The concept of this album in terms of its overall sound was that each track was specifically designed to sound nothing at all like the track that preceded or followed it. We basically wanted to make the album feel like a collection of songs that do not belong together. The only thing that links them is my voice and the drum sound. This sort of felt like returning to the early days of Nature’s Neighbor where our albums had a very scatterbrained feel to them. But also, strangely enough, I’m not sure that we accomplished that goal because even though the songs are very different in style, the album still manages to feel somewhat cohesive and sort of makes sense in a weird way, at least to me.
The recording sessions were extra special because we brought in some new people, and someone from my distant past as well. The new faces we worked with were Macie Stewart (violin), Max Beckman (double bass), Lia Kohl (cello), Al Costis ( electric bass), and Andrew Krull (pedal steel). Meeting all of these people and seeing them light up the studio with their individual talents was an absolute pleasure. And then there was my dear old friend, Nick Falco, who played piano on the 1920 classic “Avalon” which was an extra special moment of reconnection for me.
I guess this album was sort of me saying goodbye, at least temporarily, to the Chicago music scene that I had been a small part of for over 10 years. A little over a week after the final recording session I was boarding a plane bound for Narita, Japan to start my life as an English teacher in Kyoto. My life was changing and I wanted to make one final statement before I left. So this is it. An album about family, friends, memories of lost loved ones, dreams and saying farewell to the city I called home for 12 years. Looking back on it all now, it feels a little different than when I first made it, but that’s just the way it goes. I hope you enjoy it. Much love to you all.
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