By the time I actually met Aaron Thompson he had played some of his torchier songs at one of our Family Hemerlein Variety Shows and we’ve nodded acknowledgments at each other a bunch at dinner and other parties. You know how these things go. But then – on a particularly snowy, dreary Thursday evening in December we, both refugees from the Architecture profession, as I soon found out, were together guests (he of the musical variety and actual value, me of the dog-and-pony show nature) at a talk show Me, You, Everybody which gets taped on Thursdays at Looking Glass lounge.
Here, after his planned & programmed 2 songs, both of which sounded like the perfect sonic blanket to wrap yourself in on a wintry evening (all raspy vocals and spare percussion leading you gently but firmly across iced over, fantastical landscapes) he stayed and played a full show, just because, as a present to the attendees who braved the night and the snow. (you can listen to the episode here.).
Song after heartfelt song, you could sense how much he just loved playing his music and that well, that sort of touched my cold, jaded, website-running heart – and, along with everyone else present, I just gave in. And I think you should too. The music is the kind of spare “nothing to hide behind” songwriting which only clever musicians can do with some measure of success – no spare change here to go around, just good, solid foundations and fair dose of soul. Oh yeah, and he’s a pretty nice guy too.
This weekend, after a busy couple of months of smaller shows, Aaron is playing the opening of the LUCE Unplugged series @ The American Art Museum this Sunday at 1:30pm. You should go, after brunch and before your nap, trust us. To prepare you for it, Aaron kindly walked us through 3 songs from hims Self-Titled Debut (out now) + and a brand new video for “A record, A wheel” which sees him facing off with a train somewhere in the blustery woods of Philadelphia. The train doesn’t stand a chance.
photos by: Joshua Cogan
I wrote that electric piano part in the beginning of the song and I really liked it. I started playing with everything in my studio (an 8×8 closet in my old apartment in Baltimore) to see what sounds I could get out of them. I tore up a napkin and recorded it, and that’s in the beginning of the song. I recorded parts over that piano track and it got weirder and creepier, and I let it sit for a few months because no words would come. At one point I was about to release it as an instrumental track and I thought of a kid walking through west coast suburbia. How would someone see our country if they saw it for what it really was? It got me thinking that’s impossible, because we’re conditioned to accept and believe things, and how we see what’s in front of us is always based on our own personal realities. I became really interested in what it would be (and sound!) like to be rid of all these things, and open your eyes for the first time. Vals is based on that idea, and I got the name from a town in Switzerland I visited a few years ago – I came the closest to having that feeling there, in Vals.
A RECORD, A WHEEL
This is the result of me screwing things up with someone and writing about the aftermath. You live and learn. I never lived in Chicago but it felt right for the song. I recorded a few versions of this in my Mt. Vernon apartment in Baltimore but couldn’t get it to work. It wasn’t until I moved to DC and worked with Lex Paulson and Michael Harris on this song that it really came together. We just shot a video of this on some train tracks in the woods in PA with my new wonderful band. A train hits me at the end and we’re really proud of it! I’m still alive thanks to Chris and Matt of Goldenbear.
I literally thought up this melody when I passed a road on route 70 called Bethany Lane. It was the stretch between Frederick and Baltimore. I never took the exit but all these images of two old friends returning home came to me. That feeling you get when you’re sitting across from someone really important in your life, but you haven’t seen them in a while – there’s a glittery buzz in your head and an emptiness in your stomach. You want to pick it up where it left off but you never can.
So you count holidays and listen to the man on the corner singing gospel songs.
I recorded Bethany Lane first with a guitar, and then added parts until it sounded like that buzz in your head. I used a terrible old banjo and a violin bow to make the string parts, and there’s a spot at 1:41 where I added a recording I had made in Perugia, Italy. I was walking around at night and there was this beautiful music coming from someone’s window in an alley, and I recorded a few seconds of it. Just when I thought I was finished with this song, Justin Moyer recorded a drum part for it that really tied everything together. I’m so grateful for the people that helped record this album.
Find Aaron online: http://www.myspace.com/aaronthompsonsong + get his record heredigitally or via SOCKETS & catch him live next this Sunday @ Smithsonian American Art Museum at 1:30pm as the first in the LUCE Unplugged series.