Violents is the project of multi-instrumentalist and producer Jeremy Larson, and for his latest endeavor, he teamed up with vocalist Monica Martin (of Phox) for a collab album titled Awake and Pretty Much Sober. Initially slated to be a four track EP, it quickly became clear that something magic was at work between the two musicians, and the narrative (which explores the various good, bad and ugly stages of a relationship) was expanded to satisfy a full-length effort. The resulting body of work is one of the best things I’ve heard so far in 2017, so naturally I wanted to find out more about how the formation of this power team came to pass in the first place.
Larson was put in touch with Martin through a mutual friend, though at that point he’d already been a longtime fan, and had even preemptively written the songs for the album with her voice in mind.
“She really has a one of a kind voice. No one really sounds like her,” he said.
Fortunately she agreed to work with him to bring the songs to life, but what if she’d have turned him down?
“I guess I wouldn’t have scrapped the whole lot of songs; I’d have tried to find someone else, but it wouldn’t have been preferable, and I probably would’ve been pretty persistent in trying to lock her into doing it, because she’s perfect.”
(It’s true.) I asked Martin to give her POV on having been asked to participate. Was there any element of uncertainty?
“I was a little hesitant in my own insecurities and nerves, but then when we actually got together, I was really happy with the good energy and the experience.”
And what did that experience entail, exactly? It seems that’s where the aforementioned magic kicked in between the duo.
“I don’t like spending a lot of time on making scratch vocals, because I don’t want to influence what the singer’s going to do very much,” Larson said. “I want to keep it very, very straightforward, because I really want it to feel more like a script that they [the vocalists] read. I want them to bring something to it. Monica’s one of the most emotive singers that I’ve ever heard or known, so it’s hard to put into words what she brought to the table, but she just brought so much life and depth to the lyrics.”
Martin said, “We’d sit in the studio and he’d read me lyrics and talk about the song, and I’d usually cry [laughs] and then we’d record. Working together helped me reflect on how I write songs, and it was cool that he [Larson] explained everything in a way that made me feel really comfortable. I’d consider myself fairly empathetic, so he’d talk about it, and I’d process through his lens, which was really effective.”
Effective indeed! The EP, a total of four songs, was recorded in a swift two days.
Larson says, “We finished the four songs that were going to be the EP, because that’s how I’d been releasing music up to that point, just four songs at a time.” But after Partisan swayed them to do a full-length, Larson was able to expand the story by penning six more songs.
A song that particularly stood out to me on the record is positioned smack in the middle of the ten, and it’s also one of my favorites. Titled “Spark”, its message certainly fits thematically into the portrait of relationship ups and downs. However, it feels much more tender and vulnerable than the other nine tracks, so I asked Larson to explain why it felt right to include it as a kind of interlude.
“I’ve always gravitated towards writing sad songs. If you ask any songwriter, it’s a lot easier than writing things that are really optimistic and upbeat. But that song doesn’t necessarily fit stylistically on the album all that well, but I’m really proud of it. It was written about my wife, but it can apply to any relationship; you meet someone and they’re unique, a character with quirks, and that’s what draws you to them and makes you fall in love in the first place. But over time, especially in marriage, you start to try to normalize things you fell in love with that are so incredible and unique, and knowing it is a very, very sad thing. A lot of the time I write songs with the intention of trying to fully explore something and learn something about myself, and try to figure out some life lesson for myself that I can take with me moving forward, and that song was very much one of those instances where I just wanted it to be a reminder to myself that I married someone who is so incredibly special and unique, and I never ever want to sterilize those parts of her personality, or dumb them down.”
“Spark” came up again when I asked Martin whether or not there were any tracks she felt especially connected to. She said, “I was moved by all of the songs, but one in particular called ‘Spark’ talks about the process of having people round off your edges in these covert ways, and that was something that I was able to relate to a lot. There’s a line that’s pretty straightforward that says, ‘Everything unique in me is everything you said would need some shaping up or sorting out.’ Growing up in a pretty narrow-minded, rural Wisconsin town and feeling like I needed to assimilate to that space, I ended up becoming silent. There’s another line, ‘I’m everyone and I’m no one,’ you know, when you kind of end up pandering to people, you serve everyone else and not yourself. It’s sad. It’s a sad way to live, and I think a lot of people do.”
Beautiful narrative aside, the record’s instrumentation is absolutely gorgeous, too, and it’s hard to imagine it being brought to life on stage. It seems like we’re in for a pretty transcendent performance from what Larson said of the setup, though:
“We’ll be running some samples on a laptop, I’ll be playing synths and piano, we’ll have a string quartet, and we’ll also have a drummer who’ll be controlling another sampler. And of course Monica will be singing!”
Whether or not you’re able to make it out to the performances, I’d highly recommend grabbing a copy of Awake and Pretty Much Sober this Friday the 28th. (Prepare to be Awake and Pretty Much Moved.)
Catch Violents + Monica Martin at Rough Trade tonight.