In mid-April, Castle Face and Empty Cellar will release Dylan Shearer's new album, garagearray, and we bring you one of the first listens with the premiere of, “meadow mines (fort polio)”. The San Francisco artist has been dubbed an 'elusive pop wizard' by Empty Cellar, and readies his third full-length release that follows Porchpuddles, and his Planted/Plans debut. On garagearray, the lauded Bay Area artist is joined by Thee Oh Sees Petey Dammit on bass and Comets On Fire's Noel von Harmonson on drums with production from Eric Bauer. These elements of support provides a lush canvas, where Dylan leads us to the valleys and meadows of memories and profound reflection.
Superlatives and flowery language falls short to convey the standard foundations from Dylan Shearer's approaches to the storied schools and methods of songwriting. From the opening overdub of memory marking chords from, “meadow mines (fort polio)”, you brought into the transcendental environments of Dylan's youth. In our discussion following the song's debut, Shearer discusses the Mojave desert childhood that contributes to the landscapes of nostalgic feelings that comprise the album, garagearray. The personal song is like a journey to the box of old family photographs in the garage that contains old letters, outgrown toys, and reminders of pain that point to the passing of time and fragility of the human condition.
Much will be said in the coming days, months, and years about the vintage psych-folk appeal of Shearer's garagearray, but the places traversed and recreated by Dylan, Petey, and Noel run deeper and wider. No matter how many comparisons with a music critic's favorite fringe 60s psychedelic sevant can compare to these stark, honest, and vulnerable expressions. Dylan rekindles the importance of what meanings yesterday's bonds and observances has on today, where he relates a kindred relationship shared with his father stricken with polio, to the desert guitar strummed meadows that pick through a ballad on coping and understanding suffering and loss. Even though, “the pain is always deep inside”, the heart to head connection sings and searches for ways to, “leave it all behind”. The mortal grip is beautifully drawn, with the transcendental struggle to possibly break through the cage for possibly something even greater. Even though Dylan moves out beyond the expanses of mind, the reality that anchors this natural song is the return to those “meadow mines”, where thoughts and senses of being reconvene there all the time.
We had an opportunity for an indepth dialogue with Dylan Shearer that provides a candid glimpse into the art and process from one of today's rising songwriting talents.
There is something so personal and tender with your music. What did you spend your upbringing listening to? Earliest music affinity memories?
Thank you. I listened to lots really but my first musical emotional connections as far back as I can remember…were the entire outputs of the Beatles and the Beach Boys….I imagine this is quite common…I still listen to both of those with the same sense of awe as during my childhood…I am a very nostalgic person.
I feel like garagearray describes your home spun sound beautifully. How do you describe your own songwriting process?
It can be different from song to song…sometimes it involves arranging different parts to fit together in a fluid way at the end. Pretty much all of my songs begin with chord progressions that I either hear in my head and then try to translate to the guitar, or piano, or stuff that just sticks and seems to come from out of nowhere and really stick. I make a point of trying not to force things, they either come when they are ready or don't. I always have developed a vocal melody concurrently which becomes fixed and then the lyrics always come after the fact so that the consonants and word sounds fit with the vocal melody/inflections. With the guitar….the way the songs are constructed depends a great deal on the tuning.
Challenges of composing this upcoming song cycle for Castle Face / Empty Cellar?
Not really. I am very lucky to be able to work with everyone and am very appreciative for the support. The biggest positive difference about this album is the addition of band-mates Noel and Petey. I used to do everything myself and I think the songs and future songs benefit from the collaboration.
What is the greater story behind the writing of “meadow pines (fort polio)”?
This may be T.M.I. but this song actually has layers of meaning to me and fit with the general theme of the album. As I said…I am very nostalgic…most of the album and particularly this song, is comprised of patchwork imagery from the very first house I grew up in until I was 16 in the Mojave Desert, general themes about death, anxiety and feelings of loss, The balance of the youthful perspective of hope, and realizations of misery, and some others….. this song in particular is about my father, who suffered from immense chronic physical pain due to having had Polio as a child. There is imagery of the times I spent hanging out with him by his bedside… He always had a huge fan in his room blowing around smoke… He also was very nostalgic and told never-ending stories about his life and especially his hippie days…..one thing he spoke about were the various ways that he tried to transcend his physical pain through meditation, smoking lots of weed (dirt weed), and hopefulness. He was always trying to teach us things and painted a very hopeful and optimistic view that contributed to my general outlook, but he didn't prepare me for some of the existential woes….this is about the crossing of different kinds of narratives and self realization of pain….especially when I was in school and very isolated, which I fucking hated….I used to sit alone and had zero friends and was targeted by bullies, etc…so there was like this home life that was very supportive, creative, and loving and then this experience when I was with my peers where I felt extremely alone and depressed… The “meadow mines” part of it is how part of this hope that I had embodied grew with my then obsession with hallucinogens and pot that my dad also touted as a way to transcend all this and open your mind….but irregardless of how much we try to escape the various kinds of pain we feel, it never fully goes away. They coexist…Other themes in the album revolve around my work as a social worker, working with [the] geriatric population with severe mental illness. Lots of my songs revolve around my experiences with this job
Thoughts on the makings and challenges of the modern singer-songwriter?
Not really — I have just always sort of done my own thing and will always do this for many other reasons other than being a modern singer songwriter.
Favorite vintage folk/psych records?
This is tough cuz I am a super obsessive music collector and hate picking favorites….I love all the usual, Nirvana (UK), Honeybus, Bill Fay, R. Stevie Moore, Pink Floyd, king crimson, Captain Beefheart (who was from my hometown), love lots of Brazillian stuff especially Chico Buarque and Milton Nascimento/ Lo Borges, Slapp Happy, Bee Gees, been loving that recent Michael Fennelly demos collection, Kinks, Billy Nichols, Zombies, Van Dyke Parks, Donovan, Emmitt Rhodes, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Harry Nilsson, Lucio Battisti, Red Krayola, 10cc, Jack Nitszche, Judee Sill, Margo Guryan, Mama Cass, Tiny Tim, I gotta stop, the list goes on forever — I listen to lots.