2014 has been – without a doubt – the year of the indie rock singer-songwriter. We’ve had amazing releases like Xander Smith, Matt Turk and Sean Watkins coming in one after the other, and they just keep getting better and better. The latest album to amaze us is Tenant by Jeremy Bass. It’s a daring, brave set of songs that strips away the mind’s trickery of camouflage and crutches, and bares the truth of an individual through words and music. It’s touching, relevant and excellent.
Jeremy Bass is a bi-coastal singer/songwriter, published poet and literary critic and on Tenant his stunning lyrical and language skills are perfectly framed and beautifully displayed. His ability to paint pictures with words and music is simply superb and he takes the listener on journeys that are elegant, deep and seemingly endless. There’s a whole world lensed through the shimmering window of Tenant. Joining Jeremy are producer Matthew Vitti, bassist Pete Griffin, keyboardist and composer Aaron Kotler, members of Silouette Quartet, and a backing array of mandolin, banjo, and lap steel guitars who have all combined to craft an album that will surely stand the test of time. Together they have put together a collection of complex, poignant and personal songs that have been beautifully realized with love and attention to the finest detail. Very Highly Recommended.
RUST Magazine was so taken with Tenant that we reached out to Jeremy to have him tell us about the recording of Tanant and a little about each song on the album. Here he is in his own words.
RUST: First, Jeremy, this really is a great album. One could say that it took a lifetime to make it, so we’re curious, how long had you been working on some of the songs here?
JB: Thanks so much. I think you could say that about a lot of first albums–it’s an artist’s first offering, and in a sense all the musical experiences they make up to that point go into that album. That being said, yes, the album took a long time to make, and some of the songs are quite old, as much as 8 years or more. Some of them I wrote in the first weeks and months after moving to NYC, and some were written as the album was being recorded.
RUST: Who were some of the people that helped record this album? What was it about them that made them right for the project?
JB: The core tracks were all recorded at Matthew Vitti’s MotherBrotherStudios in Bridgeport, CT. Matt is the main reason the album came to completion and sounds the way it does–he recorded all the guitars, vocals, mandolin and banjo, strings and piano, as well as playing and recording drums and percussion and writing all the string parts. He was perfect for the project, not only for his technical skills at mic placement, mixing and arranging, but also for his creativity and openness to helping me achieve what I was hearing but couldn’t make yet. We spent hours in his studio playing around with ideas until we found what worked, and Tenant wouldn’t exist without that sense of possibility and discovery.
RUST: During the recording process, did the songs develop like you expected or did you find new directions as you worked through the ideas?
JB: Because I’d lived with most of the songs for a long time, I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted them to sound like, and what the arrangements and instrumentation would be on some of them. With other songs, the vision changed as we heard what the instrumentation sounded like, usually in the direction of less-is-more. “Gone,” for example, began as a kind of southern-rock anthem and ended up sparsely arranged with light percussion, organ and mandolin.
RUST: Now that it is all done, how do you feel about it?
JB: I love it, and I’m really happy about the reception it’s been getting. I feel, though, that I moved on to the next project some time ago. The mixing took quite a long time, as did the production and promotion, and in that intervening time I cooked up two batches of other songs and recorded them, each as their own EP, funded completely by my fans on Kickstarter. Winter Bare was recorded at New Monkey Studio in Los Angeles this past summer (Elliott Smith’s last studio), and I just finished recording the second EP, New York in Spring, last week at a new studio in Brooklyn called Creekside Sound. We’ve got quite a lot of work left to do, overdubs and arrangements and some more recording before the mixing process begins, but I hope these will come out in Winter and Spring of 2015. And while that’s going on, I’ll probably start in on something new–not sure what that will be yet.
RUST: Is there anybody you want to thank for supporting you while you worked on Tenant?
JB: Certainly Matthew Vitti, for numerous reasons. Pete Griffin, a touring and session musician, bass-player extraordinaire from Los Angeles, played on every track, and without him this album wouldn’t be what it is. Aaron Kotler, a brilliant jazz pianist and composer from Brooklyn, also played on nearly all the tracks, sometimes contributing three or four keyboard layers, and Tenant wouldn’t be so lush without his contributions. Of course, I can’t thank my friends and fans enough for all the support they’ve given me while making and touring to support this album.
RUST: Thanks Jeremy, what can you tell us about each of the songs?
Pickup Lines for the Love of my Life: My first weeks in New York City. In May, everyone comes out of hiding, and they shed as many layers of clothes as possible. Ah, God be a gust of wind under a woman’s skirt. This is a fantasy, pure and simple, of finding the love of your life among the many beautiful passing faces in the crowd.
Grey Days: My first apartment was an old, converted warehouse building in Bushwick that looked across a garbage-processing plant into a seemingly never-ending expanse of warehouses and row-buildings. There were a lot of cloudy, windy days that autumn, and I have to admit I’ve always suffered a bit from the shortening daylight of November and December (good ol’ seasonal affective disorder), and this was my attempt to get beyond that and just enjoy my time there. I was listening to a lot of Elliott Smith, which probably didn’t help my mood, but certainly informed the sound and structure of this song.
The Road: A Paul Simon tribute, and my attempt at a semi-narrative song. One thing about NYC is that you can get trapped there, spending as much as a year without realizing you haven’t left. It really sucks the life out of you, but all you have to do is hop in a car (which nobody has usually) and get the hell out of town. I’m from New England, and for a while this became the simplest solution for the NYC blues.
River, River: This is an old Peggy Lee tune. I was sitting around one night, listening to a bunch of her music, and was so taken with this song I decided I had to learn it. While I was puzzling out the chords, the thought occurred to me that Jeff Buckley would’ve done a killer version of it, and I tried to approximate the chord voicings and 6/8 cascading triplet rhythms he loved so much. So I can’t take too much credit here. Everyone’s gotta have a cover, right?
Almost Empty: There’s a phenomenon in early Spring in New York City where everyone is so sick of winter and being cooped up in their apartments that as soon as it shows the slightest sign of being the least bit warmer than the day before, they rush out to have dinner or drinks in the outdoor patios and open-door cafes. Inevitably, however, some freezing torrent of spring rain comes crashing down and sends everyone running inside. I was one of those unfortunates one night in April, and I was thinking of my mother, who had died recently, and was trying to write a poem for her. I sketched out what later became these lyrics, and when I got home, realized that it could be a killer song instead of lame poem, and wrote the whole tune that night.
Songs of Sex and Ritual: A reviewer recently called this my “rock opera anthem,” and I think I agree. Funny enough, the main melody was inspired by Bjork, but it ended up as something very different.
Millimoon (Calvino): This is a re-telling of a short story by the great Italian post-modernist Italo Calvino, called “The Distance to the Moon.” It’s from a book called Cosmicomics, where each short story is a re-envisioning of a creation myth–how we came to be solid forms, how we first became land animals after living in the sea for so long, etc. This story is about a time when the moon was so close that people used to row out to it, lean ladders against its surface and climb up to harvest the delicious moon-milk. The narrator of the story is in love with someone else’s wife, and when she climbs up one time to search for milk, the moon starts to pull out into its current orbit, and he loses her forever. Calvino ends the story by saying that this passion and lost love is what causes our dogs to howl when the moon is full and close to the earth again.
Gone: Lost love, a bad breakup, the middle of winter, and lessons that arrive just when they can do no good anymore. What are you gonna do but sing about it?
These Hands: I wrote this song for my ex-wife to sing on her first album. Hard to believe, looking back, how violent it is, how indicative of the decline of our marriage. That’s the amazing thing about art–try as hard as you can, when you’re really committed to making something good, it can’t help but be authentic, and it reveals things you didn’t even know you thought or felt. We broke up soon after I wrote this tune. She never recorded it, so I decided to instead.
The Thief’s Song: This was the first song I wrote as a make-up song. I’d really fucked up, and so it had to be good to get her back. It worked, for a time anyway. I think this may be my favorite tune on the album right now.
The Bridge: Let’s end on an positive note. This is still New York City, after all–life, people, chaos, possibility, dreams. And Matt’s kick-ass percussion moving things along.