Summer is just around the corner, which means it’s time to start working on that seasonal playlist. If you’re looking for something to be at the top of your rotation, look no further than the new album from slowcore cult favorites Spain. On June 3rd the band will release Carolina, and today we are excited to premiere the album right here on Glide Magazine.
For Carolina, the band worked with a handful of carefully selected musicians, including Kenny Lyon, a musical shape-shifter, who during the past 40 years has played with acts such as Lemonheads, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Joe Walsh and NoFX, to build what they call more of an “Americana” sound. The musicians involved serve to compliment the vision of Spain’s frontman Josh Haden, whose voice often falls somewhere between R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and Magnolia Electric Co’s Jason Molina but with a more arid quality, and his ability to harness feelings of melancholy, mourning, and love through powerful lyrical narratives. Looking at the album as a whole, we are presented with a collection of songs ideal for a late summer night sipping wine with a friend. As Josh Haden explains it, Carolina differs compared to previous Spain albums in the way the band set out to create a more streamlined, consistent sound throughout.
“Musically, for this album I wanted to focus on an ‘Americana’ or ‘alt-country’ sound specifically. The reasons are 1. on previous albums I felt I was writing and releasing too many music genres in the same project and this made it difficult for projects to get coverage in specialized music media (such as ‘indie rock’, ‘art rock’, ‘Americana’, etc) while hurting chances of getting coverage in more general music media (Pitchfork, etc) and 2. I wanted to get back to my musical family roots of country and of my dad who passed away two years ago. This is the first album I’ve released since my dad died,” says Haden.
The themes of death, love, angst and nostalgia weigh heavily throughout Carolina. Each song seems to capture one or more of those themes and present them in the form of a story. This is an album that warrants repeat listens with special attention paid to the lyrics, although the rich, twangy composition of each song will also pull you in. Give a listen to Carolina and check out Josh Haden’s track-by-track commentary below:
In 1875, a homesteader settles down with his bride, their house and land is stolen by a cattle baron, the cattle baron’s wife sleeps with the homesteader. Fast-forward several generations and the homesteader’s great-great-great-great grandson has stolen the wife of the cattle baron’s great-great-great-great grandson. The homesteader and the errant wife travel towards the Missouri line in a Maserati with the cattle baron’s posse in close pursuit. The inspiration for this song was an old John Wayne serial from the 1930s. It has a lot of Americana elements musically.
2. “The Depression”
My grandfather’s family lived on and operated a farm in upstate New York. One winter during the Great Depression, his family couldn’t afford to stay at the farm so they decided to move down to Sunnyside where they had friends. The parents thought it best to leave the dog, Queenie, at a shelter in upstate New York miles from the farm. When they came back to the farm in the Spring they found Queenie dead at the doorstep. Queenie had escaped from the shelter and ran miles through snow-covered forest back to the farm. No one was at the farm so Queenie froze to death waiting for her family to return. I changed the name of the dog to “Marilyn” for the song. My grandfather was a very compassionate man but he was also very stoic and we never saw him cry, except when he told us grandkids about growing up during the Great Depression. Musically this song has an old country sound.
In the early 1990s I was in my mid twenties and single and I called a girl who listed herself in the “woman seeking man” dating section in the back of the L.A. Weekly. I was so nervous I left this horribly garbled message for her, but she called me back anyways. After talking for awhile we agreed to meet the next night, time and place to be determined. But I never called her back for the place or time. The next day my roommates invited me to a party in Beverly Hills. When I was approaching the house I saw this exact same girl sitting in front of the house, obviously very angry, telling her girlfriend that some guy had stood her up. I’m sure this was her because, as she described to me over the phone, she had a very distinctive look, and this girl had that look. When I got inside it was pretty clear everyone was on some type of drug and that’s the kind of party it was, even though I didn’t know this beforehand. A party-goer told me we were on Timothy Leary’s property — Leary had recently passed away — and that this party was part of his wake. He pointed at a door at the top of a flight of stairs outside and said there were some of Timothy’s friends partying inside. I didn’t go up the stairs. What struck me was all of Timothy Leary’s work in psychedelics, space-time theory, chance vs. fate, universe vs. god, etc… and that I flaked out on this girl, never thought I’d see or speak to her again, but saw her anyways, at the place we probably would have arranged to meet, and how things that were meant to be are impossible to avoid. Musically, I wanted to have one song on the album that had no drums, and this one made the most sense. It’s not very country or Americana but uses elements from those genres.
A couple are at their apartment and the man tells the woman he’s tired of arguing with her. At the same time below their apartment window there is rioting and violence. The man tells his girlfriend that humankind outside can do what it wants, love has placed he and his girlfriend outside humanity, love will not allow them to be affected by outside violence, and together they are the key to world peace as long as they don’t argue. Musically this is more “indie rock” but a lap steel guitar keeps it within the boundaries of Americana.
5. “One Last Look”
This song is about the 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster, the tragedy which prompted Congress to revamp mining restrictions and give miners more rights in 1969. The lyrics are from the perspective of a miner who is trapped in the mine as it explodes. He laments the loss of his dreams and of his loved ones. This song has a country waltz feel and is the first on the album to feature the violin playing of my sister Petra.
6. “In My Hour”
The protagonist, Mother Earth, tells the people of Los Angeles that if they don’t treat her better and with more respect their lives will be upended and destroyed by rain, thunder, and floods. This is arguably the most “country” sounding of all the songs – “Hank Williams meets Frank Zappa”, according to Kenny.
7. “Battle Of Saratoga”
In late-1960s New York, a jazz musician from Manhattan playing a Christmas Eve gig in the upstate town of Kingston is trapped in the town by a snowstorm. Alone in a hotel room, he has no access to heroin and is going through withdrawals. Opening a brochure he finds in the room he reads about the history of the town and about the Battle Of Saratoga, a key battle during the Revolutionary War. He hallucinates that he is General John Burgoyne of the British Troops, fighting the Americans. Help doesn’t reach him in time and he retreats back through the pine needles, burning the town as he goes. This song has a Revolutionary War marching style.
8. “Starry Night”
A young woman comes home to find her boyfriend in bed with another woman. The woman and her boyfriend yell at each other and the boyfriend leaves the house. The boyfriend thinks he’s left for good. The young woman knows he’ll be back. This song is a country waltz.
9. “For You”
This is the most “rock” song on the album. My six-year old son loves it. It still has a foot in traditional American blues, thus a tentative connection to Americana. It’s a love song about devotion.
10. “Station 2”
When I was sixteen I would often spend the night at a friend’s house who’s parents lived on the cusp of Malibu, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. At night we would stuff our blankets with junk and sneak out the window, meet our friends who lived nearby and walk down to the beach, where we would smoke pot, build fires in the sand with newspaper, and generally loiter. When I got to be college age I basically abandoned this place and all of my friends. Years later I return to this cliff overlooking the beach and think about my life back then, how I thought I had so much time to spare, only to return with nostalgia and longing for the good old days, lost love, and for my lost youth. This song is also the root of the album title.
Spain’s Carolina is out on June 3rd. For more info check out spaintheband.com.