Getting out of a long relationship can be a blessing and a curse for a musician. The experience can lead to a burst of creativity, but the songs that result often aren’t too happy. For Austin, TX-based musician and songwriter Abram Shook, the end of an eleven-year relationship did lead to many songs – two albums worth in fact – but the music feels anything but sad. One of those was a very personal collection titled Love at Low Speed, and a darker, more detached collection titled Love in the Age of Excess. Ultimately Shook committed to the more personal collection, Love at Low Speed, which comes out June 16th on Western Vinyl.
The album finds Shook continuing with the dreamy psych pop of his first two albums, but this time around the songwriting feels especially intimate as he mines his own emotions for material. Despite the closeness and not necessarily positive circumstances that led to the music, Love at Low Speed is anything but a downer. Shook fills every second with a rich textures, complex arrangements and sensual grooves. Influences of David Bowie and Prince are undeniable in the album’s funkier, more danceable tracks while there is also a more slowed down chillwave sound happening. He combines this with a melange of sounds inspired by the 1972 album Club Da Esquinha, a classic Brazilian recording that mixes rock with bossa nova, pop and more.
Today Glide Magazine is excited to share an exclusive premiere of the song “Device”. The Club Da Esquinha vibe can be heard in the guitar playing and the punchy groove, both of which complement Shook’s heavenly vocals. As with many of Shook’s songs, there is a dreamy playfulness to the song that is both catchy and ideal for dancing along. Listen to “Device” and read our conversation with Abram Shook below:
When you sat down to write this album, you produced two distinct batches of songs, one very personal collection titled Love at Low Speed, and a darker, more detached collection titled Love in the Age of Excess. Where do you think all of this inspiration came from, and is there a plan to eventually release the other collection as an album?
At the beginning of the day, there’s always a rock to push up a hill. I think my inspiration comes from an inner need to find a slow paced life full of purpose driven work. There’s a lovely Van Gogh quote that encapsulates what we often find so difficult to come to peace with as we make our way through an ever confusing landscape: “Does what goes on inside ever show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.” I love the puzzle-piece world of songwriting, recording and production because it feels purposeful to me. It helps me to stoke the embers that comprise my own small smoke-signals and I feel pretty fortunate to be surrounded by people willing to sit at a fire together. As far as eventually releasing Age of Excess, I’m not sure what form it will take. The songs are there, but to some degree I feel I’m in another head-space now and looking to expand my palette in different directions and make new statements.
Opening track “The Hours” seems to question the idea of a love song. You’ve also said that you’ve avoided the topic of love because you see it as cliche, and this song seems to comment on that. Can you talk about the inspiration and story behind the lyrics?
The song “Perfect” from Landscape Dream was a previous approach to a love song, but the style was much more observational rather than confessional. With Low Speed, I wanted to turn more inward and be a bit more authentic with my own personal struggles. “The Hours” started out as a different song entirely (different lyrics and melodies), but after a conversation with an ex it sort of became the central theme of the entire record. Interesting how those moments can present themselves to you at seemingly inopportune moments. We were pretty close to the end of tracking for the album and I had to go back and re-record all the vocals for the song, but it just felt like the right thing to do. The lyrics wrote themselves in one fell swoop, and they really helped set the tone for the rest of the album which is why I think it makes a good opening track. Oddly enough, the conversation was about the fact that she had always wondered why I had never really written a song for or about her. I found myself thinking, “wow, that’s not how I see it at all! I could point to so many songs/lyrics from my other albums that seemed so obviously about her/us.” It really brought up an intense feeling of isolation for me, of never fully knowing someone or how they’re interpreting the things you do in the parameters of a relationship. Again, to reference the Van Gogh quote, they might only see the wisps of smoke.
The album explores themes of love, loss, and connecting with others. What do you think has driven you to these things as a songwriter at this point in your life?
A lot of Landscape was me talking from a pretty cynical point of view. The lyrics were colder comments on all the things that frustrate me about the modern age and our increasing lack of connection. More often than not I think artists tend to rebel against their own previous work, so for me, Low Speed was a knee-jerk reaction to Landscape (which in a way was a reaction to Sun Marquee). Just because the world hums at a frenetic pace doesn’t mean I have to. I just wanted to look at love, loss and connection from a place of quiet reflection. The hope is that I can continue to find ways to evolve as a songwriter.
One of the most fascinating things about your albums has always been the production and instrumentation. How many other musicians did you work with on this release?
I view the studio as its own unique world and really enjoy watching songs unfold. I used to hold things closer to the chest, and have songs overly mapped out before starting a project. Since striking out on my own, I really began to learn to let go more so that things could be allowed to develop organically. Always on the lookout for a new spark that might take the original song idea in a unique direction. I can’t say enough about the positive impact of the musical community I’ve become a part of here in Austin, and I was fortunate to have so many great people work on the album with me. My close friend Christopher Cox was involved from the very start of songwriting and he became an integral sounding-board for me and helped keep the thematic focus throughout the recording. I tend to bounce between two different drummers depending on what feel I’m going for, and on this album I was pleased to add some upright bass on several songs. Unlike the previous two records, we placed more parameters on the sonic palette for Low Speed in order to arrive at a better overall cohesion from song to song.
Can you talk a little bit about how you built songs in the studio, perhaps with a tune like “Divinity”?
“Divinity” had a very specific ‘groove’ I was trying to achieve. I wanted to juxtapose the down-tempo, up-tempo feels with a very expansive bridge that took the song in a bit of a different direction before coming back around to familiar territory. Once Matt Shepherd (drums) and I talked out how we could achieve this without it feeling disjointed, the whole thing fell into place. We tracked all the basics as usual and then began going back and adding layers where appropriate. Sean Giddings (piano/synth) is a new addition to the rotating cast of badass musicians I like to work with. He’s got such a great ear, that we had fun just giving him a general direction and letting him loose with just one pass of improve over certain sections, and then we’d pull out what we liked later. That’s how the dreamy/somber piano line came about on the bridge. The chord progression I wrote drifts a bit from the root of the song in that section, and even though Sean hadn’t heard it before he picked up on the moody departure right away. Firsts instincts are often best and he just let his mind (and fingers) wander to create a beautiful passage that became one of my favorite moments on the entire album!
You’ve cited Club Da Esquinha as an influence. How did you come upon that and how do you translate its influence into your own work?
My ex (who’s Brazilian) introduced me to the album and I was immediately blown away. Having been written and recorded at a time of intense political/military dictatorship in Brazil makes it an even more special piece of art. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to Brazil many times and to have discovered its diverse variety of amazing music! I love the often dense chord progressions with lilting/effortless melodies over-top that Brazilian music seems to do with aplomb. Whenever possible I try to incorporate Brazilian and African rhythmic elements into my music as well. During the writing of Low Speed, I came across a record by Sidney Miller titled Linguas De Fogo, which inspired me to include flute on the album! Expanding my musical tastes to include non-western music is when I really felt I started improving as a songwriter. This is a topic I could go on at length about and how it relates to some of the things we are missing in ‘popular’ music these days, but I feel that might be better saved for a different discussion. I’ll just say that when creativity comes from struggle it is inherently embedded with a deep sense of humility and joy for the act itself and not the end result.
6/20 – Live on KUTX – Austin, TX
6/22 – Axlerad – Houston, TX
6/23 – Artmosphere – Lafayette, LA – w/Viatones
6/24 – Mohawk (release show) – Austin, TX – w/ Good Field
6/28 – Harvest House – Denton, TX
6/30 – The Hideout – Chicago, IL – w/ Knife In The Water
7/1 – Raccoon Motel – Davenport, IA w/ Ratboys (Moeller Nights)
7/2 – Audiofeed – Champagne, IL