Amidst the turbulence of modern society and the political climate in America, it is often difficult to see the role that music plays. Portland singer-songwriter Brian Granse has pondered this question throughout his career as an artist, which has carried him through a wide array of lifestyles linked by a common theme: From growing up in a rural Illinois town of 2,000 people, to holding down construction jobs while playing music throughout his twenties, to working as a teacher for at-risk youth in Portland, OR, Granse has found himself on the front lines of income inequality in the United States. It is largely this issue, and the rural-urban divide, that motivates his upcoming EP, The Longwall, which is due out this spring.
The Longwall is a lush and lonesome portrait of hardship. Largely set against a backdrop of desolate flatlands of the midwest, Granse’s songs give voice to the economically depressed, working class people of rural America to whom upward mobility is inaccessible. Melancholic chords and rich strings fill out the stories that come to life with Granse’s heartfelt voice and acoustic guitar. While the music feels deeply emotional, the presence of something larger than Granse himself looms beneath the surface.
The Longwall was self-recorded entirely at Brian Granse’s home studio except for drums, which were engineered by Justin Phelps at Cloud City Studios before he opened The Hallowed Halls in Portland, OR. It features Kyleen King on violin (Brandi Carlile, The Decemberists), Chris Frank on upright bass, Gideon Freudman on cello (Portland Cello Project), Russ Kleiner on drums (Tony Furtado, Curtis Salgado), Lex Browning on violin (Tanya Tucker, Trace Adkins), and Paul Brainard on pedal steel (Blitzen Trapper, M. Ward).
Today Glide is excited to premiere “Barstow to Reno”, one of the poignant singles from the upcoming EP. Set to a soundtrack of Western-tinged Americana, the song zeroes in on one family’s experience in the transitional space between the city and the country. Granse’s strength as a lyrical storyteller is on full display as he transforms his own experience of witnessing a family of four in the parking lot of a small hotel while traveling through the east side of the Sierras a few years after the 2008 recession. He could tell this family was living out of their truck, and he conveys their destitution and hopelessness through the music, accentuating the emotions with the addition of strings.
Brian Granse explains the inspiration and process behind the song:
“I wrote ‘Barstow to Reno’ over the course of several early morning sessions, with 6am coffee and a clear mind, before heading to my teaching job. In those early morning hours when the world is still, I feel more able to lock into a character or concept and just be immersed. In this song, I focused heavily on using short lines with few words while still trying to make each line carry a lot of info- many lines were erased or shaved down. I really wanted to capture the story of this family I saw struggling- in a way that was open enough for people to connect with, and honor the family’s courage and resilience without painting a scene of pity. I wrote the whole song from the father’s perspective, which was a pretty natural character for me to sink into, even though I wrote it before becoming a father myself. I’ve worked construction and carpentry jobs and spent a whole lot of time on the road. I know how it feels to work a hard day chasing the myth that one day you’ll get ahead. This father I saw had all of his tools, and a truck, but at the hotel it just seemed like he and his wife were hanging by a thread. And the kids were playing, but kids are more aware of what’s going on than we assume. The American Dream was just a mirage for all of them- the whole family. And that’s the real story here.
After almost twenty years of releasing music, this song finally feels like I’m where I want to be as an artist. I’ve never been more proud of a track- from the lyrics to the emotional tone of the vocals. I arranged every instrument and wrote the cello parts, and mixed the song on my own, so I’ve had every opportunity to influence the emotion in this recording, which is empowering and overwhelming at the same time. As an engineer, it’s challenging to get what I hear in my head to come out of the speakers. But I think that engineering matters- it’s critical to the emotional experience for the listener. My hope is that the emotion in the song can inspire people to take a moment and consider the experience of the main character, and in that moment consider whether or not it’s necessary for people to live like that. Some people are comfortable with the idea that the price of economic progress is the pain felt in lower income families. I’m certainly not comfortable with it. I think we’ve all been trained to accept it. And we’re all expected to accept it. Even the stoic main character finds the silver lining in his situation, but maybe that’s actually the ultimate symptom of surrender.”