Original Writeup
12.11.2020

Galen Clark Is Unlike Anyone You’ve Ever Heard Before.. Truly

by Dean Tartaglia

As we obsess over, and compete, for algorithms to get our music out there, often our messages become echoes of echoes of echoes, sterile and bland and cookie cutter.. but every once in a blue moon you’ll hear an artist who has taken the same sounds you’ve heard before but has run them through filters and programs, cultural reference points and contexts, over and over and over again, until the result is something that is so intense and striking that you don’t quite know how to react other than to love it.. and that’s precisely what we have here.

Running into Galen Clark‘s music was a chance, and actually mistaken, encounter for me, but I believe it was fate. I was immediately struck by how different his sonic universe is, especially for something that could be considered “folk” (which I don’t know if I necessarily would, but we’ll get into that). Galen makes futuristic sounding acoustic compositions with the extraordinary ability to restructure and arrange them in ways that sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before.. truly like nothing, and as a guy who listens to a ton of different artists on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis, trust me, that speaks to something you can’t fake. Let’s explore his latest release “The Well”:

It’s obvious from the first track “1000 Ways / Cyclical” that Galen’s ear for production as a musical tool is well honed. So often artists fall into the trap of keeping their sonic atmosphere stiff and unchanging, from the jump on this track Galen offers changing tones, depths and perspectives that leave you guessing what comes next sonically. Whether its the slightly under-the-covers drum sound (David Bowie’s “Low” comes to mind), his soft and layered vocal stacks, the 2/3rds low-pass drop out, or the almost randomized fuzz guitar solo, you’re in for a ride to expect the unexpected. And that doesn’t even cover how catchy these tracks are.

My favorite track on the album is certainly the one that’s garnered the most attention on it’s own so far “Well Inside A Well”. With the best vocal melody on the whole album, banging and pummeling drums, some of the sweetest instrumental runs, and that trademark Galen Clark “we’re in a different universe here” style production, this is a track that is well deserving of the wider indie rock community’s attention. It’s not just the best “almost-pop” style form on the record, it’s moments, for example, like the production thinning 2/3rds of the way through that really get you to lean in and listen before you get smoked by the minor-major-guitar-blip hook one last time. It almost breaks the forth wall of “I’m listening to music in the 21st century, I think of heard it all before” because no, you really haven’t until you’ve listened to this.

The rest of the album finishes out much more strongly than most indie B-sides; stand out tracks include the synthetic and dream-like “Hitchhiker”, the thick yet melodic and maybe most personable “Or So”, and the brief but anthemic “When I Must Go My Own Way” will continue to keep your attention and build out Galen’s one of a kind universe. I cannot stress how unique and surreal these arrangements are, and how from start to finish you will be finding new moments to love on this record from listen after listen after listen…

On “Well Inside A Well” Galen says the following lines; “we’ve got a story, about a story, about a story we could tell.. but I’ll tell it, if I tell it, can you tell?” Maybe he’s just repeating words because it sounds cool haha, but when I looked a little deeper these lines really struck me as telling of the current state of indie music.. So many releases seem detached from one another, scenes are decimated and context no longer ties artists together nearly as strongly as it used to. As we obsess over, and compete, for algorithms to get our music out there, often our messages become echoes of echoes of echoes, sterile and bland and cookie cutter.. but every once in a blue moon you’ll hear an artist who has taken the same sounds you’ve heard before but has run them through filters and programs, cultural reference points and contexts, over and over and over again, until the result is something that is so intense and striking that you don’t quite know how to react other than to love it.. and that’s precisely what we have here.

Below is LSPR’s exclusive interview with Galen Clark, make sure you dig into his own thoughts on the music to get the full picture:

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The obvious first thing to stand out in your music and on “The Well” is the production, it’s just so uniquely your own. Can you speak to how you record and maybe some of your favorite processes and tricks that you employed on this album?

The production on “The Well” was all done by me, which is partially why I think the entirety of the process took so long. I’ve been in a variety of projects and bands through the years – each with varieties of the entire process and changing the chronological order of creating music around depending on what has come intuitively and instinctually. Unfortunately for this record, instinctually it meant I wanted to write every song out in its entirety before even considering recording, but each song had its own trajectory and way it ended up getting down over the course of a couple years.

 
I think each song fell naturally into place and it was really relieving to have each emerge without really feeling like I was forcing it – but at the same time I knew at a certain point I had to finish things up. I think it shows a diversity in the process as some tunes were written in tons of takes/locations/settings whereas other tunes, the song was fully flushed out on just vocal and guitar before even reaching for a laptop to record and then, and only then, each instrument was recorded within the first 2-3 takes. I have wrestled with that much with my own music way more than in other bands/projects where there are other people responsible for responding and adapting to the path of least resistance in the creative process. 


Production wise- I have a lot of gear that is odd and DIY that I used on this record. I built a 5E3 clone with the advice of my good friends, Michael Perez Cisneros and Alex Haley – which was sported on the majority of the electric guitar tones on the record. I am constantly trading/swapping/acquiring/selling gear and so I think for the majority of the record I had an odd locker of mics (a few I’ve built or modded), Focusrite Clarett 8 PreX, an Antelope Discrete 8 (with the AFX2DAW), and a variety of other really odd pieces of equipment I reached for to get certain vibes/sounds/emotions to surface. 


As far as processing “tricks”, I’d say I favor a lot of source mic/placement techniques that convey what you’re trying to get up front, but also did a lot of processing on certain sounds to get nice verbs/tails/ polyphonic washes going to hover in moments that needed suspense. I easily can go down a sound design rabbit hole for hours on tones, saturations, chains, and other things, but for this record the mixing process was relatively quite short in comparison to the writing/recording process. I lived in a tiny apartment in downtown Winchester (VA) and could only record certain times of the day as I lived quite close to a fire house, and my studio space was only about 250 sq ft. I loved writing and working out of that space, but in order to ever record louder sources, or most of the vocals in isolation, Id go on a short drive across town to my good friends, Terence and Jamie , whom I was playing drums in a band (NANCY) with at the time of working on some of my own music as well as our mutual music. So when I would show up early for sessions to load in my mobile rig/mics/equipment, I sometimes would give one of my songs a go if I was already setup… which in hindsight was a bit of flipping my brain inside out to hop roles from recording and engineering/drumming and learning or writing parts simultaneously. I think the two skills really learn from each other – especially when you are in the seat as a drummer – you learn to subconsciously know how your mic/pre combos are reacting to your human dynamics – and you start to adapt and listen. 

This is one of those ‘music interview cliches’ but I’m genuinely curious to know because I don’t think I could guess; who are you most influenced by?

I would say as pretentious as it sounds, I did have a few influences that went into this record, but this record, like much of my music was very experientially driven or inspired from stories I, or others I knew, experienced. Or its from abstract concepts/metaphysical understanding of the way things exist…


As far as music influences go, I listen to everything except for modern/commercial country and mumble trap/rap but I would say: Nick Drake, Big Thief, Rooftops, Pinegrove, Bahamas, Sun Kil Moon, Archimedes, Fleet Foxes, Ben Howard, Grizzly Bear/Daniel Rossen, Washed Out, Syd Matters, Andrew Bird, The Nth Power, Soul Cannon, Max Ox, Fabio Marziali Standards, Hiatus Kaiyote, and so so much more…

I absolutely love “Well Inside A Well”, it’s one of my top LSPR tracks of the year! I’d love to hear your take directly on its meaning and what brought this track to life?

Thank you thank you!!!! That means a TON. Also the new ROVR song is fire and it’s generally on circulation for my running playlists…


So – “Well Inside A Well” was two totally separate things that I ended up trying to put together and they ended up meshing really well. Firstly there’s that wacky guitar lick. I play in a lot of odd tunings. The tuning I believe on the record is an open D Maj 7 chord (DADF#AC#) and has a lot of odd chords and resolutions that ended up formulating a kind of melody of its own. Meanwhile I have a journal that I keep constant stream of consciousness style writing in – and I believe around this time I would be writing first thing in the mornings when I’d wake up as well as at some point winding down in the evenings. Its a practice I adopted when I hit a lyrical roadblock and was not getting any means of flow to the words/message behind songs. So what I would do is just write – anything. And “Well Inside A Well” started as total nonsense around a concept I had in my head which was – can I play on words and language similar to how Russian dolls fit inside of one another? Can I try and be clever with run on structures while eventually portraying some kind of imagery or picture specifically about that snapshot in time in Winchester in my life. 


After an initial idea surfaced, I started to make sense of it and paint what I was living through at the time. I lived for about 6 years on and off in Winchester, Virginia – a small historic civil war town in northern VA due about 1.4 hrs west of DC. Once I finished school, I moved to NYC and dove headfirst into my freelance career – which is a different story. I am open and humble about the fact that I haven’t made my living performing my own music. I honestly prefer it that way for now because I don’t have a self – loathing complex I’ve seen so many have. Im independent, DIY, and I aim to keep it that way for various reasons.


Anyhow – I eventually moved back to Winchester VA in 2018 and lived there for almost 3 years in a 2 story small apartment about 2 blocks from the downtown. This is where I incubated most of my ideas and where I would usually write, record, and mix/master music for a variety of projects. The apartment was somewhat ideal location wise, but sometimes had bats, had no dishwasher or laundry machines, was entirely on 2 15 amp circuits that were portioned in my neighbors part of the building, and was often frigid in the winters resulting in me usually sitting in a sleeping bag to work on things in the downstairs studio. I would run a lot too and sometimes the air could be quite dry in the winters, resulting in fairly frequent nosebleeds – and I ended up working that into the writing as its kind of creepy/gross but true… Despite how disdainful the song came out, Winchester and the people I grew to know there, will always be dear to my heart. 


For this song, I wrote it sometime in the late autumn once I came back from a 2 week tour through upstate NY, Ohio, and back to VA. I always had an odd relationship with Winchester’s music scene because I only ever played my original music in a handful of places in town because my music did not fit the bill or climate of the cover bar culture that dominates much of the DMV area. This tune was different from many of my songs in that it manifested as somewhat disdainful and delirious in nature and is partially a response as to how frustrated I felt with living in a city I loved being in and so eagerly wanted to make a living in music in, but simply didn’t because of the climate. The song also came about because it felt for a bit like I was stuck in a cyclical nightmare of indecision as to what I was going to do – and it often felt like I was sleepwalking whilst awake and awake while I was asleep with the restless nature of what was happening in the world. In many ways, I attempted to be a mover and shaker in the town after deciding to move back there, even joining the Old Town Advancement commission to try and advocate for independent/DIY music scene, but eventually chose to move, end a long term relationship that was long overdue, when my bread and butter gigs from engineering live events was halted as a result of the pandemic. 


Here are the lyrics to well inside a well: 

We’ve got a story about a story about a story
We could tell
It’s short importance but I’ll tell it if I tell it can you tell
We’re talking circles around ourselves yeah we are fine
Yea we are swell

Dust the meaning off the meaning off the meaning
Off the shelf
Derivative of all the feelings that we’re feeling
Have been felt
We’re feeling fine yea we are
We are swell

We’ll pay the rent on time just give us one more day
Repeat the storyline again and then we’ll say
We are swell

Walk the block on down the street across the yard beside the tombs
Haunt the haunting of the light of amplifiers through the moon
I want to sleepwalk just to wake up just to sleepwalk to that tune
To that tune

Today I woke up with a nosebleed I walked over to the sink
Felt the blood rush from my head as I started thinking what to think
Like a pendulum that’s going out of sync
Out of sync

We’ll pay the rent on time just give us one more day
Repeat the storyline again and then we’ll say
We are swell

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