Monday, June 24, 2013

Personal dispatch #2

This is a dispatch from Kelly Schirmann, a musician who recorded cover versions of all eight tracks on Astral Weeks. First, Schirmann provided a teeny bit of biographical information.
I grew up in Eureka, California, which is a smallish rural community about 200 miles north of San Francisco on the coast. Most people know it because of the redwoods or because they drove through it once on their way to another place, which is okay. There isn't a whole lot going on there. It's foggy and rainy most of the year. I started playing music there when I was maybe sixteen, probably to combat weather-induced sadness.

I taught myself basic chords and song structures so I could provide a background for myself to sing against. I don't remember when I first started singing, but I just remember loving it. Always have loved it; it makes me feel good. I'm 27 now. I make music sporadically, by myself and with others, and have gone through periods of performing live as well. At the moment, I'm making music with a writer I like named Sam Pink. We're called Young Family. I'm also putting together more songs under my solo name, HEADBAND. I currently live, write, record, and make stuff in Portland, Oregon.
Now, Schirmann's thoughts on Astral Weeks.
When I listen to this album I can feel it in my whole body. It makes my heart and head hurt. And it makes me feel a hard kind of longing that I both completely identify with and also can't ever put my finger on. I return to it over and over to feel these feelings, but also, I think, to try to figure them out, both within the album and within myself. Plus, as a poet, I appreciate that it's basically a very consistent, continuous, imperfect—but still completely gorgeous—poem set to music.

I'm not sure when I first heard it or when it started to really stick, but it reminds me of being 22 and recently graduated and living on a farm in Northern California with my best friend. And of being brand new to the world, and completely terrified by everything and in love with everything and especially with the figuring out of myself within a beautiful and terrifying world. Something about the album is so naive and wise at the same time, which I think we could all probably identify with. I feel like it manages to transcend all seasons and all moods. It feels holy to me in that way.

And finally, what went into the recording process:
I recorded this album at my family cabin in the woods of Trinity County, California, about an hour east of Eureka in the mountains. I was 23 years old and it was winter, and the rest of my family had gone to bed. I began around 10 p.m. with the intention of recording the whole thing for my aforementioned best friend (who is also a huge fan), but had no idea how it would turn out or that I would finish it in one sitting. I started at the beginning of the album and played each song in one take, directly into the built-in microphone on my computer. It ended up taking a couple of hours, I think.

I remember as I progressed it began to feel more and more like a psychedelic experience. It was late and I was stoned, and the songs are all relatively long, so singing and playing them actually felt pretty physically demanding. I also have a lot of personal attachment to some of the songs over others, so it was interesting to form connections with all the tracks and all the lyrics. When I finished, it felt like I had very abruptly come down from a drug. I did no editing on the final tracks except to add a bit of reverb. And then I burned a few copies to keep and give away to other friends who are fans. When I listen to it now, four years later, I hear so much heartbreak and wanting in that recording, but I think that's a pretty accurate translation of Van's version as well. Overall, though, I covered the album as a gift and completely out of reverence for the original. I hope that comes across in the recording.

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