Simian Ghost's new album, The Veil, is out on September 8th 2014. The eighteen tracks are a wonderful spectrum of supremely catchy miserabilism inspired by Brian Wilson, Yo La Tengo and Broadcast.
The band sent DiS an exclusive track by track commentary, looking into the influences and lyrical inspirations for the album...
Stream The Veil
Float is a nod to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, both musically and lyrically. I actually wrote the core of this song in my sleep, right at the end of the recording sessions. I remember hearing it in this weird dream, I can’t really remember it exactly, there was something about the ocean and this melody was playing. I woke up and had a guitar right next to my bed, so I immediately found the chords and made a voice memo of it on my phone. This is not something I say to sound cool or artsy, I actually write a lot of music in my sleep. Most of it is terrible though.
The lyrics are very straight forward. It’s basically about how we all need to sort of give in and allow ourselves to be carried sometimes, because no one makes it alone. We’re flock animals. You can see it as an invitation to whoever’s listening to just sit down, relax and let their minds be carried for a while in this music. We then decided to let it start with waves, there’s some pretty straight forward symbolism there as well. It made for a pretty opener I think.
After the first song drifts off into the waves again, Cut Off-Point comes in quite abruptly. A funny thing about these two tracks is that they’re basically built around the same song idea. There’s a continuity in the melodies and the major chord structure is basically the same. We toyed around a lot with these sort of things on The Veil. There’s one melody in particular that emerges in specific places throughout the entire record. Those details makes the listen more fun I think, and it’s a nice way to highlight certain passages, thematically and musically.
The lyrics on this one is pretty simple as well. It paints a scene where you’re walking up to the place where you grew up and all these memories wash over you. How you’re now a giant in a dreamworld you roamed through as a kid. I also had this image of it being a wake there, of a loved one who’s passed, and this kind of makes your memories more acute in a sense, more overwhelming. You remember the perspective of the world you had as a child, innocence if you will, and in this you have a brief moment of clarity, you see the absurd nature of your life as a grown up and you’re able to step out of it for a moment.
After this we’re thrown right back into adult life again with A Million Shining Colours, or rather the adult life of hopeless musicians or artist, like me. Once again there’s a 60’s thing going here musically. The lyrics are super straight forward and slightly ironic. It’s basically me shouting bitterly to the world about how I’ve wasted my time making music instead of doing proper adult things, like working at a real job or buying newly made clothes. Then right before we go into this wordless middle passage, the lyrics gets a bit more poetic, but still very naive. It’s about how I still cling to these ideas I had when I was younger, that maybe we can make the world better with music and art, that these things have a real value in society, maybe more so even than stuff easily measured and quantified in terms of economics.
Then we have Echoes Of Songs (For Trish Keenan). This song was built around an old idea and was really different in the beginning, both in terms of arrangement and rhythm. But when we got set to record it we found that the melody reminded us a bit of Broadcast’s sound. We decided to rework it a bit and dedicate the track to Trish Keenan, as sort of a humble tribute to this great artist, whom we all adored growing up.
The lyrics are not directed at anyone really, it’s basically about loss and our relationship to those who’ve passed, how it can feel in a way like they’re still with us. It’s all pretty abstract, I wrote it mostly in a stream of consciousness style, just wrote the words as they came to me. I sometimes think I know what I mean with it all, and I find that beautiful. I get the sense that there’s something profound hidden there. We played it acoustically a little while ago in Gotland, a small island outside of Stockholm. Me and Erik used to go there pretty often when we were kids, we have family there on our fathers side. This was the first time in years we were there though and I mentioned to the audience that our late grandfather used to spend a lot of time there, and this old guy in the first row said that surely he’s here with us today. We played the song and I got pretty emotional when we sang those last couple of lines. I’m not a very religious person and I don’t have any grand ideas of an afterlife, but sometimes you’re just taken by the beauty of the world.
Then we have August Sun, which is an even more personal take on the same theme we had in A Million Shining Colours. After we’d recorded all the music for this album, I sat alone with it for a long while, writing lyrics and making final mixing adjustments. During this period, which lasted about four months in the beginning of 2013, I was quite depressed. I lost a lot of weight and I rarely went outside of my apartment. These are one of those songs that you make out of necessity rather than for the fun of it. It’s like a page in a diary really. It’s quite dark I guess, but we all liked it later on and decided to have it on the record. It has a nice function of bringing the intensity down, musically, and so it fitted into our idea of the record as a whole. There is hope in it though, because I wrote the lyrics around a memory I had of a depression I’d gone through years before, when I met this girl who’s a lovely and warm person, and who really helped me out a lot. Our relation came to an unfortunate end back then, but incidentally that girl is now my girlfriend. For a person who’s sometimes a a sad mope and rather difficult to be around, I’m a really lucky guy.
Then comes The Ocean Is A Whisper. If August Sun is one of the darker songs on the album, this one is probably the most positive. I think it’s the only proper love song we’ve ever done. The lyrics are anchored in this memory I had of two friends of mine arriving at the beach. They’re this really nice couple of girls, who were very much in love at the time. I wanted to make a song about love that also had this equality theme in it, and this seemed like a nice way of having that in there, without it being exploitive or crude in any way. So there’s that, and then we go on to this sort of buddhist thought, where I liken what humans are in relation to each and the world, to what raindrops are in relation to the sea. They’re all separate, but all still parts of the same thing. And maybe that’s what love is, an expression of a longing for that state of unity, for the ocean.
Then we have I Will Speak Until I’m Done. We wrote that one in just a few hours. After all the tinkering we’d made on the songs before, we felt that we wanted something simple and distorted. The lyrics are, again, based on a dream I had. I fell asleep very early one day on my couch when mixing, and I had this vivid dream of being a girl in a big modern villa, breaking up with my man because I found him to be superficial and just about money. It was like a scene in a bad american soap opera, we were having a dinner party I think, and I threw my phone in the sand outside the house and really let him have it. I woke up and just laughed at the absurdity of it all and decided to write it down.
The next track, Secret Meadow, sort of marks the end of the first act of the album. It’s more of a sound collage than a song, consisting of improvised stuff and field recordings. When I listened to it while mixing it made me think of my moms family’s summer house, where I’ve spent almost every summer of my life. When I was young I used to go around over the fields and through the forest, following little streams and rowing by myself over the lake. We used to move around a lot, and this was my favorite spot in all the world, the only place that felt constant, where I really felt at home. Anyway, I put the music together with the image in my mind that I was a child, walking through the forest and coming out in a meadow. In it there’s just stillness and nature, and after a while things start moving again, birds and dragonflies and the like. After this we walk out of this image, out of the forest and back into the present, into a city, with a pocket radio, tuning between stations. We walk over grass and onto pavement, and then we enter a railway station where the next song begins.
Fight Even is a another song that we wrote very quickly, but it took a long time to decide how to arrange it. We went back and forth and made drums and lots of overdubs. In the end we just stripped it down to a bare minimum, with only three guitars and vocals. The lyrics are about how most people seem to live with the idea that they can gather absolute knowledge of things, truth, and how that makes it really difficult for us, since we don’t all see the world the same way. It would be nice I think if we could get away from this mindset, if we could take a stance more common in modern science, that all we’ve got are more or less informed guesses about the state of things. Looking at the world this way makes arguing much simpler, and you become a bit more humble in the face of stupidity. I also got an Einstein quote in there at the end, a man who’s struggle for a grand theory of everything illustrates the point in the song quite nicely.
The next song is Hidden In Your Leaves. This too is a song we recorded in a lot of different versions. It didn’t feel completely done until we mastered it. I had been doing a lot of weird mixing choices and suddenly the fog cleared so to speak, and the song came together beautifully. The lyrics are about meeting someone fleetingly, who still has a great impact on your life. It’s about falling asleep on someones arm for the first time and feel love and warmth, even though you know it may just happen this once.
Then we have Be A Good Kid. We’re kind of doing the same musical progression here in the second act of the album, once again starting off with a sixties vibe, which really blooms out on this track. When we wrote this song we started with the ending, which was built around a set of chords Mathias had been working on. We paired those with a more simple pop thing we’d made earlier on. The lyrics are pretty straight forward, just an ironic rant on how to behave properly in the modern consumer society, as told from the backs of very high horses. I often do this when go on about stuff I don’t like so much, I write it from the perspective of those I don’t agree with. Or I sort of go back and forth between positions. This has led to some confusion in the past.
After this comes Scattered And Careless. When we wrote this song we instantly started thinking of Bill Murray. I don’t know why, but the song reminds me of how I feel when I look at Bill Murray’s face. He’s such an effortlessly funny guy, but there’s this darkness in his eyes, this real darkness. It feels like he looks humbly on the world in a way because of this. I don’t know, I’ve never met the man, and I probably never will, but I love him anyway. Most people do though, when someone dislikes Bill Murray, I see that as a red flag of sorts, personality wise.
I tried to write down some lyrics about him, but they never came out any good. Then I wrote a lyric that was anchored in a scene where you are with someone you love, knowing this person probably doesn’t feel this way towards you anymore, watching Groundhog Day together. That didn’t really pan out either. A while later, coming home from a night out, I was pretty fucked up on beer and whatnot, I started writing these really confused lyrics about being confused basically. I read it the next morning and liked it, so I continued to put more layers onto it. In the end it’s a song without a clear point, it reaches for something it cannot grasp. It’s about being in a weird state, not really finding your place in the world, and trying to write a song about this.
Now we have Never Really Knew. This song continues the sort of funky vibe that comes in a bit through Scattered And Careless. We move on from the sixties and journey into the next decade, or something like that. We all love funky love songs from the sixties and seventies and thought that maybe we could do something like that. Mathias picked up the bass and started playing around with this line, which later became the verse of the song. We just laughed and laughed while writing it, and that’s always a good sign. The lyrics are about that first time you get your heart broken and really understand what love is, and how much it can hurt. It’s consciously cheesy in many ways, it’s a sort of tribute to those old love songs. To me it’s really funny and self conscious, and at the same time very sinscere, which is a good combination I think.
Here ends act two of the record. Strange Light, like Secret Meadow, is more of a sound collage than a song. It’s a mixture of field recordings and samplings. The idea was that it would be me, or us, walking past a party, hearing our own music playing. Those kind of things are always weird in real life. On some rare occasions I’ve had people coming up to me, saying I’m their idol or something in that vein. I don’t know how to handle that. Anyway, I see this track as a continuation of the walk initiated in Secret Meadow. We walk past the party, away from the chatter and funky music, we cross a road and the music slowly fades away. In the distance thunder is rolling in, water again, and out of these rumbling sounds the next song emerges.
The River Ouse is one of the more serious tracks on the album, lyrics wise. We wrote the music together, it’s basically a long jam which we later condensed into a song. It’s the longest track on the record and it’s one of my personal favorites, even though it’s the only one where I wasn’t completely happy with the production. But considering the whole thing was recorded with four microphones in Mathias parents basement, it’s still pretty good.
As I said earlier, I was pretty depressed when writing a lot of the lyrics on this album. This is maybe the most honest song I’ve written in some ways. It’s a bit hard to listen to it now actually. When I started writing the text I was reading a lot about Virginia Woolf. The story of her life really moved me. I guess I can relate to some of her problems, artistically, since we have a similar history of mental illness. I used The River Ouse to point at this complete hopelessness, as a metaphor for a struggle with oneself that in the end feels impossible to overcome. The song was very bleak to say the least in the first few drafts. But then after half of the song I added a passage where I revisit this memory of seeing rain and sun at the same time, standing in the forest as a kid. I remember the feeling so clearly, how I lost myself in the beauty of nature. I then go on to compare this to what I try to achieve while making music, which is to find this beauty hidden in all things things, to lure it out. What we strive for is to add some color to the world, make something beautiful to share with others. Basically that this, our art, though it’s a frail situation sometimes, is what kept me going at the moment.
The next song is very personal as well. I wrote it to someone I love when she got diagnosed with a very serious disease. It’s about caring for someone and not leaving when things get rough. That and an attempt to find comfort in the idea that we’re all projections in an ever-changing cloud of energy, and in this regard we’re not separate entities at all. The feeling of loneliness becomes an illusion brought on by the limits of our consciousness.
After this we visit a more happy place again. Summer Triptych has the same kind of function on the album as I Will Speak Until I’m Done. It’s distorted and simple. It also reflects the three acts of the album thematically, though on a very subtle level. This song, as well as the last one, is based on the same chord structure as the first two songs. It’s sort of an inverted version of the opening, we thought we’d go out the way we came in so to speak. The lyrics are about skateboarding, just floating around enjoying it, even though you’re not very good at it.
The last song has no lyrics at all. It’s just us leaving and the ocean coming back in again, and you returning to whatever veil of reality you occupy. Also, if you listen to the album on repeat, it makes for a very smooth passage back to the beginning.
The Veil is out on September 8th 2014.