Jamie Woolsey speaks about 'songs for my father'
When I first heard Jamie Woolsey's project 'lightchaser.' I was taken aback by the emotions that dwelled inside the sounds. I've heard so much music in my life but there was something deeper than just notes and chords in songs for my father. I stumbled upon their music by accident after tag-hopping and I contacted Jamie to see if they'd like to be interviewed. I was so fortunate that they were willing to answer my questions and give me some insight into the feelings and personas of the songs. A word; The stories behind this music are very difficult to hear but through the songs we can experience the beautiful melancholic wisdom that I feel can only be truly understood through sound. In this post Jamie bares their heart and I am so honored they felt free to express themself here. Coming across Jamie's music was one of the most important discoveries I have made this year and I am so very glad I am able to share it with you.
Merigold Independent: When I came across your music I was struck at how emotionally driven it was. Not to blow smoke, but I had to stop and sit because the music really spoke to me. The album is titled songs for my father, which is a very thought provoking title. Would you mind sharing the significance behind this title?
Jamie Woolsey: First off, thank you so much for asking to interview me! So, a little backstory behind the title… about 5 years ago, when I was 16, my father was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. FTD is a degenerative neural disease, similar to Alzheimers, but it most often associated with early onset cases, like my father, who was 55 at the time. We were told that he was probably already about 4 years into the disease, and that the prognosis for FTD is that patients will have a 2–10 year lifespan. I was very close with my dad while I was growing up, and one thing that we had always shared a special bond around was our love of music. He was a very typical “art kid” in high school and college; doing theatre, playing clarinet in the school band, not having an interest in sports; and that is definitely something that I inherited from him. Secondly, it is fairly widely accept that our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory, and music has been shown to trigger memory recall in many dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. And in my father’s case, there isn’t very much at all that he can do anymore, but one of the last things he has held onto is his love for music. He will sit at home while my Mom is at work and listen to music for hours, and he can sometimes even remember lyrics from songs he listened to in his teens and college years, which is pretty incredible. So, because of all these things, and because a lot of the music was inspired by the overwhelming emotions of grief and loss that I have experienced surrounding his diagnosis, ‘songs for my father’ felt like the most natural title to go with.
MI: It took you two years to write and release this album, do you take your time with writing? Or were there specific events that caused the muse to come and go?
JW: The long stretch of time is because the album wasn't even really a concept until a few months ago. I've had some of the songs on the album recorded for a while, but I had never really shared them with very many people. A lot of it had to do with insecurities I had, and being afraid to put myself out there with these songs that had come out of this this very vulnerable and emotional place. But recently, I started thinking about maybe releasing them, and with the encouragement of a couple close friends who I had shared the music with I decided to put them together as an album.
MI: The songs seems very emotionally charged and more free flowing, do you find your music to be an outlet of sorts to place your emotions? Or is it a more structured process?
JW: The music is very much so emotionally driven. I don’t really have a process at all, the songs just seem to write themselves at the times when they need to flow out of me, if that makes any sense. I use the creation process as an outlet for feelings that I can’t put words to; certain things that I feel much more adept at expressing through sound. While answering this, I am reminded of the sampled monologue on the opening track of Mogwai’s Young Team, which says, “Music is bigger than words and wider than pictures”. I truly believe that, and it's one of the things that has always drawn me to ambient and post-rock music; the incredible ways in which musical notes, or even just sounds or textures can take you on this journey, while painting such a vivid picture in your brain. And the coolest part, to me at least, is that this interpretive painting is different for everyone who hears it, even though it’s all coming from the same music or sound.
MI: The song all that you are came into me really stood out to me. It seems this track deals with loss and the questioning of an afterlife, as the voice sample reveals. Is there a specific story behind this track?
JW: I wrote and recorded this song somewhere in the few weeks after one of my close friends committed suicide. I don't really remember very much about recording it, because that time was all kind of a surreal daze, but the sample in the song came from an episode of the television show Freaks and Geeks. That line has always stood out to me, and I had wanted to use it in a song somehow for awhile, so while I going through that immense loss, it seemed like the perfect time to use it.
MI: Are there any composers or musicians that inspire you, and if so, in what way have they shaped your musical style?
JW: Absolutely. I have drawn influences from musicians all across the spectrum of genres, and I believe that every piece of art or music that I have experienced, has become a part of me, and thus influenced me. But in terms of direct influences, I’ll try to narrow it down to 5 of the biggest inspirations for me on this album: Jónsi and Alex; Stars of the Lid; Godspeed You! Black Emperor; Hammock; and This Will Destroy You. A few other big influences are Tim Hecker, Grouper, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, but like I said, I could go on for hours in response to this question. I also draw a lot of inspiration from classical composers like Arvo Pärt, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and also more modern ones like Max Richter, Nico Muhly, and Olafur Arnalds. I can distinctly remember the first time I heard the piece ‘Spiegel im Spigel’ by Arvo Pärt. I was at a violin recital of a close friend of mine who is an incredible musician, and they played that piece and I was just blown away; it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, perfect in it’s simplicity. I left thinking that I would never hear music in the same away again. And it's same thing with Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient 2: Music for Airports’, that record was truly innovative to me, and it re-framed the way that I thought about creating music, and what music could, or should be.
MI: Other than musical, are there any other things that inspire you? Artists, places, people?
JW: I definitely take a lot of influence from things outside of music, and whatever is going on in my life is obviously pretty influential, as I talked about before. I'm a pretty avid reader, which is another thing my dad passed down to me. Some writers and books that have inspired me are Albert Camus, Kierkegaard, Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, Anis Mojgani's poetry, William Burroughs, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and a fairly unknown modern writer named Adam Gnade. A couple other influences off the top of my head are brutalist architecture, abandoned and decaying places, the films of Darren Aronofsky. In terms of places, the first one that comes to mind is Astoria, Oregon. It is a really special place to me, and I'm not even really sure why, but ever since I first went there, I’ve always felt it drawing me back to it. And all of the time I’ve spent there has been really influential on me. I guess it is just sort of a place of deep self-reflection and creative inspiration for me.
MI: Can you share the story behind the album art?
JW: The cover art is just a photograph of my dad when he was a young kid. I’ve always liked that particular photo of him, and also it also was a black and white photo, and I thought the tone of it would fit well with the darkness of the music. The original photo actually wasn’t quite as dark; I did some of that in Photoshop, but I think it fits the music pretty well and I really like it.
Please listen and support Jamie and download songs for my father.