So this is my favourite new album of the year so far. It’s Widowspeak’s second LP ‘Almanac’ and it’s swoonier than Keats with more hooks than a primary school cloakroom. We’ve got the exclusive UK stream below and a track by track guide from the band’s Robert Earl Thomas. Enjoy.
This song began in a hotel in Mexico; we’d brought little amps with us and started writing for the new record while practicing for a festival. Lyrically, it’s based on the life, death and renewal of plants as a metaphor for everything else in life. It’s about things ending and not knowing if they’ll come back. ‘Perennials’ is kind of a cornerstone for the record; it represents the themes, lyrically and musically, that weave through the rest of ‘Almanac’.
Molly really loves antiquated idioms, how in practice they are common expressions but also cryptic and forgotten in meaning. In this case, the lyrics started with the idiom. They also grew out of a quote from Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven – “There wasn’t no harm in him, (you’d give him a flower, he’d keep it forever)”. It’s about the guilt you feel when you hurt someone who is honest and loyal. Musically, we wanted this song to have a slinking, classic-rock sort of feeling, like a darker Tom Petty song, or like a more driving ‘Hotel California’.
This is technically one of the first songs we ever wrote, two years ago, but it was called ‘Seven Minutes’ and the lyrics were much different. Our friend Nick Gazin, who put together our second show ever, always wanted us to play it again, so at some point we reworked it and changed the lyrics. For a while we even called it ‘Gazin” as a sort of homage, but it kept evolving and we realized it was worth keeping. In its final incarnation the lyrics revolve around being stuck, but also wanting to stay, in a dark place even if you know you shouldn’t. It is probably the most straightforward rock song on the record, but we tried to maintain our tonal approach.
Thick as Thieves
This song came out of the experience of moving out of a home, and away from that life and the person whom it was shared with, but the experience represents more than a specific person. It started as just a finger-picked song Molly played alone, but for the album Rob orchestrated the organs, Rhodes and harmonium, and Molly played autoharp. In the background you can hear pigeons that were roosting in the barn’s silo, which Kevin uses as a natural reverb chamber.
Rob created this on his own in our practice space as a demo for the intro to ‘Ballad’. We didn’t even end up trying to rerecord it, opting to use the original demo. Though it was intended to be part of the actual song ‘Ballad’, we wanted to give the album a title track and liked the idea of it being instrumental.
We wanted this song, with ‘Almanac’, to feel like a story, with a defined beginning, middle, and end. We wanted it to contract and expand. To us it represents the end of the day, the end of summer, the end of a really great moment. Lyrically, it’s about the fear of time passing, of leaving something behind and forever being nostalgic for the past. Not because aging is scary in itself, but because the world is changing so quickly.
This song is about doing things you know you shouldn’t, but being resigned to it. That said, it comes across as the most playful, upbeat song on the record. For the verses Rob tried for a swirly bouncy feeling and the choruses are more driving and chunky, in homage to The Cars.
‘Sore Eyes’ is one of the more apocalyptic, doomsday-oriented songs on the record in terms of its lyrics; but it’s also optimistic. Even if everything seems bleak, there are people to take solace in. We wanted it to have the feeling of wandering a desert; at some point we had nicknamed it ‘Camel’ because it made us think of slinking through sand dunes at night. But we are also heavily inspired by the American west, and wanted the song to capture that with bells like jingling spurs and a general feeling of spaciousness.
This song is technically an offshoot of a song we used to play called ‘Brainfreeze’, which had been on the first burned CD we ever gave away to our friends, and our October tape. At some point we debated bringing the song back into our live set, but what happened instead was ‘Locusts’. Rob was immersed in the Saharan rock ‘n’ roll at the time, especially the genre’s loose yet insistent rhythms – another incarnation of ‘Almanac”s cyclical theme – and it is the first song we wrote that relies heavily on a bass line. Molly had been inspired by the film Picnic at Hanging Rock and the idea of escaping reality. She was also reading about the signs of the Biblical apocalypse, one of which is a plague of locusts. The song is about feeling like you having something, with someone, that no one really understands, but because of that it might not survive.
We wrote ‘Minnewaska’ on the shore of the lake when we went to meet Kevin for the first time, and saw where we’d be recording the album. Minnewaska is a lake in the same park as the waterfall where we took the album cover photograph. Although literally about the end of the world, it’s also about choosing to lead a different type of life after the old life is no longer an option. Musically, we wanted it to feel like a sing-along country song, with a cowboy-choir feel.
We were inspired by the laid-back vibe of island music, but also based it on the slinky feeling of 50s ballads. Lyrically there are two things Molly was writing about. One is asking someone to not give up on what you have, and to resist temptation (from the idiom “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”).But it’s also sort of about the idea of God. Not whether there is or isn’t a God, but how people use a God as an excuse, or make excuses for God, especially in the face of catastrophe and tragedy. And also about whether in their minds there’s even a personable element, whether he has human, imperfect qualities and is responsible for what happens.
This is the last song we recorded on the record, and it felt like the culmination of a lot of ideas. It’s musically cyclical like a lot of the album and hints at some of the Saharan vibes explored in ‘Locusts’. Lyrically it was meant to read like an excerpt from a history book, or an epitaph. Storm King is a mountain on the Hudson River, close to where we recorded.