Shearwater discuss the influences behind new LP ‘The Great Awakening’
"My favorite music always comes with a strong sense of place; even if it's impossible, you can't help imagining the room where it was made," Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg tells us, adding that "A friend always pictured the Stones making Exile in a tractor-trailer zipping down the road."
Shearwater's first new album in six years, The Great Awakening, is out this Friday and we asked bandleader Meiburg to tell us about some of the music that inspired it. "We began The Great Awakening by making a bunch of long instrumentals we called Quarantine Music, which let us explore pure sounds and spaces without worrying about choruses or vocals," he says. "We carried what we learned into the album, which we imagined as a series of landscapes but, of course, we also referred to other stuff when we got stumped. Here are a few song-places we really admire, and revisit when we need to remember what's possible."
Jonathan's list includes songs by Marvin Gaye, Tangerine Dream, Laurie Anderson, Scott Walker and more. Read his list, complete with commentary, and listen to a few tracks from The Great Awakening, below.
SHEARWATER - SEVEN INFLUENCES BEHIND THE GREAT AWAKENING
1. Marvin Gaye - "Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)"
No record sounds like What's Going On; it always rewards study. It seems so external and internal at the same time — like Gaye's thoughts were somehow mic'ed up along with his actual vocals — and the strings sound like they're coming from somewhere in his imagination while the Motown players are just killing it in the studio in front of him. We went back to this album again and again, and always felt humbled. Comforted, too.
2. Scott Walker - "Farmer in the City"
Tilt is one of my favorite albums, but it sure isn't background music; more like a journey you commit to. This song lets you know that right away: if you don't like what Mr. Walker is offering, you might want to turn back. But to me it's totally beguiling. The first few seconds are crucial; when I hear those little bells, the reverb of the room, the singing frame drum, I know I'm in good hands. A friend describes Walker's late albums as "sensational," which is right on: they're about moving from feeling to feeling, moment to moment, scene to scene, and if you just let them take you they're an incomparable thrill ride. A bit like the incredible film Russian Ark.
3. Tangerine Dream - "Birth of Liquid Plejades"
It's hard to pick a favorite moment from Zeit, but the first part of side 1, which mixes real strings with a mellotron and a mind-altering phase effect, makes me feel like I'm being sucked into the black hole on the album cover. Five minutes later, I couldn't tell you what I was thinking about, or why it mattered.
4. Peter Gabriel - "Lay Your Hands On Me"
It's a product of its time, but the sounds of PG's fourth record, Security, are so massive and evocative that So seems pale and plastic by comparison. I love what he did with early samplers, and the drum sounds are to die for. My old bandmate Thor Harris saw the tour for this album in Houston in 1982, with an audience of about 700 people, and remembers it as one of the scariest, most moving shows he's ever seen.
5. Big Star - "Dream Lover"
One of the extra tracks on the Ryko reissue of Third, and maybe my favorite Big Star song. Funny, sad, horny, stoned, cosmic — and the strings seem beamed in from another galaxy.
6. Xiu Xiu - "Normal Love" (Live at the Warhol Museum version)
One of the pandemic's casualties was a tour I almost did with Jamie Stewart, where the two of us were going to perform as Xiu Xiu. We rehearsed for a week in February 2019, and he let me pick the set list and whatever I wanted to accompany him; mostly I tried to do as little as possible. Jamie's a master of giving you just enough information, but no more.
7. Laurie Anderson - "Kokoku" (Live)
If you've never seen Laurie's 1986 concert film Home of the Brave, you owe it to yourself; it's really wild, and almost impossible to describe without sounding unhinged. The studio version of this song is more contemplative, but the live performance is as good as you might hope — and helpfully subtitles the Japanese lyrics. You come, very briefly, to this place...watch us move, watch us shake. We're so pretty. We're so nice.