Escalator

by Alva Star

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about

Last spring, Alva Star front man John Hermanson set out to unlearn everything he knew about songwriting and recording: the agony of putting paper to pen and melody to lyric. The frustration of transferring musical ideas to a machine that thinks in binary code. The tiny voice that whispers, "Nobody's going to get it."

Looking for a way to ditch the vicious cycle, Hermanson started experimenting in the studio. He played around with any and every scrap of melody or effect that sounded compelling, allowing the urban atmosphere of his Lowertown studio space to inspire him. He "wrote" nothing, but recorded everything, trading self-censorship for self-discovery, and letting the very process of recording influence his songs in a meaningful way that "revealed parts of myself I didn't know were there."

Once he had sketched out the 10 tracks that would become Escalator, Hermanson altered little of his original recordings in subsequent studio sessions, believing that everything down to the order in which the songs initially presented themselves should be preserved as part of the listening experience. He added depth and texture by layering new ideas on top of the first ones, until what began with an exploratory, stream-of-consciousness study on the creative possibilities of multi-track recording had grown into a dense and dreamy, quasi-psychedelic journey through lush, stacked harmonies, spaced-out interludes, and syncopated bass grooves.

Lyrically, Escalator articulates Hermanson's ambivalence toward the perennially fickle music biz. It's also a commentary on the touchy dialogue between art and criticism. And while he swears he never intended to make "a record about making a record," the seasoned folk and pop musician surprised himself on several other counts as well, taking a sharp turn away from the sunny anthems and heartfelt ballads of 2001's Alligators in the Lobby--a solid, well-written effort that nevertheless seems like just the tip of the iceberg that the searching, cinematic flourish of Escalator so artfully uncovers. The off-kilter, unpredictable-yet-polished finished product features performances by Hermanson’s band mates: multi-instrumentalist Erik Appelwick, guitarist/vocalist Darren Jackson, and drummer Ian Prince.

RIYL: Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, or Prince's Parade.

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released September 28, 2004

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