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Author: Stephen Carradini

Wonder Truly carves a unique singer/songwriter path

Despite hailing from a lineage of Arizona musical nobility, Wonder Truly has carved her own path as a songwriter, showcasing a unique musical style. Her album Come Back Swinging is a journey of self-discovery, resonating with its intimate and breathtaking beauty. 

The title track “Come Back Swinging” sets the tone with its restrained guitar work and Truly’s authentic vocal delivery, inviting us on an emotional journey. “Edges Soften” elevates the art of metaphor-rich lyricism, with the fingerpicking guitar work underscoring the complexities of love and fear. “Lighthouse (for Emily)” serves as a beacon of hope, resilience, and encouragement, reminding us of our capacity to be a light in the darkness for others.

Nearly halfway, “Nook” is a strong representation of the pandemic: its frenetic beat and simple imagery recall memories of the moment the world stopped. “Edges of the Map” feels reminiscent of better days, like innocent times before uncertainty ripped reality away from us. Like an early Joni Mitchell, “Lockpick” seems matter-of-fact. In contrast, “Here We Go” almost feels like a tame Yvette Young riff taking us through the drama of a relationship’s end.

Dark and reverent, “Holy” finds redemption in reclaiming the soul; achingly terrifying in its final hollow echo, we should all be disturbed by this song’s message. Heading out of the record, the bright “Poltergeist” brings back lightness with lilting vocals. We’ve lived through something. Closing with “Scrap Metal Man” suggests in a lilting waltz that Wonder Truly‘s Come Back Swinging proves that we have a fighting chance.

Come Back Swinging is streaming on all platforms. –Lisa Whealy

February 2024 Singles 1: We’re Back (Again)

So, it’s been a wild ride over here at Independent Clauses HQ for the last few months, and not a lot has gotten done as a result of it. Instead of doing semi-monthly posts of 10-15 songs, I’m going to be doing mini-posts of 3-7 songs to make the work fit better with the new life arrangements. Without further adieu:

  1. Make It Work” – Heavee. A stuttering, pulsing, high-energy track that builds the concepts of footwork. The careful development turn the rhythmically-driven track from a straightforward set for dance into an expansive, wide-canvas approach that incorporates jazz and ambient vibes. Great stuff. Highly recommended.
  2. In the Sun” – MAETAR. A jubilant, trumpet-centric blast of sunshine-dappled jazz. Guaranteed to put good vibes in the room and a smile on your face.
  3. Aotearoa” – Frolin & Magnus. A calming, charming composition that melds gentle keys and subtly insistent percussion to beautiful effect.
  4. Elleipsis” – Umbra & the Volcan Siege. A comforting, encouraging instrumental composition that sounds like a fully fleshed out Lullatone or a calmed down DeVotchKa. Highly recommended.
  5. Daedalus Requiem” – Erik Lankin. Requiems and elegies are always sad (outside of New Orleans), but this one maintains the light of hope through its elegant arrangement.

Single: ZB Savoy’s “Dear World”

ZB Savoy’s “Dear World” came to me by accident. Or did it? Climbing out of the rubble created in my life, I began wandering about new music, looking for storytellers and songwriters. ZB Savoy’s sound brought me back to thoughts of troubadours like the great Glen Campbell. Life can be a heavy trip, but as I was reminded today while listening to a memorial for a peanut farmer’s wife who loved monarch butterflies, we all deserve grace and another sunrise surrounded by the warmth of music like this, helping lighten the load we carry. —Lisa Whealy

Single: Red Sammy’s “Some Days I Feel Crazy”

In Red Sammy’s “Some Days I Feel Crazy,” Adam Trice’s blues rock groove grabs my attention amidst the chaos of life’s changes. His easy vocal delivery fits the song, and the essence of Bob Dylan seems to soothe each lyric. Juxtaposed over the grabbed-on-a-cell twitchy Halloweenish imagery, this music video is an indie IT moment. Stuff like this makes it a treat to struggle through the day-to-day horrors of life. Thank you, Red Sammy, for painting the town with ghostly pumpkin (spice) in your new release.

Stay tuned for further singles from Red Sammy this fall and spring! —Lisa Whealy

September 2023 Singles 1

1. “Mind of You” – Ape Shifter. A chunky, punchy, riff-heavy instrumental rock tune with a wonderfully fun video.

2. “Glimmerings” – GoGo Penguin. A lithe, beautiful composition that makes wholeness out of disparate rhythms, tones, and approaches. GoGo Penguin know how to make mid-tempo work sound just as fascinating and enlivening as speedy work.

3. “Marché Aux Puces (Flea Market)” – Kristen Miller. A peaceful composition that evokes, through pace and evenly measured string melodies, the subtle thrills of walking a market and discovering things.

4. “Katmandou” – Temple Otium. A thoughtful, expansive, patient exploration of space and time in a space influenced by Indian ragas.

5. “Shipwreck” – The Great Northern. This electronic journey calls up tension and ominous vibes without being heavily dissonant. RIYL: Ulrich Schnauss, ODESZA at their lightest

6. “Immortal Love” – Michael Borowski. A lovely piano rumination that transcends the usual barrier of pleasant-but-not-memorable to become truly memorable.

7. “Temper the Wound” – Kalia Vandever. A wonderful collection of breathy brass tones, seeking valiantly.

8. “Ta Nyé” -Ballaké Sissoko, Émile Parisien, Vincent Peirani, Vincent Segal. Delicate, elegant drones underlie lovely melodies from the kora and woodwinds.

9. “Strawberries in Rain” – Euglossine. A wistful, thoughtful nylon-string guitar work that feels very much the soundtrack to walking in a field.

10. “You Will Be Missed” – Julian Loida. A beautiful elegy that begins with piano, moves through gentle strings, and brings in touching melismatic vocals. The effect is deeply felt; this could be the soundtrack to the high point of a Wes Anderson movie.

August 2022 Singles 2

1. “Good Luck in Green Bay” – Maple Stave. This ripper is equal parts punk, post-hardcore, and post-rock. I love it.

2. “Flower Tail” – Dabda. Jubilant, soaring math-rock with soothing vocals that only add to the joy.

3. “Trucks to Gettysburg” – Equipment Pointed Ankh. A little bit jam, a lotta bit motorik, a little bit klezmer; this is a quirky, fun, interesting composition that goes places I did not expect.

4. “Zoetropics” – Setting. A gently churning and subtly ominous piece that melds folk, post-rock, and neo-classical composition to excellent effect.

5. “So Far So Good” – Michael Peter Olsen. Bustling, hustling cello is slowly subsumed into floating, spacy high strings and electronics for a neat composition that is fun and beautiful.

6. “Inside Minds” – Resavoir. Mash up Spanish guitar, vaporwave keys sounds, jazz, and low-key groove, and you’ll get an unusually cool and intriguing track.

7. “Have Mercy” – Paper Horses. I’ll listen to anything Sandra McCracken does. This outfit brings together McCracken, Leslie Jordan (All Sons and Daughters), Taylor Leonhardt, and Jess Ray, which is a pretty impressive collection of songwriting prowess. This one is a lithe, somber Southern folk jam (yes, somber AND jam), and it gets me very excited for the full record.

8. “Water Street” – Matthew Halsall. A luscious, watery, flute-laden piece of relaxing spiritual jazz that immediately brightens the mood of the room.

9. “Narrow Time” – Blurstem. A beautiful, delicate ambient piano composition.

10. “North” – Ross Christopher. Here’s an elegant, wintry composition that is heavy on legato strings and staccato piano, producing a lovely tension.

Premiere: Tracy Shedd’s “Let It Ride”

A woman with blond hair staring straight into the camera. One hand is on her head and the other is over her heart.
Tracy Shedd. Photograph by John Ciambriello

Ah, it’s good to be back. In particular, I’m very pleased to be working with Tracy Shedd and Fort Lowell Records again. When James Tritten sent over this song, he thought “it might be a little too ‘up’ for your interest.” Given that this is a mid-tempo indie-pop jam with good-times ’80s vibes, I think this is a sign that I’ve become a little dour in my listening interests.

Nevertheless, this track did indeed catch my ear. Shedd’s lovely voice cruises over a thrumming bass line, a solid electronic percussion backline, and some swirly/mystical guitars and keys. (Let it ride, indeed.) The solid groove stays on track the whole way. The outcome of the piece is a very summery track without a lot of the usual indicators of “summer,” which is a compliment to the songwriting: evoking the feeling without hitting too many tropes is a feather in the cap. If you like Generationals, Metric at their chillest, and Rilo Kiley (shoutout; I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on RIYL references is, but we’re probably past it on this one) will love this.

You can pre-save the single here. The song arrives August 18.

You can find Tracy at the digitals: Website // Bandcamp // Facebook // Instagram // Soundcloud // Twitter // YouTube

Fort Lowell also has ’em: Website // Bandcamp // Facebook // Instagram // Soundcloud // Twitter // YouTube

August 2023 Singles 1

So, Independent Clauses took a roughly six-month unexpected hiatus. There were several false starts at getting things running again, but I hope and expect that this one is for real. Apologies. On to the music:

1. “The Strings of Hope, the Puppets of Belief” – John Reidar Holmes. A great, misty cloud of acoustic guitar, reverb, defanged distortion, and other mystical vibes. Almost meditative in its mood, but a little more punchy than most require for that.

2. “La Taill​é​e” – La Tène. This Swiss band sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard. This is some wild combination of distinctive instruments (hurdy-gurdy, harmonium, bagpipes/cabrette), the long grooves of techno, the repetition of drone, and the subtle variations of minimalism. The results are ecstatic and mysterious, energetic and enigmatic, nerve-wracking and relaxing. Highly recommended.

3. “Dark Moon” – Okonski. Stately and yet exploratory, this composition falls somewhere between jazz (in its component elements) and trip-hop (in its rhythms and mood). Fans of GoGo Penguin will love this.

4. “Lord Sepulchrave, the 76th Earl of Groan” – Cabbaggage. This piano piece is the opening cut of an album that takes its inspiration from the 1946 gothic fantasy novel Titus Groan. I love a good concept record, and this one opens with a delicate, intriguing rumination with plenty of atmosphere.

5. “acceptances” – Lara Somogyi. An elegant and pulsing collection of delicate harp and thumping bass that makes for a lovely ambient work.

6. “Aurora” – Juffbass. A soaring post-rock tune that falls somewhere between the dark-and-stormy and the twinkly-guitar versions. Reminds me a bit of Ulrich Schnauss.

7. “Immaculate Inning” – Requiem. Stuttering, cool post-rock that’s heavy on bass and vibes.

8. “Welcome to London” – Penguin Cafe. A whirling, punchy, thoughtful piece of jazz/contemporary classical that does the legacy of Penguin Cafe Orchestra proud.

9. “December Dream” – Julian Loida. Drops into a peaceful piano-based groove, and then picks up the pace with quirky percussion and melismatic vocals. A lovely composition.

10. “Sea Wall Bench” – Vein Melter. A delicate, haunting performance of an acoustic guitar with distant reverb trailing behind.

11. “Brocken Spectre” – Kyle Bates and Lula Asplund. Evocative, round drones that make me smile.

12. “Slow Beethoven Radio Mix 1” – The TANK Center for Sonic Arts. Beethoven, but played in a giant resonant tank at a very slow tempo. Truly: ambient classical. It’s beautiful.

February 2023 Singles 1

Independent Clauses usually takes a low-power month in the summer to relax, but it turns out that our low-power month this year was January. C’est la vie. We’re back. Without further adieu:

1. “MOD” – Martin Kohlstedt. Murky, wobbly, oceanic (check out the more-ominous-than-the-song video) techno that juxtaposes treble, bass, and rhythm productively and admirably.

2. “Bluish” – Big Lazy. I love a good piece of noir jazz. Check out the muted trumpet and inquisitive guitar lines.

3. “Pandas” – Mike Dillon and Punkadelic. A softer, more pensive take from the frantic melodic percussionist Dillon. Pianist Brian Haas’ influence on the composition here is clear, as the dreamy keys form a compelling contrast to the staccato rhythms Dillon and percussionist Nikki Glaspie are laying down. A lovely work.

4. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” – Cuddle Magic. A truly revelatory version of my favorite Advent carol. Cuddle Magic capture the tension between longing and comfort perfectly in the vocal performances and sonic arrangement. This is top-shelf indie-pop, no matter what song it is–but that it’s a beloved hymn makes it all that much more wonderful. (And you can enjoy it no matter what time of year it is.)

5. “Christmas Time Is Here” – The Paper Sea. An ambient, keys-based take on the Christmas classic. Yes, you can enjoy this one no matter what time of year it is, too.

6. “Alley House Rain” – Wisbands. A poignant, Appalachian rumination on reverb-heavy acoustic guitar and aching fiddle.

7. “Pseudo-Anonymity” – Bomethius. A tense, almost anxious piece that channels kit drumming, nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, violin, and more into a unique fusion of classical composition and post-rock. It resolves into a peaceful, calm work.

8. “Anticipation” – Frolin. New age/ambient with spacey vibes via what sounds like a theremin. Very relaxing and yet intriguing.

9. “snorkel town” – Grandma’s Cottage. The artist’s conceit is music for 8-bit RPGs that never existed, and lo: it is like that. The melodies are extremely evocative, beautifully developing the sort of peaceful-yet-adventurous vibes that the music in games of this type seemingly conjured out of thin air. In specific: this is absolutely a high-quality “town” song, and if you’ve ever played Zelda or Pokemon, yeah, you know what it sounds like.

10. “The Edge of the High Trace” – Dan Munkus with Heather Sommerlad. This expansive, guitar-based post-rock piece has a complex, fascinating geometrical video from John Jannone. Come for the chunky guitars, stay for the morphing visual figures.

11. “Stargazer” – Ivan Torrent. Speaking of things that sound like video game soundtracks, Ivan Torrent’s epic compositions here sound like they would fit perfectly as the opening track to a space RPG. (I’m currently playing through Mass Effect 2 again.) Soaring crescendos, pounding arrangements, great orchestral and vocal melodies. Absolutely great.

Interview: Jordan Hoban of jesus is the path to heaven

jesus is the path to heaven (formerly JPH) has been a staple of this blog for the last year, as Jordan Hoban and co. have released two projects in 2022. The expansive and ambitious A Holy Hour (which we premiered two pieces from!)  landed on my top ten of the year.

The more recent Book of Moths is a more intimate affair. While it is no less experimental (see the enigmatic loops of “YMMBCALTM,” which encompasses the titular insect in its acronym), it focuses in on shorter pieces with more spartan arrangements. It also strongly returns to a theme of Hoban’s work: scriptural and religious texts as lyrics. Along with these foci comes the aforementioned name change, which got me thinking about the tension between tradition and experimentation.

Happily, Jordan Hoban was kind enough to sit down and talk to me about that idea (and many others) recently! (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Stephen Carradini (SC): Well, first off just thank you very much for talking with us. You know, we’ve been exchanging emails for years at this point, but it’s nice to talk to you in (digital) person for the first time.

The thing that made me want to talk to you more in depth is, you recently changed the name of your project from JPH to jesus is the path to heaven. Can you tell us why you felt like now is the time for a change? What does it mean for the project and for you?

Jordan Hoban (JPH): It started off as a joke that one of our old bandmates made to me. They said, “whenever anyone asks what JPH means,” they would say, “it means Jordan’s Path to Heaven.” And I thought that was really funny.

But then I thought, that’s also definitely not what I wanted it to be. That coupled with: as a band, we’re working together, and we’re growing together and making music as a group. And it’s not just me doing stuff anymore. So to be more inclusive for them, so they could feel like they had some stake in it. But I also wanted it to have thematic elements that inspire me to continue writing music.

So I thought, “Jordan’s path to heaven” was a really funny idea, and I thought, Well, jesus is the path to heaven is not funny. It’s weirdly been evoking the absolute correct interpretation—for the most part—with every person that I’ve talked to. By correct, I mean my intention, not correct.

But my intent has actually been coming across more than I thought it would, which has been a happy surprise. Because members of the band were really skeptical. And then people I would talk to were skeptical, because they thought we were either trying to be a parody band, or we were trying to do something that was hateful toward Christianity, which is not my intent at all.

If anything, I think that Christianity is being ushered into a maturity where people who identify with it can have a meaningful conversation with it and not in a heretical way. Especially if you’ve been raised evangelical, as I have been, any kind of dissent from the common interpretation of Scripture is seen as somehow heretical or seen as indued with evil and unwelcome. And I think it’s changing, and I love seeing that. Especially with things like in the emergent church, with Peter Rollins and Rob Bell, and these great philosopher/theologians that are really starting to see the Scriptures—I don’t want to say in a non-spiritual and only-in-an-academic way—but Spiritual with a big S instead of a small s, which I would say what I know I was raised with.

Like essentially, you’re in this community, and you’re going to be in this community or you’re going to go to hell, and that’s not Spirituality. That’s a cult. So I think for me, I’m starting to have that conversation with my childhood and with my faith and my spirituality, and it’s never going to be detached from Christian symbols.

I was so ingrained with it, since I’ve been a child. My grandfather was a minister who worked for Billy Graham, so that just, you know, it’s baked in. And my mother just stuck with it, and Dad was Catholic and all that stuff.

SC: Yeah, I mean, it seems like you’ve been doing it for a while. Hell Verses is a pretty clear exploration of some more complicated issues.

JPH: Hell Verses was interesting because I wrote it relatively quickly. I just thought, “you know, I want to talk about hell.” And, you know, that’s such a bigger part of the evangelical, especially the Baptist—I’m learning that evangelical can mean maybe Methodist and Presbyterian and Lutheran. Maybe Lutheran wouldn’t be that; maybe more Protestant base. I’m not familiar with those sects as much, except I’m learning that they seem more inclusive and more open minded than the Baptists that I grew up with. Southern and Independent Baptists. Were you raised Independent or Southern Baptist?

SC: I was raised in a Bible church, which is basically a Baptist church that doesn’t want to give to the OMB, the missions board.

JPH: Yeah, me too. It was just like hellfire and brimstone preaching. And I went to school at that church, and so we would have chapel like twice a day. Which, we can get into going and living in a monastery at some point, but there’s a definite connection between that and growing up with it and hating it. But there’s a huge difference in what you’re being subjected to in a fire and brimstone Independent Baptist Christian School.

But Hell Verses was relatively fast. I thought, “you know, leave it simple, just have the verses themselves, and sort of replicate a kind of traditional sound.” Kind of draw those two worlds together. And I kept thinking, after doing that, how much I really want to just keep working with Bible verses. And it’s the same thing that I love about traditional songs. I think, that humans have really hit the peak of lyrics and poetry pretty early on.

At some point, I can add. I think I’ll be able to add something that has some kind of importance, that hasn’t been said before. But there’s nothing that bothers me more than a love song or just your regular trope-y, lyrical exploration of whatever human experience is wanting to be explored.

I think that the Bible does that surprisingly well. Psalms specifically, Job especially. Nothing more human than sorrow. And you see that in the Bible, explored in this antiquated way because of the interpretations and language of it. In such a human way, that’s just so filled with anger. And like almost—not even almost. It is accusatory toward God. Like there are so many parts of Psalms were where the writers are like, “How could you do this to me?”

And you know, I just want to keep working with the Bible, I want to keep working with Biblical themes and religious themes. And the name—

SC: And Job is the same way.

JPH: Yeah. Yeah, we put Job in the new EP as well, in a very simplified way.

But just to keep that, to have the name be as authoritarian as it feels. But we’ve had people say that it seems bigoted, which I thought was kind of on the nose to what we’re trying to draw attention to that is inherent in a certain brand of Christianity. There is a sort of exclusive bigotry, and to do that in a way that subverts this really strong statement with nuance.

Because our music is really—it’s not something you can just walk into and go, “Oh, I like that!” It does require. It requires a bit of yourself. I don’t think that it’s, like, unlistenable at all. I think it’s really—especially our live stuff—is really beautiful, and I’m very proud of what the live band and I have been doing. But it still requires some attention and some presence to listen to it, which I think is what helps.

The name is more grabbing than JPH, which you’re just like, “What does that mean?” And I can explain, “Oh, it’s my initials,” and they are like, “all right.” And at a point I was like, “Yeah, why am I doing this anymore?” The usefulness of JPH was because my father passed and I wanted to include him.

SC: So you’re talking about this a little bit already, but I’m fascinated particularly that you make boundary-pushing music, right? Like, I don’t know how you feel about the word “experimental.” Some people hate it. Some people love it. But you make very boundary-pushing music. And so, to tie your name to the Christian tradition, I think, is a really unique and interesting move. So how does that tension between tradition and exploration work in your mind?

JPH: I think that’s where I feel most comfortable making art. I’m back in school now. I’m studying art history and English, and that is just tradition. But there’s something about learning about tradition and learning about the way that perhaps our perception of what tradition was, was never accurate in the first place. Because it’s consistently being changed every decade, every five years here. And it’s a constant conversation happening between all disciplines and all art movements, and all literary movements, and it’s a tradition that I want to be a part of.

And at the same time, I think that there’s an individual responsibility to add your voice, the individual’s voice, to that conversation. I think that’s where the experimental part comes in when people hear my music, because they think, “Oh, that seems kind of weird.” It’s like, “Well, that’s my input in it.” I don’t personally think it’s that weird. Especially the music I listen to, it doesn’t feel that far left. And sometimes I think it sounds, maybe, too familiar.

But I don’t see that as a problem. I mean, I grew up listening to Neutral Milk Hotel, which is like four chords and Jeff Mangum just belting out that he loves Jesus. Like, as simple as you can get. I think that our music is really simple. It’s like four chords. I think it’s the production that’s different, and especially on the new one we use a lot of loops. And the loops can be, I think, a little off-putting for people. But I think that there’s again: the audience’s participation and presence with it is crucial to the music. But, I think as simple and melodic and beautiful as you can be while allowing your own individual voice to be present—that puts you in special ground.

SC: I love that you mentioned the “King of Carrot Flowers.” When I was early on in my musical exploration, I landed on that album. And that always struck me as like, that tension of being deeply earnest and also sort of affected at the same time. Like, “Do you really love Jesus Christ, or do you not? Like, is that the point? Do we know?”

And so, I chose to interpret it just very earnestly in the context of the rest of the album. But now that I’m older, there is that tension of how it can land in so many different ways.

JPH: I think that’s where good, in terms of thought-provoking music and music that engages me specifically, exists. Like, I don’t know what Jeff Mangum meant by that. I don’t care. Because the way that I take it on my individual listens of it is going to change. And there’s the fact that people like him, or Nick Cave, or Current 93, or mewithoutYou (which we know mewithoutYou is Christian) but they all kind of exist in that tension. I do bring up mewithoutYou because they were, you know, obviously inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel.

People think that we’re really inspired by mewithoutYou, which I think is really funny, because I don’t think we sound anything like mewithoutYou. It’s so strange for people to hear music that has religious themes done in a not traditional way that their brains go, “Well, what is it kind of like?” mewithoutYou is the first thing that comes up for people, or Sufjan Stevens. Sufjan I get for early stuff. Totally. Harmony-based stuff and time signatures and percussion, I get that. But at the same time, it’s like, “we’re not as wordy.”

SC: You mentioned earlier the Book of Moths was influenced by your time at Mepkin Abbey. Can you speak more about how that place affected you in your writing?

I wrote that whole album in the music room in Mepkin Abbey, between our hours. That place is incredibly special to me, for—I’ll reduce it to two really good reasons out of many reasons. It gave me a chance to really experience high church and the discipline of very traditional expressions of faith.

Which, Independent Baptists are as far afield from that as possible. It feels traditional to me, because, even though it’s existed for maybe 150 to 200 years, it was all I knew growing up. But then you get into like monasticism, which has existed since 1090. Or the Trappists, especially. You’re like, “Oh, this is like actually traditional worship. Like, this is really what Christians did, and they’ve been doing it in the same way-ish for that amount of time.” And that’s an incredibly long, almost a thousand or over a thousand years. Like at some point, that’s incredible. So I thought that was really interesting to connect discipline with faith. Like personal, self-discipline with faith.

The second thing that I really learned at Mepkin was a sort of disillusion of faith. This is recent, maybe three years ago now. I went in with these really lofty ideas, the sort of Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton idea of what monasticism is.

And this, I think, was really good for me, as I had this wonderful opportunity to stay for a year and see other people come in with that same perspective. A lot of young men my age would come in. A lot of musicians would come in, which is kind of interesting. Artists and musicians were very drawn. Young men, artists and musicians. Very few young women—there were some, but it was mostly young men between the ages of 20 and 35. And then there was a break, and then between fifty and eighty.

And I got to see them come in with these lofty ideas about religion, monasticism, lots of opinions on the comfort of American life and how it’s detrimental to personal development, all the stuff that I had going in. And then to realize like, “Oh, man, we’re just like—we don’t know anything!”

I had no idea! They’re people. All these monks are just people. And they have a vow of silence that they are so ready to break at any moment, because they’re so starved for having real, meaningful conversations with people who they don’t see every single day. And plus, like all the bureaucracy involved, and the issues with leadership and the tension inside of the community itself. It was like such a hyper-focused and crystallized representation of the exterior world outside the monastic walls that I thought, “Wow, what am I doing? I’m tricking myself into thinking that there is actually a higher understanding of spirituality that we cannot have.” But there isn’t, I don’t think.

There’s experience that, I think, leads you to a higher understanding of your own spiritual experience, but you have to go and experience it. It’s kind of the Kierkegaard existential thing: where through the experiencing of your own life and the faith and the way that you will develop, you begin to actually develop your spirituality. As opposed to like, “I’m going to go to a monastery and become more spiritual.” It just doesn’t work like that. And I saw a lot of people either broken by it, or… A lot of people broken by it. We lost like seven or eight people while I was there just who left. They were just done.

Yeah, I was like, “I’m still here!” Because by that point I was like, “I know the trick.” The trick is that you’re living. You’re not leaving the world, you’re entering the world, but in a really dense way, in an inescapable way. It’s an intense experience to just live with a bunch of the same people, and to pray at like four in the morning until seven at night and work all day long, and you’re never alone. You’re always reading the same thing. There’s just a point where: it isn’t the spirituality.

And I think about this thing Richard Rohr said. He told he would tell this story. (This is before I went to Mepkin.) One of the things that intrigued me about monasticism was Richard Rohr’s Franciscan experience with monasticism, which is radically different than a Trappist, because they don’t have cloisters.

I didn’t know that! He’s like living in Albuquerque, being able to like go out to Black Rock Coffee or whatever he wants to do. And you know we’re like living in this little hovel. A beautiful hovel, by the way. Mepkin is absolutely gorgeous. I urge everyone to have that experience.

Anyway, what he said was, He went to Gethsemani. He went to see Thomas Merton’s novitiate, and he went to visit this one hermit that lived outside. Richard went out, and he went walking on the trails, and he saw this hermit. He was just walking around outside, and he said, “Hey, Richard, I knew that you were coming. I just wanted you to know that if there’s one thing that I could leave with you that you could tell to the world, it’s that God isn’t out there. God is here.” I was like, “That’s the best takeaway that you can get.”

It’s not that God is somewhere that you are pining to get to, or striving to appeal to. You’re missing the point. It’s in the earth. And that can be interpreted in any way you like: pantheist or deistic, or even just representative or symbolically. But we only can understand the divine through material terminology anyway. All the best poetry about God is incredibly reliant upon imagery from the natural world. Why? That’s how we understand that.

So all of that was something that I felt was really important, and really pressed upon me at my time at Mepkin.

SC: It’s interesting that you mentioned Merton. I’ve been listening a lot to Brian Harnetty’s Words and Silences. Harnetty is a composer who uses found audio over all of his compositions, and he did a whole album of his work with Merton’s tape-recorded musings over it. It came out earlier this year. It’s amazing. You would love it.

JPH: I just looked it up.

SC: Especially the more you know about Merton, the more interesting it becomes. I think you’d be very interested in it. On that note, the closing question I give to everybody is: What are you listening to right now? What sorts of things are rattling around in your brain?

JPH: The new Björk album. So, so, just resplendent. I was really impressed. I did not connect with the singles, but I thought, “Well, it is Björk.” Björk is a near perfect composer, so I want to give the whole album a listen. And really, as an entire album, it is a work of art. And I urge you to hear if you haven’t heard it yet.

Apart from that, you know I’ve been listening to a lot of Current 93. I’ve been revisiting Neutral Milk Hotel—their live stuff, which I never really delved into, which I was really impressed with. I just heard of this New Zealand artist named Aldous Harding and I’m very gradually getting into her stuff. But I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen, like visuals that she puts out, as well as the music. It’s really singer-songwritery, which is interesting because I don’t really like that very much, but it relies a lot on silence and an almost staccato delivery. It’s like she’s playing with the singer songwriter structure. But she’s doing singer-songwriter stuff.

SC: Well, thank you so much for taking some time to talk with us. I’ve just been really fascinated with your work, and really appreciative that you took some time to sit with me and talk about it.

JPH: I just want to add a real debt of gratitude to you for supporting what I’ve been doing for as long as you’ve supported me, I think, six years, seven years now. So thank you. And also to acknowledge the band that I’m working with, which is Tommy Underhill, Meara, and Zach Jordan. They have been making our live shows just really incredible. We just played one last night, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had playing music in quite a while. And very soon we’re going to be all recording and writing together. So I want to shout out to them for just being wonderful.