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Song-Telling Tuesday: Author and the Density of Identity

Photo by Connor Siedow, Art Direction Jeremiah Munn

“It’s stressful when you’re trying to make a career out of it but, at the end of the day, it’s extremely fun to play music. All songwriters should make sure they are having fun doing their art.” ~ Cameron Barlett

Songwriting

For Cameron and Trevor Bartlett, songwriting was always in their path. Growing up, both of their parents were very musical and listened to The Cure, Tears for Fears, and The Doors. Their dad was a youth pastor, which made for some parallel tastes. “We listened to all the Christian versions of these bands,” they share. Today they are still impressed by the longevity of Christian brother-formed band Switchfoot. 

They both had Guitar Center startup kits for guitar and drums. Trevor started playing drums first, while Cameron started out on guitars. Eventually, Trevor switched to guitar because he wanted to play chords, which felt more rewarding to him. Cameron then took over drums, which play a very crucial role in their music. Songwriting then started to emerge when their parents divorced.

Photo by Connor Siedow

“Lately it’s been a conversation on where I’m probably the happiest I’ve been in a while. So I’m like, what do I write about? It’s more story-telling now by trying to find cute little metaphors that can work and tell a story that is relatable,” Trevor discloses.

Cameron admits that Author has always been a very melancholy band where some of the stuff sounds positive and happy musically. “Then you listen to the lyrics and think, this is a really sad song. I think people like that in music. They like being able to relate to something.”

Recently songwriting has been a different approach for them. The band gathers to develop the songs through jam sessions. There are no lyrics or melodies while they explore the overall feel of the music. Then they each go their separate ways to work out some melodies and add ideas.

“We’re very open to whatever music comes out. As long as we’re singing as brothers and there’s some sort of jangly guitar, and Cameron’s drums, then I think it sounds like us.”

Photo by Connor Siedow, Art Direction Jeremiah Munn

Ex-bass player and producer Nate Washburn is a huge influence for them and continues to help develop ideas constantly. Zach Zurn has been playing music with them for over 10 years and provides clarity with conceptions. Since all of the musicians record in some capacity, there’s a common understanding of how to build songs. Snippets and recordings are then sent back and forth.

“We’ve been more open on trying to write poppier versions of ourselves, if that makes sense. It’s mostly been a songwriting tool where we try to write the poppiest thing we can write, and see what we get,” Trevor says. They have been blessed to have a studio at their disposal over the years to try experimentation. It gives them a constant way to flesh out a song.

Sonder

Sonder is defined as the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness.

“The other part of me, in a future I can’t see

I’m not ready to believe, this is all that I can be”

For Author, this concept came into focus while on tour in 2015. They were playing over 280 shows and watching their friends have kids while they toured. They saw their friends get better jobs because of college and had this feeling of not knowing what’s going on. Although they were touring the country playing music, they felt like life was passing them by.

“I can’t stand for petty exchanges

Can I change or make rearrangements”

The song was written as a basic missed opportunity song. For Author, it’s about second-guessing their choices. Should they have signed with this label? Should they have played that show? The lyrics repeat on purpose throughout the song because second-guessing a decision doesn’t always resolve it.

“We may never know how much promise we may show

We may never find all the will we left behind”

Although the theme of the song could be perceived as bittersweet, the design was for it to be more uplifting. You shouldn’t think about the things you missed out on. In a way, it’s rewarding because there are so many opportunities you can still make. It’s sharing a message of being okay with the path you decided.

“We’re thirsty to deceive but content to be unseen.”

That line was talking about people being fake and not being who they say they are. It was written about a ‘cool kids club’ and asking, should I have been in one of those? Growing up they’ve seen that people are trying to get up and don’t care who they step on to get there. The song starts the same way it ends, which symbolizes starting anew. Even though you missed one path, you can start another. 

Photo by Connor Siedow, Art Direction Jeremiah Munn

What Is Real

“What Is Real” is written as a musical journey. It starts very simply with a piano, vocals, and this crunchy noise. The crunchy sounds were captured by messing around with the sliders from an organ in the studio. They loved the texture and almost rhythmic beat to it, so the sound was slid into the beginning.

“Look out over my bed, I’ll recount the night,

I’ve been unkind”

They focused on the vocals and built everything around that. With synthesizers, they slowly added pads and textures in the beginning. There’s a very warm analog wave of tones that continue to build. We hear a relationship in the song that questions if they are going to be okay.

Then the drums come in at 2:42 and the shift in tone becomes darker. There’s more disconnect in sounds. The lyrics are more disorientating while the drums become more syncopated. The same line becomes blurred and faded into the music.

“If I don’t know what is real, how am I to know what to feel?”

At 4:16 everything drops out and we’re left with a tiny guitar part. Trevor originally wrote that part but it became transposed onto the piano. The ending section is paying tribute to that. We then get a steady stream of noises that are from one microphone being turned on in the studio. We hear the band cleaning up their mess of glasses and chairs.

“Why was it right then why did I stay so long? Why did I stay so long?

Ultimately, the song is about not being ready for a relationship. We almost never realize we aren’t ready until it’s over, and we begin to question the reasons why it failed. The song is beautiful written and the symbolism in cleaning up your messes at the end works perfectly.

Photo by Connor Siedow, Art Direction Jeremiah Munn

Song Production

Author has established their identity as a band that navigates dense arrangements and textures. This beautiful balance showcases their songwriting and talent as a group. Finding the right place to stop building is key. Hearing the way they add onto songs with synths, samples, pianos, and substituting melodies with different instruments is intriguing. The studio becomes their place to make it sound different, and have all of the concepts merge together to make sense.

Cameron shares that they sometimes use the whiteboard tactic for each song. They build a list of instruments and go down, adding each part, and checking off the list. He shares that sometimes they pull parts out to complete a song. It all depends on the feel and your gut when it sounds complete.

The song then gets another coat of sheen with Nate Washburn when he mixes things. They’ll send the track in and Nate will add all these noisy, glitchy, synthy effects. Oftentimes they think the song is done and send it in, only to hear these parts and realize it opens up more dimensions. 

Artwork by Simon Büchler
Stay tuned for 2020 where Author is planning a huge show to celebrate “Of Brighter Day” turning five years old. In the immediate future, you can catch them on their first European tour starting this September. Tour dates below.
 
?? 29.09: péniche Légia, Liege
?? 30.09: BSR & LSHO presents Marigolds w/ Author, Cold Reading + more *
?? 01.10: Cold Reading & Author | Margate *
?? 03:10: Gleis 22, Münster
?? 04:10: Bürgerhaus Weserterrassen, Bremen
?? 05.10: Ploho & Author & Cold Reading | FKK, Kiel
?? 06.10: Cold Reading CH + Author USA | Hamburg
?? 08.10: CAIRO, Jugendkulturhaus Würzburg
?? 09.10: Cold Reading ⦁ Author | Werkk Baden
?? 10.10: • Cold Reading + Author • | 10.10.19 KTS Freiburg
?? 11.10: Cold Reading + Author | Bad Neustadt

Author: Smouse

Having spent 13 years recording and producing Minnesota artists, along with running a small record label, Smouse is a passionate advocate of musicians and artists in Minnesota.

Written by Smouse

Having spent 13 years recording and producing Minnesota artists, along with running a small record label, Smouse is a passionate advocate of musicians and artists in Minnesota.

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