Wasteland has a lot of what your fans loved about the first album: the folk strains, the choir elements, the bluesy underbelly. But it just sounds like there’s more on this album -- more voices singing, more hands clapping, the presence of more people. Was this a more collaborative effort in general?
The band that I had last time round, we were seven-piece all in all. It was always big, there were always harmonies that needed singing. Now there’s one extra player, an organ player who’s trying to fill the void of Booker T. I was listening to a lot of folk music, a lot of Alan Lomax recordings and blues music before writing some of this stuff. They’re recordings of music just being performed and played by congregations, people singing for its own sake as they go about their day. I like listening to some Irish folk music as well, too. Folk music is very much at the core of where I started writing. There are a lot of hand claps and natural sounds -- the sounds of people making noises with their own instruments, their own physical bodies. I still find that to be a really, really powerful sound. It has something to it, with hands and feet stomping and voices in harmony. There’s a good element of that.
I consider myself a singer before anything else. I’m not a guitarist’s guitarist; I’m not a great guitar player, and I'm sure as hell not a good keyboard player. So for me, I often explore the arrangements of a song with just vocal parts. I might write parts as voices that end up being played as other instruments when I’m in the demoing process, because it’s far easier for me to sing the part I hear in my head as opposed to transposing it and finding it on guitar.
So much great folk and soul music came out of fractured moments in history. You wrote these songs a year ago, but now they have a whole new context. Has Wasteland intensified for you between the time you wrote it and its release?
At the time, I was just reading the news and trying to reconcile these anxieties and concerns with what we might be facing as a global community over the next few years. I won’t speak to whether I’m hopeful or what my outlook is, but some of the songs are trying to confront those concerns. Sometimes answer them, sometimes not. Sometimes they just yield to that anxiety, the dread -- like “Wasteland, Baby!”
In some cases, the stuff I was reading and worried about [was] still down the line, but it’s amazing to see how shit has gotten far, far worse in regards to environmental crises or disasters. There was a report funded by NASA sometime in 2016 which concluded that organized society as we know it, in 50 years or 100 years time, could alter irreparably. It’s interesting seeing stuff like that, or the "12 years" talking point, which someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was pushing -- a United Nations report that said, "Look, there’s 12 years to make severe change to the way we consume energy, or we could be in a runaway global warming scenario." It’s interesting seeing how much things have changed, and not always for the better. Sometimes you look at that, and it’s like, Jesus. Sometimes you think twice about why you wrote a song. I don’t think on this one, with cases like that, I don’t necessarily regret writing the tune.
Why Wasteland, Baby!? Where did the name come from, and why is this the final song we hear on the album?
I stood back from the main body of the work, which was maybe 15-20 songs at first. The songs all either carried consciously or unconsciously some element of doom and gloom approaching, or they were taking stock of something or saying farewell to something. Like “Shrike,” which says, “Remember me in the next life when this is all said and done,” or “Would That I,” which is just obsessed with fire and the burning of things.