“Apalachicola Blue,” premiering on Billboard today (Nov. 8) from singer-songwriter Eli Musser’s upcoming debut album, has an easy, melodic roll to it. But the story behind the song stings.
“I was in Florida, on St. George Island, with a now ex-girlfriend, and found out the hard way I’m allergic to yellowjackets,” Musser, a West Virginia native now based in New York City, tells Billboard. Turns out the insect in question was a hornet, but not taking any chances the couple rushed Musser to the nearest hospital, which was a half hour away in Apalachicola.
“My girlfriend very calmly put me in the car, and we’re headed there, and I have no idea what’s going to happen, if I’m going to black out or what,” Musser recalls. “It was a totally surreal drive across this bridge, wondering if I’m going to make it, if I’m going to be in anaphylaxis by the time I get to the emergency room. None of that happened, but that’s the emotional content there.”
The song itself came from a finger-picking pattern Musser had “kicking around” from a while before and had set aside, intending to return to it at some point. “It just ended up that the words and that music and feeling all matched up, and that was it,” he says.
“Apalachicola Blue” is part of Content, due out Dec. 6, which Musser considers to be his first full-length album. “I’ve done recording in the past,” he says, “but it was always in conjunction with different guys, under different names. This is the first time using my name for a record, so it really feels like my debut.” In fact, Musser had recorded a version of the album back in 2014-15 in upstate New York, but he wasn’t happy with the results at the time.
“It was a total analog boot camp, all to tape. There wasn’t even a computer in the rig,” says Musser, who did not find much charm in the old school scenario. “The thing I took away from that experience was that I really wanted some polish to the performances, and if it’s just you and the tape and you’re not making it happen, it’s not happening.”
While he was pleased with the songs, he wasn’t happy with how they were sounding, so he took it back and tried again. This time, Musser worked with engineer Bryce Goggin (Sean Lennon, Pavement, Sebadoh). “I think probably the biggest challenge has been me finding a voice and getting comfortable in the studio,” Musser says. “The songs before didn’t have the guts I wanted in them. That’s the biggest difference between what I did four years ago and this record now.”
There’s more where Content came from, meanwhile. While Musser is planning to play some release shows around New York — and is also “actively talking” to potential managers with hopes of landing a label deal — he’s continuing to write and plan more recording.
“I have a colossal back catalog,” he says, “and I think even more important is the comfort I have now in the studio. The reason the album title is Content is, while people can interpret and infer what they want, I feel it hits a high-water mark for me. I’m satisfied with the things I hear, the place I am in my life and everything. So this record is a bellwether. It’s gas in the tank. And if a record company hears something they like I can say ‘I have 25 more songs just like this.’ That’s not a problem; That’s a huge boon, I think.”
Listen to “Apalachicola Blue” below.