Strange Worlds: A song by song breakdown of ‘Kleinmeister’ with Ruth Garbus

First of all, KLEINMEISTER:

• Translates to “little master” in German, and is sometimes used to describe provincial artists during the Renaissance, perhaps engravers specifically…I’ve seen it used in several different ways, once referring to the ‘footnotes of music history.’

• I was complaining to Travis Laplante about how much I was struggling trying to record on my own. He made my dreams come true by connecting me with Dave Snyder of Guilford Sound. I recorded this there, in a wintery paradise, with Travis sitting by like a loving spirit blessing everything. I am incredibly grateful.

1. STRASH

• Working titles: Sex and Garbage, Starship Real

• I had been reading Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. The parts of the book that took place at the Fresh Kills Landfill gave me some kind of sensual, fecund feeling, picturing all this wet garbage, seeping and leaking and decomposing, with waterways and grasses, boating alongside the mounds of neon, etc.

• I had recently performed Slusher (see track 7) with Tredici Bacci at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Tredici is a twelve-piece pop orchestra, inspired by Italian film scores…I felt good, singing in front of that incredible band for a few minutes in front of a crowd, with Simon conducting. Diva feel good.

• Ryan Power made this recording incredible. Wizardry!

• There are some tracks of me playing through an Electro Harmonix pedal called the Voice Box: a vocoder and a vocal synth processor that can create harmonies with your voice based on whatever chords you’re playing.

2. PAIN

• Written immediately after the 2016 election when Trump won, ie when there appeared a tear in the matrix.

• This recording makes me uncomfortable and feel strange (my happy place).

• It’s actually slowed down a bit.

• I believe that everyone is perfect and beautiful on some level.

3. PITIFUL POETRY

• After I wrote this, someone in my community here in Brattleboro, VT (where I’ve lived since ‘01), Jeremiah, killed himself after long struggles with addiction and mental illness. At some point I realized this song might be about him.

4. SQUIRRELS

• My mom is from Pineville, Kentucky, and once when we were visiting she left me and my sister with my grandmother for awhile, and when she returned we were eating tiny little drumsticks. It turned out it was a squirrel that my grandmother had “found in the freezer.”

5. BEAUTY

• This was written during the Harvey Weinstein explosion.

• The strange, sickening pity that some women who were entangled with him felt…it rang deep and true.

6. BLANKET & SIGN

• I was thinking about utopias around this time, blown away by the differences between what people want in this world, imagining.

7. SLUSHER

• Written for Tredici Bacci. It appears on their album Amore Per Tutti.

• The lyrics are written from the perspective of the man who moved into my grandmother’s house in Kentucky after she died and it was sold. Her staid, practical, Appalachian matriarch sensibility was replaced with, like, zebra print rugs and shit (orgies?).

• I wrote the melody first and then fit guitar parts under it, which is unusual for me. I was reaching.

• Shout out to Burt Bacharach.

8. GREY SWEATSHIRT

• I often have to force myself to go to my studio to work on music, and sometimes I get so depressed and angry at my own fruitlessness that I must explode. It’s at that point, when I’ve really hit a wall, that the only thing left to do is to be completely and utterly, disgustingly, unattractively honest, whether it’s through free-writing, or yelling and jumping around, or whatever. Then something gets squeezed out of that…it’s a very particular emotion.

• Giant gong: encountered in the Sam Ash Music Store in LA that we visited when I was playing drums in Happy Birthday.

9. FETTY WAH

• I used to watch a lot of old musicals with my friend Katie in her bedroom while eating from a 1 pound bag of Skittles and drinking Pepsi.

• I realized too late that I needed to get permission to “interpolate” the section of Bali Hai by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Owen (Owen Ashworth, the massively wonderful person who owns and operates my record label, Orindal Records) had to literally say “stop the presses” to the record plant because the LP’s were already being manufactured. A stressful time, waiting for the answer. But after about three months they said okay. The main reason I was able to get an answer at all was because an old family friend’s brother is a VIP at Rodgers & Hammerstein…it was a very strange experience learning about that connection from my parents when I was telling them my sad tale about it all. Kismet or white privilege? You decide.

• I love Travis’s tenor saxophone on this track.

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Thanks for reading! (and listening)

-Ruth

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‘Kleinmeister’ is out now via Orindal Records