We’re living in confusing times. Lockdown has disturbed our natural rhythms. There’s time to think; perhaps too much time, and not all the thoughts are welcome. Looking for something to soundtrack this state of uncertainty, the unsettling internal dialogue, the wonder of what’s next, and the quiet reflection?
Three years in the making, and A.O. Gerber’s debut album, Another Place to Need, could not have come along at a better time. It’s a collection of songs that envelop and surround the listener, but there’s an ethereality at play that suggests a haunting or, even, haunted presence – dreams and fantasy over cold, hard immediacy. Had this record been made in the Eighties, the accompanying videos would have featured the artist walking alone through a large empty house as the wind ruffled slightly opaque curtains through open windows and disturbed leaves on the floor, while the occasional dove would take off in slow motion as if startled by the footsteps. Thankfully, it doesn’t need a set of hackneyed visual clichés to judderingly underline its mood.
The music continually swells and ebbs, from whispered, barely caught vocals to intense passages of emotion and drama, accompanying deeply personal, searingly honest lyrics – `Tell Me’ being a prime example, as singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gerber explains. “I wrote this song relatively quickly one night after playing a show with an artist I really admired. I had been feeling frustrated in my own writing, and I was so shaken by the rawness of her music, so I went home and wrote ‘Tell Me’ in a weirdly fertile state of jealousy and reverence; it forced up a kind of honesty that’s usually hard for me to access in my songwriting. It was scary to write—scary to write about masturbation as a woman, and even scarier to write about it in a tone that isn’t jocular and a context that isn’t very self-accepting.
“It’s scary to admit to the dissonance that exists between self-pleasure and self-loathing—that I can simultaneously hate and love my own body, and that masturbation can be just as much about loneliness and longing as it is about sexual empowerment.”
Intriguingly, the musical content is anything but dissonant as there’s real beauty at work here, with smart arrangements, judicious use of brass and an overwhelming clarity of thought that gives the album a real cohesion.
Opening track `Old Blue’ eases you into the record gently, but don’t be fooled. The emotional rawness is a compelling counterpoint and it’s quickly apparent that beneath the surface, there’s turmoil – “Will you ever see the things I see… if you see it will it set me free?”
`Full Bloom,’ with its memorable piano figure helping propel a beautifully constructed song, and the intensely personal storytelling of single, `In The Morning’ are perhaps the highlights of the album on first hearing, but with each listen it reveals a little more of itself and its creators.
Co-produced by fellow singer-songwriter Madeline Kenney, this is an accomplished and heartfelt debut that defies the, often, piecemeal nature of its construction.
As Gerber explains: “Since I couldn’t afford a lot of dedicated studio time, I recorded the massive amounts of overdubs for all of the songs wherever I could from June 2018 to December 2019. Most of it was done at peermusic after hours with my friend Kenny Tye engineering. We also tracked some saxophone at my friend Derek Ted’s home studio with him engineering. The rest was done in various home studios all over the country: I recorded some things at my house, while Madeline, (band member) GG, and my friend Philippe Bronchtein all recorded parts at home (in Durham, Los Angeles and Nashville respectively) and sent them to me. I brought my rig everywhere: to friend’s houses, to my parent’s house in Oregon, to friend’s parents’ houses. It was a cumbersome and long process.”
That said, to maintain the focus for the record over such a period is a triumph of Gerber’s vision and passion for the project, and her music.
“I always hope people see themselves in the music I make, and that it can let people feel less alone or more connected. Ironically, even though this record is very much about how lonely it can be when you try to escape reality; music can be the most beautiful escape, and a huge antidote to loneliness.”
A.O. Gerber’s debut album, Another Place To Need is released May 22nd on Hand in Hive / Copper Mouth Records – pre-order your copy here.