Shay Roselip released his first EP, "Ever Present Calm," in February on Gnome Life Records. This Big Sur based label released my favorite record of 2014 by The Range of Light Wilderness, so I'm always eager to see what they've tapped into. I must say, after repeated listens, this EP is up to Gnome Life snuff.
A swirling cosmic 5 song affair filled with beautiful melodies and pleasantly haunting cascades of delayed guitar and synthesizers, this record is what I've been needing lately. After doing my research, I discovered that Shay was a fellow East Bay resident who has been involved with a number of folks in groups I've been following and writing about for a while now. Just to name a few: Vetiver, Farallons, Assateague, Kacey Johansing, and yes, even The Range of Light Wilderness. So, the pedigree checks out. Shay got in touch with Drops of Gold which quickly turned into a hang over tacos and beer at Tacubaya in Berkeley. I also got in touch via email with his fellow collaborator on this project -- producer/instrumentalist extraordinaire, Jeremy Harris, to gain a bit more insight on the record from his standpoint. Jeremy currently plays with Vetiver, Shay, Farallons, makes music as Quest Coast, and edits the Inverness Almanac. What I got from the two of them was outstanding. They were both thoughtful, gracious and eloquent in their interactions. What follows is an amalgam of the two interviews that tells the story of how "Ever Present Calm" came to be.
Alright. Let's get some back story before I get too deep.
GL: So, did you grow up here?
Shay: No, I grew up in Vermont, but I came of age out here, I moved to San Francisco when I was 18 and I didn't know anyone, at all. You know, when I look back, I'm like, damn, that was a brave move. But being 18, I didn't know, I just wanted to be somewhere else than small town Vermont.
GL: Sure. Makes sense. Did you have an idea of what to do here?
Shay: Yeah, I had a place lined up with some Academy of Art students. So, I moved to Nob Hill. But, I was naive and really into playing music and pretty confident, but still...
GL: Ha. I was too. At 18, you've been playing a music a few years, and once you learn some guitar you think 'I can write songs...'
Shay: Totally. So I played local shows and then I started making friends with musicians who I really looked up to. It actually happened that I went to the Kerouac museum in North Beach and the girl who was working, I wonder who she is, and if she is still around, because she helped facilitate a huge amazing thing in my life. Basically, I walked past the velvet rope and she was like 'wait a minute, you gotta pay to get in here.'
So I asked, 'OK, how much is it?' '20 bucks,' 'Oh, no way, I'm not paying 20 bucks.' And she asked if I was a musician and I was like, 'Am I that transparent?'
GL: Is it that obvious?
Shay: Yeah, so she asked what I played and I said folk music or something so she asked if I wanted to play a show with some of her favorite folk bands in the whole city at Momi Toby's Revolution Cafe. So, I was like, 'sweet.'
The show ended up being with Kacey Johansing, and my old friends now, Sarah Krebs, Aslan from Honeymoon Tree, and Emily Ritz (Yesway). So the show was great and those guys are still some of my best friends to this day from nine years go.
Shay: So that was pretty amazing. That night, I went from having no one in the city to a having 10 amazing friends who played music.
GL: A nice little group of like minded people, wow.
Shay: It was a warm welcome for sure
GL: So that probably gave you some confidence to keep going.
Shay: Yeah, but also, i got intimidated. because they were really good. I was like 'I don't know how to play guitar very well I still really don't know now to write songs.' And then, I met The Range of Light Wilderness guys who became fast friends. At that point I was like 'I can't even play music, these guys are too good.' I felt totally not confident about my songs. Any time Tommy from TROLW would hand me a guitar to play a song I would say no. So, I had to move away in order to get back into music. I moved to Eugene, Oregon to not play music. I went to live at an Ashram on a permaculture farm where I was working and meditating and doing yoga for hours a day. It was awesome, but right when I wasn't wanting to play music and was so focused on other things, the music started pouring out again.
GL: Of course.
Shay: I started playing shows around there, and I got to open up for some bigger bands, like Neil Halstead, because there weren't a lot of folks acts up there, it was all bluegrass and jam bands.
GL: Sounds like it got you into a good headspace, when you're feeling healthy, mentally and physically.
Shay: Yeah, and I wasn't focused on music at all because I was also doing this Waldorf teacher training up there. And now I teach kindergarten in Berkeley. So, the whole time i was there, the music was just a hobby, but all the songs from the record were written there, during that time. It was one of the most healthy times in my life, for sure.
GL: Sounds like it. So, how long were you there?
Shay: That was three years.
GL: Wow. And were you still keeping in touch with your group of friends down here?
Shay: Yeah, I actually went on a tour with Yesway and The Range of Light Wilderness during the summer.
Shay: That is from Eugene. Nick from TROLW and Kacey were up in Portland and we were hanging out with Greg Olin from Graves, so we recorded that one day Nick on Bass and Kacey on drums, we did it all in one take and Greg said 'Let's release a split tape.' Just a hit the record button kind of thing.
GL: That sounds great, I can feel that organic vibe when I listen, kind of off the cuff, but the songs are really strong, which is why I was interested to find out how Jeremy got involved because you already had this aesthetic that drew me in. And then to see it brought into full color was really neat. As soon as I started listening to that record... When a record is kind of a world to you, you feel like it's a sound you can get into. That's what this one does to me.
Shay: Oh cool. That's what I would hope for.
GL: Good! It's hard to do.
Shay: I've been friends with Jeremy for 6 years or so and I'd heard him play guitar, I always knew he was amazing. His songs are also amazing, once he gets around to making an album...
GL: Oh really? Because I've heard the Quest Coast stuff, which I love.
Shay: Yeah, the stuff he does on synths is beautiful and when I heard that stuff I knew I wanted to make a record like that with my songs. Like a New-Agey vibe with pop songs.
GL: And that's exactly what you did. It sounds really familiar to me, but I can't figure out what it is, which is also awesome. I felt that way about TROLW too, a sound that you gravitate towards without knowing, or even caring, why.
Shay: As long as I've known him, Jeremy has always been working on other projects.
Shay: Yeah, Vetiver was a band that we bonded over, so it was so cool when he told me he'd be playing with Andy. Though, the process for this was so long.
GL: So how did it start? Were you still in Oregon?
Shay: No, I moved back here almost 3 years ago. I think what happened was me, Jeremy, and Kacey were playing music one night in Bolinas and they said let's record one of your songs, So, on the four track, we just started recording Sweet Salutation. What was happening with the song was really cool , so we decided that night that we'd record the song for real and see where it takes us. And then after we laid down the basics, we knew we would make something, like an EP. We didn't agree to make an album, but then on Christmas Eve of 2013, we started recording all the basics at Jeremy's house in Inverness, CA.
GL: Yeah, I had to look that place up after reading the liner notes.
Shay: It's West Marin, near Point Reyes Station.
GL: So were you tracking drums and guitar together or were you mostly overdubbing?
Shay: A lot of the songs were written from loops, so I would record all my guitar parts from loops as I played them live and then we'd start adding to it. I would play drums. Jeremy would play keys, and bass. We would just mess around with overdub stuff, it was just us for the majority of the process. That was my two week break from school and then 5 months went by because neither of us could find the time. It's actually been finished since last winter, over a year.
Jeremy offers further insight on the beginnings...
Jeremy: I had worked on a few other records at Kacey's house and thought it was a dreamy place to work. Shay was going on winter break from his Waldorf teaching job in Berkeley so we cobbled together some equipment and lined up a week at the end of December to make it happen. That week marked the beginning of about a year and a half of part-time recording, mixing, mastering, and eventually pressing with Gnome Life.
GL: As far as I can tell from my research, Shay was mining a similar vein on previous recordings like the Together EP, but achieving the vibe with a bit simpler and earthy sound. That, and the liner notes, lead me to assume you were responsible for the trip into the clouds. Is that a fair assessment? The swirling synths and propulsive rhythm section really elevates his songs to another level that, for me, puts this record into the realm of an all time favorite. That moving melodic bassline you play on Sorted World. Yes!
Jeremy: Thank you! Yes, I believe that's a fair assessment. The sonic direction for this record was realized very intuitively and almost without discussion of influence or vision. It happened with what was available to us and what sounds seemed to be hanging in the surrounding air. I had been exploring atmospheric synthesizer music for my Quest Coast releases — a direct attempt to reflect the vast mystery of the coastal California landscape — and I had an impression of what Shay's previous music sounded and felt like up to that point, as well as how I thought it might further unfurl. His nascent song style and my production curiosities easily found natural complement. Shay and I had known each other for a while and were certainly aware of our similar interests in what might be called psychedelic or spiritual or cosmic music and these phenomena in general, though none of this was ever discussed and the sound of the record was very much discovered in the process rather than made from a premeditated plan.
GL: Could you tell me more about where and when the recordings took place?
Jeremy: The recordings took place entirely in home settings all the way through mixing and mastering. Before going to Bolinas for a week in December 2013, Shay and I spent two days at my house in Inverness selecting songs and determining tempos and recording his basic rhythm electric guitar parts that we would then loop to map the form and structure of the songs. In Bolinas the next week we added drums, bass, synthesizers and rough vocals to the arrangements. The next session was at Tommy's (from The Range of Light Wilderness) house in Big Sur, where we added more keyboards and guitars and ran many many many tracks one by one through a hardware compressor he had there, which was an opportunity to commit some prior work and apply a little midway glue to the whole. Over the following year we continued to layer more instruments, shape the tones, I wrote and recorded the woodwind parts, and we got final vocals. This happened several places either because of living situations or time or gear availability: two houses in Inverness, two houses in Bolinas, and Shay's house in Berkeley. Eventually I mixed and mastered the record on my home studio system using software processing and a lot of listening. Audio work was finished in fall 2015.
GL: What is your recording set up? Are you an analog/digital hybrid type of guy?
Jeremy: I'm absolutely a practitioner of analog/digital hybrid production, I feel fluent in both realms, and I have no allegiance to either form. This record was made with a fairly limited set of tools: Almost everything was tracked into Pro Tools via a UA Twin interface using inexpensive microphones and a Tascam 424 mkII tape machine as a preamp and means of running an effect send that I tracked simultaneously. We didn't use the cassette function at all. Aside from one hardware compressor and a Roland RE-201 Space Echo, all post-processing was a combination of guitar pedals and UAD software. I mastered it using iZotope Ozone. While this record happened entirely out of studio, I have two studios in Marin that I work at regularly and have developed a method I've been liking where I begin and end a project in-studio, with a lot of editing, overdubbing, contemplation and stem mixing occurring at home in the time between.
GL: I've been mixing and then mastering tracks, including my own lately, and am curious how you feel about executing the entire record making process yourself. I've heard from so many "engineers with more experience" that it isn't a good idea. I've been really, really enjoying it. I took the last 45 my band made through every step and everyone was super pleased.
Jeremy: I think we're absolutely in an age where any reasonably competent technician can take their project from ground zero all the way to release with no other hands touching it. I'm a firm believer in the stamp of personality as a trump card to an objective 'good' or 'perfect' that never quite arrives and probably doesn't exist. Whatever is fun and exciting is the best way. With that in mind, always striving to learn and use the best available tools in the best available setting will cause one's own game to improve over time. For example: Nice sounds on the 45!
GL: Thank you! I used a UA Apollo and a lot of UAD software for that as well.
Jeremy: Basically I had nothing but a great time creating this with Shay and the others involved, I'm glad it's seeing the world, and I can hardly wait to get into the next Shay Roselip record, likely later this year.
Shay: I learned a lot from the work I did with Jeremy. It will really inform the next record which I'm excited about.
GL: I imagine you weren't sitting on your hands all this time since the EP was finished.
Shay: I've been so busy with teaching kids, which I love, but I'm ready to take a little break and focus on music and give it more attention. It has been so pieced together so far. I want to focus on getting better at writing good solid songs and go into the next thing with more intention around it.
GL: With Jeremy?
Shay: I hope so. But I've also been a huge proponent of him making his own record and I don't want to keep laying projects on top him. He's playing with 3 of the bands at the Starline this Saturday, me, Farallons, and openers, Someone Company. And he produced Someone Company's album and played a lot of instruments on the Farallons' Outer Sun Sets EP...
GL: Wow. And the Gnome Life thing, did that happen through TROLW? Did Fletcher Tucker hear the finished product first?
Shay: I met Fletcher through hanging in Big Sur with Tommy (TROLW), and actually, I played a (((folkYEAH!))) show at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, which I thought was terrible, but Fletcher liked it and then I sent him an early mix of what we'd been working on and he said he'd be interested in releasing a full length. I told him it would be an EP and he said it had to be full length. But once the 5 songs were done and we said 'here it is,' he liked it and said 'let's put it out.'
GL: Well, it is pretty spacious for an EP. We've been refinishing the wood floors in the ballroom at Starline and we had it on repeat for several hours while working. So good.
Shay: Cool. That's awesome.
GL: One last thing about the EP. I notice "Ever Present Calm" is a lyric from the song, Sorted World. Can you elaborate?
Shay: Yes, it is a lyric from "sorted world" where I say "I could be part of the ever present calm of inner solitude". However even though I chose to name the record "ever present calm", it could've easily been called "ever present pain" as the second part of that lyric says "I could be part of the ever present pain of always knowing too". The song is commenting on the polarity of inner and outer life, the experience of being a human and having the capacity to have a vibrant and very real inner life while also meeting and dealing with the also very real outer experience we all are a part of, the physical world. It's a sort of a lamentation and celebration of how they may not match up at any given moment and what an interesting, ridiculous and challenging journey that is. Choosing to name the record "ever present calm" may not give the whole picture of what I was trying to say in sorted world but it definitely paints the picture of my desire to look on the bright side of things and although pain is also ever present in life, striving to see the light, the calm, is in my view the most brave action one can strive for even if the world may seem boxed or "sorted" as I call it in the song.
GL: It does paint a picture for sure. Very well put, sir. So, your next phase, when you take a break from teaching, how does that look?
Shay: I'm 90% sure my girlfriend and I are going to move to Portland in the next few months. She's from Portland and we both have a great community of friends there.
GL: OK, that makes sense. I'm sure money must factor in.
Shay: Yeah. Without my teaching salary it would be tough here. She's freelancing here and has more of a chance of steady work up there.
GL: Well, best of luck to you, and I will see you at the Starline.
COME TO STARLINE SOCIAL CLUB THIS SATURDAY, MARCH 19TH for an evening with Shay Roselip and his friends.
Get tickets here or $12 at the door
9 pm Someone Company
9:45 pm Assateague
10:30 Shay Roselip
11:30 pm Farallons