Today I’m releasing my first new studio music in nearly 20 years. It’s called Amerikana, and it’s available ONLY to members of my online fan community, The Flat Earth Society.
I’ve chosen not to make this a full commercial release for various reasons. My plan has always been to put out a series of three digital EPs (taking their names from the 3 sections of my upcoming album A Map Of The Floating City) followed by a physical album with additional tracks. But as I’ve yet to settle on a particular release method for that album – be it self-publishing, a record label, or some new hybrid – I’d prefer not to undermine the album’s commercial appeal by pulling the trigger too early. However, my ‘hardcore’ audience have been following my adventures on my blog and web site as I go through the process of writing and recording these songs, and it’s only natural they would want an early listen to my new music. So I arrived at the idea of releasing the EPs exclusively to FES members. You will only be able to buy it here on my website, and not on iTunes, Amazon etc.
Amerikana is an affectionate look back at the 22 years I lived in the USA before returning to my native Britain three summers ago. While living in the States I became very fond of roots American music. And as it’s music that was always spread and shared by travelers sitting around camp fires, I felt I’d add my traveler’s voice to its ongoing story. Needless to say, I’m no hillbilly or good ol’ country boy, so my own flavour of americana is a bit twisted, a bit mischievous. ‘Road To Reno’ charts the progress of a pair of hapless lovers as their red convertible blazes a trail across the desert in a kind of indie road movie, serenaded by my longtime cohorts the Jazz Mafia Horns. ‘Toad Lickers’ is about a group of crazed eco-hippies in the Welsh mountains who get high on Bufo alvarius and creep into the local town after hours in search of munchies. It has cameos from Imogen Heap on jaw harp, longtime FES member Crackers on accordion, and fiddler Natalie MacMaster.
But the EP’s ‘coup de resistance’ is a 7’38″ epic entitled ’17 Hills’. Very much in the tradition of ‘I Love You Goodbye’ and ‘Budapest By Blimp’, this song weaves a bittersweet tale using words, sounds, textures, and surprising left turns in the arrangement. It features beautiful playing by Mark Knopfler, who graciously allowed me into his private studio as he added some of his signature licks, complimenting my vocal to perfection. Pedal steel player Bruce Kaphan, who produced American Music Club and has toured with David Byrne, adds soaring atmospherics. Natalie MacMaster injects a touch of Cape Breton charm with a mesmerising looped fiddle solo. Radical string quartet Ethel beckon us into the realm of the surreal. And Jeffrey Wash’s pristine fretless seems to channel one of the greatest bass guitar showcases of all time, Joni’s ‘Hejira’.
As I mentioned, Amerikana is only one section of my album, and three of its four songs are represented here. The price, including high-res MP3s and a print-ready digital booklet, is a very affordable $3.00 / E3.00 / £2.00. The subsequent two EPs ‘Oceanea’ and ‘Urbanoia’ – available later in 2010 – have quite different styles, and some may prefer one over another. My albums, as you know, often cover a wide range of genres, because like a novelist I really enjoy exploring a new idiom, instrumentation, time and place; and thankfully my core fanbase has been willing to go along for the ride. So you have options: you can choose to wait for the full album and get all the goodies in one package, or you can plunge in now, and see where you end up! The eventual AMOTFC album will definitely contain at least 3 songs not included on the EPs.
That said, there is a theme running through the EPs that you might want to be aware of. The album has a backstory which is something you will have to dig a bit to uncover. Contained on each EP is a ‘clue’, and you’re going to need to unravel its secret at each stage of the proceedings. I won’t say more than that for now. My recent visit to JJ Abrams’ facility in California might give you a hint about what I’m up to!
I hope you enjoy Amerikana, and will look forward to hearing your feedback.