A couple of years ago Vermont post-punk stalwarts The Static Age played a number of rallies in support of their state senator Bernie Sanders, whipping up support for their local representative. Andrew Paley, the frontman of The Static Age and also a solo musician, has been a long-time supporter of Sanders, and when asked about his experience of the 2016 presidential election campaign he seems more than a little disheartened.
"In terms of the lead-up and the outcome, it's obviously pretty devastating. Growing up in Vermont, I've always been very progressive politically all my life, and so I was a huge Bernie supporter when he was in Congress. We got the opportunity to play a couple of rallies with him in Vermont as he was running for re-election and then trying to move in to the Senate. One of my proudest moments was actually being involved with the Bernie Sanders campaign, so I was obviously very excited about his run and how far he got. It was a really inspiring thing to watch everyone get motivated around those progressive kinds of ideas.
"Obviously when he lost in the primary it was hard, but also given what was happening on the other side of the political fence a lot of my friends sort of swallowed hard and said, 'Obviously we have to support Hillary Clinton now, it's obviously the better choice given the choices we have at this point.' So to watch that then break down, election night was pretty hard for myself, my family and a number of my friends."
While Paley is clear in his political views and acutely felt the disappointment of seeing the candidate he had supported lose the presidential race, his musical output rarely strays into the political. The Static Age, a band that he has fronted since his high school days, offers reverb-drenched opines of dark nights and shattered relationships, while Paley's solo work is mainly acoustic with folksy undertones. His latest offering, Sirens, channels icy winter evenings with ruminations on moments that have passed, while cityscapes pass by in the rear-view mirror. Ideas about cities and home are a strong feature throughout Sirens, with the stunning "Feeling Detroit" seeing Paley sigh, "It gets really hard to know when to go."
Was using home as a theme on this album intentional?
"No, not necessarily. I've moved around quite a bit over the last ten years, and so I think in a lot of the stuff I've been writing more recently I've been playing around with themes around transience and being itinerant, and I think that's probably where the theme came from. It wasn't really intentional, but given the last five or ten years of my life it makes sense that it seeped into a lot of the songs."
Paley has lived in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago over the last the ten years. When asked if he finally feels settled, he seems fairly content: "I've been in Chicago now for a little while, actually longer than I've really lived anywhere else. I guess I've settled -- as much as anywhere else -- here, for the time being."
Sirens is Paley's second solo album, and he describes its creation as seamless and reasonably immediate, particularly in comparison to his work with The Static Age.
"The Static Age records, for me, are huge time investments where we spend a lot of time orchestrating through the album. There's a lot of instrumentation, there's a lot happening. One of the nice things about Sirens, for me, was just that the songs were recorded in a more organic fashion. If something wasn't working I just stopped working on it, there's almost a train of thought nature to how a lot of those songs came together. Songs like "Let Me Go" or "Take Cover," those took more time just because there's more instrumentation, but even when there was more layering of instruments it was a pretty seamless experience. A lot of those things are one or two takes, a lot of them are sparse by intention. This is probably the most free-flowing record I've ever made."
The album flits from the cinematic trill of "Take Cover" to the glowing synth-based warmth of "Let Me Go," with the appearance of the latter's electronically-focused sound marking new territory in the scope of Paley's solo output. When asked about what prompted him to record a synth-based track, he said he's been experimenting with the direction of his solo output for a while.
"I've been doing a lot of work outside of the scope of The Static Age for a while, just extra songs. The whole way this album came to be was that I was writing songs that didn't fit the scope of what the band does. As I pieced it together over a handful of years there were songs that were just purely acoustic, that were just me and a guitar in a room, and songs that were a little bit more synth-based. I've got a whole other set of songs actually in both those realms. I think something that I'll be continuing to do going forward is playing with that divide. I'm a fan of not sticking to one palette, taking advantage of whatever instrument you have on hand at the time, or whatever works best for the song. If it's an acoustic guitar then it's an acoustic guitar, if it turns out that it's a synth and a drum machine then it's a synth and a drum machine."
"Sirens is probably the most free-flowing record I've ever made."
While experimenting with music is an essential component of Paley's work, he's also been branching out in terms of touring destinations as part of The Static Age. Last summer the band toured through Eastern Europe and then Russia, once they dealt with some unfortunate visa issues at the Russian border.
"We had some problems getting across the border into Russia. We got turned away, and lost three days staying right at the border between Ukraine and Russia trying to get through to pick up the tour. But other than that hiccup, I'd say the experience was pretty phenomenal. We'd love to go back, we had a really amazing time in Kazan and St. Petersburg and Moscow. At least in a couple of the cities we went to, they said they were lucky to get an American band coming through even once a year. I get the sense that it was a pretty rare thing. I don't know if that was so true in places like Moscow and St. Petersburg, but certainly in Kazan and some of the other cities we played it was."
As a seasoned musician who has toured throughout the US and Europe, and Paley also has a string of tour dates lined up in Japan this month, he regularly interacts with his fans and gets their interpretations of his songs. Paley shies away from answering questions about what any of his songs are specifically about, instead preferring to leave interpretation up to the listener. Have any fans ever told him an interpretation about any of his songs that really stuck out to him?
"I would prefer for people to interpret the songs for themselves. In terms of interpretation, I've definitely had conversations with people about what songs meant to them. One of the reasons I like to leave it open to interpretation is that people look for their own experiences in art. Part of art is the interpretation by the person experiencing it, so it's always seeded in whatever they're going through in their lives. That could anything from going through loss; loss of a relationship, loss of family, or other difficulties. There's a common theme underneath that we can both relate to. And that, I enjoy."