Seattle’s Blue Glass, aka Michael Shunk from Transient Songs, just released the song cycle Eleven Years that exhibits the passage of time in tranquil musical reflective pools of thought & wonder. A song cycle conceived of in Luxembourg exhibits thoughts that fan with a flair that feel both foreign yet familiar like a soft pop trip around the world in the time it takes for a long player to run its course. The world is your oyster on “You Hold the World in Your Hand”, to the restrained glow of “You Seem Like You Can”, to the glistening picture frame shatter of “It Broke the Picture”, to the romantic hesitation & reluctance of “I Won’t Ask” that continues the album’s serene sepia sunset style. Reflections get intimate & personal on the expansive scope of the title track “Eleven Years”, that blooms naturally into “A Verdant Sound”, to the intuitive observances on “I Felt I Had It”, right before the album goes full circle on “Home Again” that brings everything back to the centered base of home.
Presenting the world premiere for the Light Factory Productions video for “Take Me Back to Berlin”, Blue Glass shares a desire to return to one of the world’s most intriguing international cultural communities. Heralding back to the Euro hub of artists, outlaws & misfits; Shunk’s sound of sheer serenity sails & soars from his Seattle’s home base out toward the allure of adventures yet to be enjoyed at a special vacation destination. Employing a motorik rhythm scheme amid his own soft pop signatures, the Blue Glass trip is decorated in the video by an array of polychrome-hued lights that entertain the excitement of everything a European holiday can be. Michael’s reiterations of “I want to go back to Berlin….take me there now” are recited amid peppy percussion & chords that gracefully careen with relaxed elation of a chauffeured carousel ride enjoyed on a day off from the demands of jobs & the like.
Michael Shunk of Blue Glass & Transient Songs provided us with some reflections on the new full-length & more in the following interview session:
Describe how the Light Factory Productions video brought further illumination to your wistful, wondrous song of longing, “Take Me Back to Berlin’.
The concept for the video closely follows the concept of the song, a man far away from a place he wants to be. Imperfectly recalled memories play a big unspoken part in the theme and psychedelic overtones were used throughout. There are close shots of me, never looking at the camera, which were intended to be a voyeuristic interrogation of sorts, and to give a sense of entrapment, of non-movement, contrasted against the constant flutter of abstract images and free-form movement in the background. The song, on its own without visuals, could be considered more wistful and light, and the images used in the video were intended to enhance the darker undertones in the lyrics and create some ambiguity and complexity to the longing. Berlin was obviously a constant source of inspiration for this complexity and the visuals are all an attempt to capture that.
Interested in hearing about how the progressions from Transient Songs would impact your work as Blue Glass.
My approach to Blue Glass was definitely influenced by my years of playing in Transient Songs. Until the past few years, I had the tendency to write mostly ambient-type songs, and not a lot of lyrics. A lot of focus put on mood and texture but not as much on the song structure. John Frum (co-collaborator in Transient Songs) and I have been writing songs together for a long time, and I’ve also been just playing guitar on his songs a long time as well and his writing style helped ground me a bit over the years. He’s very disciplined about writing lyrics, and I was much less so. Almost all my lyrical ideas would inevitably end up being expressed on guitar or piano or whatever. We put the two methods of expression together in Transient Songs to good result, I think, and I tried to marry those two ideas together when writing songs for Blue Glass, which was a much more structured approach for me than usual. Playing and recording with TS has made me a more disciplined songwriter for sure.
Give us the process of realizing & recording your album Eleven Years and the decade plus span of time that inspired & contributed to the record. Between your time in Berlin, Luxembourg, Seattle & more; I’m interested in hearing about how these environments inspired both the album and your own creative sensibilities.
It was a long process! Being overseas was really inspiring and surreal, and I had quite a bit of time to myself to write songs, travel and focus. I have been on the move like that my whole life, it’s always been a source of creative inspiration for me. ‘Eleven Years’ in particular was written at a time in my life where I was really untethered, physically, from familiar surroundings and I was also going through some pretty intense life events with people close to me. I think the one informed the other, enhanced the other, I guess you could say – to where the places I would spend my time were imbued with a bit more meaning. Intensely emotional things were happening to me in random cities all the time, and I just constantly felt as though I was out of my own body, in strange places, trying to make sense of it all. The result was the raw outpouring of songs and ideas, and the conceptual sound and shape that these songs eventually took on the recording. Cities like Berlin were where some really emotional things were going on, juxtaposed against these unbelievably exciting new encounters with culture and art and landscape – it was just a hyper-real and intense time that inspired the songs. Berlin, in particular, made a strong impression on me as it has a complex history. It’s also an unflinchingly honest place and in many ways, it embraces its complexities. It seemed like a particularly good metaphor for a lot of things at the time. I would spend days and weeks just walking around or biking around cities like Berlin—taking in whatever I could, being distracted, writing. I would get back to my apartment where I would record the ideas. I had nowhere to record them properly, so I just kept writing, not sure exactly where it would go or what I was doing, really. I ended up moving back to Seattle eventually, and that’s when things started to take shape. I looked back on what I had demoed and a core set of songs and a concept emerged. Around the same time, Transient Songs was recording their new record at Earwig Studio, which is where I met Don Farwell. I loved his sensibility and approach and thought he’d be a great engineer to help bring the songs to life. Ultimately, aside from the drumming, which was done by the super-talented Moises Padilla (a ringer we brought in last-minute, and to his credit) I demoed and recorded everything myself.
Can you also describe how you approach making these really elegant & bright song cycles?
Just to start, I really like the idea that the songs might be considered elegant—I love elegant things.
The approach is almost always the same for me with songwriting. I usually improvise off an organic melody or idea that I find interesting, until I feel like I’ve got something to work with. The lyrics usually come in response to the mood and tone of the instrumental ideas. The songs I write tend to be subtle, I’ve heard. I’m not sure why, I don’t always intend them to be or hear them that way. The recording was intentionally bright and less bass-oriented to give it an un-grounded, floating feeling and I wanted to reinforce that idea by using very clean amp, piano and guitar tones.
Other artists & icons of interest that have caught your attention lately?
Not sure if you mean current artists, here—but, I am endlessly playing Burt Bacharach, Gal Costa and Scott Walker tunes on repeat. Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, and Style Council as well. I love Yves Saint Laurent as an icon and creator of elegant and desirable things. I can watch almost anything Chris Marker, David Lynch or Wim Wenders puts to film over and over. I can’t stop re-reading Camus. I think Ride and Slowdive both put out incredible records this year, and I can’t wait to see them play the songs live. Seattle has a lot of talented artists, and in particular, Lincoln Barr’s latest record is fantastic.
Other parting notes & items worth sharing?
First, thanks very much for inquiring about the album and doing the premiere.
For Blue Glass, the official release of Eleven Years is this Friday, June 23 [today] and we’re in the process of rehearsing for live shows. Hoping to be scheduling shows starting in August and throughout 2017.
My other band, Transient Songs, releases our new record in August and our record release show is Friday, July 28th at the Sunset Tavern in Seattle, WA.
Blue Glass’s album Eleven Years is available now.