Week in Pop: Micah E. Wood, Palace Doctor, WAJU

Sjimon Gompers

The rise of international pop futurist—WAJU; press photo courtesy of the artist.

The Anatomy of Frank

An inside look at The Anatomy of Frank; photographed by June Collmer.

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The Anatomy of Frank make music like no one else in the world. Concerning continents, such as their previous album North America, the Charlottesville, Virginia trio of Kyle Woolard, Jimmy Bullis & Max Bollinger offer up a song cycle that makes our small world feel as close as a cluster of land masses in a state of pangea as heard on their new album South America. The group pens lyrics like autobiographical pages from an unwritten book that recounts anecdotes pertaining to family & friends & offers up an objective lens that illustrates the expansive nature of our existence through instances of joy, love, laughter & the weight of loss in ways that few to none have ever done before. In short, South America takes the listener on a potentially life-altering adventure to gain a greater grasp of their reality & the realities that exist around us & outside of us all.

Renewals & revival of the spirit play a paramount role on “Ecuador (a New Year)”, swaying with the incredible & emotionally charged “The Girl From Ipanema” that shatters the conventions of both love songs & the facsimile sheen that shatters the social media humble brag post-a-thon culture. Those visceral tides continue their ebb & flow on “La Llorona”, to musing over those precious & fragile places where those moments of connection & disconnection occur on “How Do We Lose It”. to the intense introspective interval of “Patagonia” where narratives surface in the theater of the consciousness in ways that will mystify your mind right until they completely blow your entire dome piece via the couplet reiteration that surrounds topics of worth that that eggs on a production payload that at times feel like it is more than the human frame/body/spirit/whatever can withstand.

Seeking exalted & sacred realms, an enchanted sense of wanderlust is exhibited on the climes of “Holy Mountain”, that travels down to the meditative valleys of solace on “To Keep Our Hands From Shaking” measures the time past between the present & intimate memories that stir a host of newfound feelings that swirl in compendium of strings, sweetness & light. Sorting out the relationship between bodies of water & land masses that are submerged in a weird congress with their liquid elemental counterparts, “The Sunken Coast” is Anatomy of Frank’s own Atlantis that celebrates a personally imagined civilization that is set within the depths off the great blue sea. Banjo strums blend mirrors of the past recalled on childhood recollections heard on “Andes”, to the intimate narratives of “Viteri” that details the aftermath of tragedies & visceral recollections of how families cope with sudden loss & how everyone is affected in the wake.

Getting to know The Anatomy of Frank; press photo courtesy of the band.

We had an opportunity to catch up with The Anatomy of Frank via the following interview exclusive:

Folks have written songs while on tour, attributing a new song to each new city, state, etc traveled to. But what for you three lead to create a composition song cycle created on every continent?

For me, it was a weird and sudden obsession with Antarctica. It one day struck me that, holy crap, there’s an entire continent down there that no one ever thinks about, and suddenly I couldn’t get enough of it. I felt like if I didn’t get there soon, I might die, and it pained me pretty absurdly.

Well I couldn’t go, but I wound up writing songs about it and that felt like a soothing outlet for whatever was at play inside me. The same thing happened for Sri Lanka, Greenland, Iceland, Papua New Guinea, and loads of other places. After a while, it just seemed natural to make a saga out of it.

What is it about the obsessions with the respective Americas that fascinates you all, as with the album North America from a few years back?

I wouldn’t say I’m particularly obsessed with the Americas, but I’ve had a lot of years of traveling between them and there is a lot of emotion hiding in the map for me. North America catalogued a lot of growing up that I did on the road, as well as some more imaginative dream-chasing. There are actually still 16 unreleased songs from that album, but we’ll get to that someday.

Give us some reflective snapshots about what it was in those 5 weeks working in the Ecuadorian mountains with Stephen Cope recording South America in a farmhouse.

It truly feels like a dream now. We’d just gotten back from a European tour and done Christmas with our families. I’d spent the new year in deep snow in northern Vermont, where I live now. Then we got on a plane and flew to Ecuador and were suddenly living in a beautiful farmhouse at the equator.

Unfortunately, Max’s father passed away just before we left, so it was actually just Jimmy and Stephen and I for a while until he came. A lot of this album is about relationships with parents, so that tragedy definitely sat in the corner watching as we made this record.

Every morning I’d wake up to a rooster and to the farm’s dogs barking. I’d fry sweet plantains and eat granola with yogurt, also maybe a fried egg over hash browns and green peppers. I talked a lot with Amabilo, the caretaker, and the other farmhands who ran the place. A lot of time was spent writing music in hammocks, or driving into Quito to walk around the city and spend time with my best friend David and his friends/family.

We took excursions to the Amazon rainforest, where we’d rent this open-air house in the jungle and go play around in waterfalls. Another time we went to the beach, where Stephen was mistaken for Jesus and caused the entire population of Montañita to fall in love with him during Carnaval.

Recording was fast and mostly very easy. There is a lot of weight that these songs hold in my heart, so it was good to finally get them recorded. Stephen made everything fun, quick, and relaxed, and I really can’t say enough good things about him.

Being from Charlottesville, Virginia; what are your thoughts & observations about how your community has been coping with the wake of a white-supremacist rally that ended in tragedy?

We are feeling about how most people are feeling…frustrated, shocked, sad. The people here are carrying on with a beautiful resolve, though. We played a concert in Charlottesville last night that truly touched us, because we could see a determination and spirit in the crowd that is definitely linked with the recent tragedy.

What lessons about the world, ourselves & communities do you all find in the aftermath of something like that, and what constructive approaches to healing & helping one another do you all feel are paramount?

I don’t know that I’m going to add too much to the incredibly articulate interpretations that are already out there. But I do feel that we need to teach our children to be on the lookout for fear and hatred, both in others and in themselves. They are easy emotions to play into and to become addicted to.

I see my place in the world, being a musician, as offering a recharging station for people. I think we’re all suffering a bit of compassion fatigue right now. We’re upset about the KKK and the neo-Nazis, but what about the Harvey victims? Oops, we also forgot about Standing Rock and Bangladesh and the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. There’s so much going on that requires our attention and our compassion, and I think music offers a place where you can go to have your heart filled up again.

What causes have been tugging at your collective heart strings lately both locally, nationally & globally?

As a band, it seems that we’re each pretty cautious about getting too outwardly attached to any particular cause. We care deeply about the issues facing our world today, but I think we each contribute our parts privately.

Sorry if that’s unsatisfying. It’s hard to answer because literally everything is tugging at our heartstrings right now, and we don’t really know what to do except try to connect with people through music.

In my own world, though, I’m kind of gung-ho on green energy and encouraging people to have fewer kids. Both of those have a strange amount of resistance going against them, but I think they’re the causes I stand most behind.

Artists, authors & auteurs that have struck everyone’s fancy as of late?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my new favorite authors…her book Americanah was so beautiful and enlightening.

Now that you have covered the North/South ends of things; can we expect an east & west album adventure of sorts next?

[laughs] We’re taking it one continent at a time, but inevitably we must start the journey eastward. Europe is most likely going to be next, and after that it’s up in the air.

A certain psychic serenity plays about your sound….to what do you all attribute this kind of unique quality?

I decided a few years ago that I am content, if given a choice between making people dance or giving them quiet pangs of emotion, I’d choose the latter. When I find something in music that makes me feel or see something, I value that quality above anything else—especially when it’s just a melody by itself, with no words.

I always find myself craving that dark, lonely part of the world where it’s snowy and the sun doesn’t really stay up for long. I don’t know why, but perhaps it’s the same reason I love thunderstorms…I like warmth and safety, but only when it’s juxtaposed to cold and risk outside. I love that you called it psychic serenity, when I would describe it more as nostalgia, loneliness, quiet, and introspective.

When I write a song, I guess I look for an image evoked by the melody or guitar part. For instance, the intro of “Photographs of Inuvik in January” from our album North America always takes me to snow falling outside the window at 6am, with a bowl of cold cereal and a blaring, cheap alarm clock going off. It’s sad but somehow happy, and maybe that’s the emotion that is up for interpretation.

Meditations, mantras & more for the future?

Make lowering stress your number one priority for a year, and see how your life compares afterwards. Don’t be a Nazi also.

The Anatomy of Frank’s new album South America is available now via Bandcamp.

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