Just shy of two years ago I released Fragments. It was my biggest and best album to date. I did more, and did it better than ever on Fragments. But I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t excited for the release and I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment. It took me a while to figure out why – it was because I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again. Sure it was bigger, it was better; it featured awesome musicians and was my best work. But I felt like it wasn’t new; it felt like a better version of what I’d been doing for 20 years. When I realized that I decided that whatever came next would be really different. That moment was when work on Anhedonia began.

I thrive on limitations. For me, creativity arises out of the struggle to overcome challenges. I knew that if I wanted to do something really different I’d have to impose drastic limits on myself. I decided that the new album would be produced without software. That may not sound like a big deal, but at the time I made that decision I had no idea what that would mean, or if I could even do it. I’ve always made music with computers – I learned how to use music software before I ever learned to play an instrument – so, for me, that was just about as drastic a move as I could imagine. That started a long and difficult journey of learning, every step of which was filled with self doubt. I bought more than a dozen synthesizers, drum machines, mixers, and other assorted pieces of gear and comitted myself to figuring out how to make an album with all of those machines. For many months I could do little more than create repeating patters, and at great effort. There were many times I told myself “I can’t do this.” But over time it started to come together.

I decided to go further and make things even harder on myself. I took up practicing piano and singing with more work and dedication than I’d ever attempted before. I forced myself to work through it, plagued again by constant thoughts of “I can’t do this.” I also forced myself to compose in a completely different way. Rather than writing songs with a sequencer and some gear I wrote with nothing but a piano, my voice, and a notebook. For months I practiced and refined the songs, just me and the music. And over time, it started to come together.

The months that followed were a blur. These news ways of working quickly transitioned from something halting and unfamiliar to muscle memory. After months of practicing, writing, and learning the arranged and recorded songs came together in a flash over only 2 or 3 months. There were bumps in the road, times where things were hard, but for much of the recording and arranging sessions it started to come easier, and easier. This new way of working clicked. It felt right. “I can do this” became the new refrain, much to my surprise.

Anhedonia released today. It represents almost 2 years of my life. There’s so much more that went into Anhedonia than I can mention here, from artwork, packaging, mastering, mixing, vinyl production – on, and on, and on. All of it challenging, most of it new, and every bit of it a lot of work. But after all of that work I can look back and say without even a hint of doubt that I did what I set out to do. Anhedonia is truly different than anything I’ve ever done before. I set a challenge for myself that I didn’t truly think I could overcome, but I did; I am overjoyed to finally be able to share this album, borne out of struggle and self doubt, with the world. I hope people love it and that it might mean as much to someone, somewhere as it means to be. But even if that never happens, and 20 people ever hear it, I know that I did what I set out to do. And I am already thinking about what might come next.

 

 

Anhedonia will be available in 2 more days: Friday, September 28! You’ll be able to listen to the album on all of the major streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music, Google, Amazon, Tidal, etc. For those who love the record and want the best possible experience Anhedonia will be for sale in a number of different packages. All sales will be through The Religion’s Bandcamp site.

Anhedonia purchase options:

  • Digital Download: $10. Your choice of high quality digital download such as FLAC, WAV, or 320k MP3. Includes 2 bonus tracks and unlimited streaming through Bandcamp.
  • Cassette + Digital: $15. Limited edition bright magenta cassette and full color j-fold insert. Also includes high quality digital download in your choice of format and 2 digital bonus tracks.
  • Vinyl + Digital: $35. Limited edition 180g heavy-weight bright magenta vinyl. Pressed from dedicated analog masters commissioned specifically for the vinyl pressing and not available in any other format. Full color jacket with spine and full color jacket with lyrics and artwork. Includes the same high quality digital download as the other options with 2 bonus tracks along with a second digital download card in the package.
  • Deluxe Bundle: $60. Includes everything listed above: high quality digital download in your choice of format, second digital download card, limited edition magenta cassette, and 180g heavy-weight magenta vinyl made from special analog masters. Also includes 2 Polaroid photos shot and signed by Adam Drew; each Polaroid is a one-of-a-kind analog photo that isn’t mass produced or available in any digital form.

You’ll be able to stream Anhedonia on all major services at 12AM on Friday, September 28th. Purchases will be available at 6AM on the same day. Digital downloads for all packages will be available immediately. Cassette orders will ship within a few days of purchase. Vinyl purchases will ship as soon as the vinyl is in stock, which should be around October 20.

I’m very excited for everyone to finally hear Anhedonia and I’m very proud of all of the great physical releases I’ve been able to put together.

Envy Cover JPG

The first single from “Anhedonia” is called “Envy” and it is out now. Links to the popular streaming services and some info about the single release are on that previously linked page.

I wanted to write a little bit more about the song and the single release – to give some insight into where it came from and what producing it was like. “Envy” was both an easy song and a hard song to put together, depending on the time you’re talking about, and if it hadn’t been for feedback from my friends and family it never would have been the single. “Envy” made me uncomfortable from the day I wrote it, and there were many times I almost scrapped it – though, I’m glad I didn’t. During the writing of “Anhedonia” I kind of had my emotional antenna up, trying to catch those fleeting feelings we all have 100 times a day to try and observe them and give them voice. “Envy” came from that sort of place. I caught myself having this feeling – this sort of mix of envy, attraction, jealousy, and sort of petty enviousness – and thought “Wow, that’s pretty powerful. That’s definitely a universal feeling, but something no one would ever want to admit to.” So, I decided to explore it.

If I recall correctly, the music for “Envy” came fast and easy. I sat behind the piano, picked a key, thought about the feeling I wanted to go for and started playing. I think it basically came out almost exactly as it appears in the album (from a music perspective, not arrangement) right away. Where it got challenging was with the lyrics. I remember working on the middel-8 first – I remember playing that sort of major and bright chord progression and just started singing over it. I often sing nonsense over my playing just to start feeling-out the melody space – and the first words out of my mouth were “You’re such a bitch” in exactly the melody that would become part of the song. I remember having to stop and laughing out loud. I thought “There’s no way I could put that on a record, its ridiculous.” But, I went back to it – “I can’t stand that we breath the same air” – and more giddy laughing. I alternated playing, singing, laughing, and jotting down in my notebook. By the end of the writing session I remember thinking “This was a lot of fun, but there’s no way I’m releasing that bitchy song.”

And that’s how it was for a long time. I kept my distance from “Envy” – it wasn’t going to be on the album. But, in practice sessions it was always part of the rotation. I liked playing it, I liked singing it, and it felt honest, unflattering, and unique. I liked it. There’s just no way I could release it – I couldn’t show that side of myself. However, over time, I warmed up to the idea of including it on the record. I’d been playing it for months by that time and it was well fleshed out. I could picture how it would sound arranged, and I decided it was worth the risk – but I still winced at the idea of people hearing it.

“Envy” was recorded fairly late in the process. I still felt ambivalent towards it and kind of put it off. It was the 6th song recorded, and it came well after the hardest recording sessions (“Criminals”), so by that time in the process I was pretty well in the groove of things and was making good progress. But “Envy” halted me in my tracks again. I did multiple arrangements at multiple tempos – I went back over sound design time and time again. Nothing felt right. I had to push through it over the course of weeks before it really came together and I felt good about it. And then it was time to record lyrics – and it was arduous. Take, after take, after take, never feeling like it was going well – it took days to get the lyrics down. By the end of the recording session I felt like I’d recorded a mediocre song and wasn’t at all happy. The initial super-rough mix from the recording sessions sounded terrible and I thought the song just wouldn’t work – “Envy” was yet again on the chopping block.

I put it away for a while and didn’t come back to it until mixing. To my surprise, when I heard it again I actually liked it. Sure, it was a rough mix, but I saw in the song what I felt in practice. I liked it again. And the mixing session, unlike the experience for many of the songs, went very well almost straight away. As I cut away the rough parts, and sanded it down to a smooth polish the song that emerged sounded great, and I’ve loved it ever since. Some additional elements were added during mixing that I think help to liven the track up, and the middle 8 was given a lot of attention from a post-recording arrangement perspective – it was such a fun part I just wanted it to be perfect. By the time the demos were in good shape and and album was getting close to done I was happy with “Envy” and never again considered cutting it, but I was still a bit uncomfortable with the idea of people hearing it and never considered it for the single.

After the mixes were basically done I started asking friends and family to listen to the album and give me feedback. One of the questions I asked everyone was “What should the single be?” I expected maybe “Curtain Call” or “The Imitation Game” – the answer was “Envy” every single time. And my reaction was the same every single time: with a wince, squinted eyes, and a high questioning tone “Really? Envy? Are you sure?” They were all sure. Everyone though it was the most fun, and was the most likely to draw them in to listen to more. I committed to heading this unanimous advice, though I never liked the idea.

From there it was time to put the single together. I did a lot of photography for the “Anhedonia” cover, and had hundreds of shots that didn’t make the cut. I thought that some of the pictures with the blonde wig were striking, and the one with the obscured face and down-turned glance fit the song really well. There was something artificial about the shot; with the wig there’s a sort of feeling of pretending to be something I’m not, and with the averted eyes an air of shame or discomfort. I felt that went really with with “Envy” and decided to use it. And of course, the always wonderful Laura DeBiase helped me take the photo from pretty good to release quality. For the single release itself I decided to do a single edit – the album version of “Envy” is a bit long for a single, and that was something I heard from people about it. The version on the single cuts about a minute of the song out to help get to the vocals faster and to grad the listener’s attention. I don’t like this version as much, I think the musical development it omits is worth-while, but I do think it helps at least give the impression of the song and the sound of the album, while leaving the listener wanting more. I knew I wanted remixes on the single to increase the value – who want’s to download a single song? – so I reached out to my good friend Kenny James of The Outsider and A Beautiful Curse, and my prior collaborator on “Fragements” to provide a remix, along with one I did myself. The total package is, I think, interesting and provides not only a fast-paced version of the original song but also some cool alternate versions of the track that show what else can be done with that musical space.

That’s about all there is to know from a behind the scenes perspective. I’ll confess I’ve never gotten completely comfortable with “Envy,” but I have learned to love it for what it is, and to tolerate the discomfort. And, in a way, that’s what “Anhedonia” is about on a larger scale – learning to deal with difficult things rather than ignore them. So, I think on the whole, the experience of writing, recording, and releasing “Envy” was worthwhile, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

 

The new album is called “Anhedonia” and is coming soon. This is my most ambitious album to date, both in terms of the music itself and the release. “Anhedonia” will be released on both vinyl and digital. Due to the vinyl, the post-production phase of this album is longer and more complex than previous releases. I had to get the album mastered twice for the different formats, the artwork needed review and help from a photographer and a design team in order to ensure it would transfer properly to print and work in the large format; there’s the legal, copyright, and UPC stuff, vinyl proof review, and then of course waiting for the discs to be printed and shipped. Due to all of these moving parts pinning down an exact release date is hard; I’ll announce a date once the albums are in stock and ready to go.

What’s the album sound like? Well, it’s a The Religion release, so you can be sure it doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve ever done. I was inspired by the classic synthpop and new wave albums of the late 80s, as well as dance music and other electronic music from that time. I wanted to do something that followed in that same tradition, but I also wanted it to be authentic. I didn’t want to do a nostalgia record; I wanted to work the same way and in the same context, but for the music to come naturally and be its own unique thing. To pull this off I wrote and performed “Anhedonia” without the aid of software. Like the electronic musicians of the past I went through the painstaking process of hooking a bunch of synths and drum machines up to each other and played the songs through in real time with my hands. Nothing you hear on the record was created on a computer. I also approached the song writing in a way that’s a bit older – all of the songs were written for just piano and voice, like a pop or piano rock album, and then arranged and adapted for electronic instruments, with the arrangements inspired and informed by electronic dance music. In a way, I was looking back to an earlier time in electronic music for inspiration on how to write and record the songs, but not in terms of the sounds, styles, or instruments I used. It’s a thoroughly modern and thoroughly “me” record, but I allowed myself to experience this older and radically different way of working. I’m not a fan of nostalgia gimmick music, like vaporwave and things like that, where people use computers and software to produce music that shares absolutely no DNA with electronic music of the past, but apes its aesthetic and sounds with the aide of technology that would have been science fiction in the past. I opted to do something different, and I think it paid off. “Anhedonia” is by far my best sounding record.

A bit about the vinyl release: “Anhedonia” will be a very high quality record. Usually when small and unknown artists like me put out a record they opt for the lowest quality production options to save on costs. Vinyl is very expensive to produce, especially in short runs. I decided to go in the opposite direction and put together packaging, art, and discs with the same level of quality as special editions from large major-label acts. All printing is full color, from the jacket, to the sleeve, to the disc labels. The jacket has a matte finish, and a spine, rather than just a paper sleeve. The vinyl itself is heavy weight 180g and a gorgeous bright magenta. The album was specially mastered for vinyl, meaning that what you hear on the record was specially prepared for that format and will sound different (and likely, better) than digital. And finally, every album will come with a card for a high quality digital download that will sound better than what you’ll get on the streaming services. “Anhedonia” will look, feel, and sound great, and will fit in great alongside major releases in your vinyl collection. This quality made “Anhedonia” a more expensive record to produce, and I’ll have to sell the albums for a fairly high price just to break even, but I’ve ensured that the vinyl release will be the absolute best way to experience the album; I think that’s worth every penny.

I’m excited to get this album into people’s hands, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. There will be some cool and interesting things between now and then. I’ll be releasing a single – something I’ve never done before – so look forward to that. I also produced a music video that I’ll be putting out in the lead up to the release. Be sure to follow The Religion on Facebook to keep up on “Anhedonia” and the stuff coming out before then.

It was kind of weird that an artist that has been combining music with technology for 2 decades wouldn’t have a website; it seemed like maybe I should do something about that. I’m not convinced anyone gives a shit about websites anymore. With Facebook pages, and Instagram profiles, and Bandcamp and Spotify, I am not sure there’s a reason for it. But, hey, why not. So, here it is. More work to be done.