website / bandcamp / facebook
Check out the full album here.
Youngest Son’s newest album, All Saints Day, is a long (long, long, long) time coming. “I wrote the songs on All Saints’ Day in 2008-2009,” says Steve Slagg, “and for three years I chipped away at it little by little, flying to Portland, OR to record with Allison, adding little pieces when I could. It was exhausting, waking up every morning, knowing I had this album to fix.”
This long, perfectionist’s nightmare-of-a-recording-process definitely shines through on the album — its 11 tracks packed to the gills with carefully selected layer after layer of melodic gold.
The instrumentation is wonderfully odd. Sometimes Belle & Sebastian, sometimes circus-y, sometimes delicate & understated, sometimes just pure Steve Slagg, the listener is kept on the edge of their aural seat as track after track veer in completely different musical directions. And yet, as always, Slagg’s unique melodies, honest voice and naked lyrics jigsaw each song into a coherent and well realized album.
What’s All Saints’ Day about? Well, it’s a Youngest Son album. It’s raw, painful-to-the-point-of-being-beautiful and intensely emotional. It’s a window into Steve’s brain as he works through a series of heart-wrenching pains. It’s a grief album.
“In Summer 2007, a close friend of mine committed suicide. Then, in Fall 2007, my dad died after four years of living with cancer. And in Spring 2008 my cousin, who was 24 and had a baby who was a few months old, was killed in a random farming accident. All Saints’ Day was written in the year and a half or so after all that. My main settings and communities during that time were a rustic summer camp on a lake in Wisconsin, and an Anglican church in Illinois. The album’s title comes from the Christian feast day that landed on the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death, which I spent at that church watching screaming babies (and one of my good friends) being baptized.”
Steve recently took some time to talk with IndieMonday about the new album, the long creative process and the joys and difficulties that come from making a long-distance album with some really talented friends.
IM: Because the album was created over such a long period of time, you’ve lived with some of these songs for a long time, have they grown to have new meaning or shown new insights to you since you originally wrote them?
SS: Three of the songs are actually new! “Marty & the Leonids” is an instrumental re-working of a longer song called “Blank Face” that was on the original, stripped-down version of the album. Half the lyrics to “All Saints’ Day Baptism Liturgy” were written in 2009, but I never found a good melody and arrangement for them until this year. And “Faith” is entirely new. The album has a very specific, very personal story about an intense time in my life. Most of the songs are written from within that period, but the new songs flesh out the story arc in a way that I could only do by looking back years later. If I had finished the album in 2009 they wouldn’t even exist, and I do believe they complete the story!
As for the older songs, I’m really pleased with the arrangements and how they shed new light on old songs. I had a friend who said, “I’m kind of glad your album about grief took you four years to finish.” I think I’m glad for that too. You’re never really done grieving, and revisiting this project helped me revisit those memories.
IM: Can you give us some insight into how you wrote with and for the band?
SS: My favorite thing to talk about! I’m a songwriter through and through, and it’s hard to admit it but a lot of my arrangement ideas suck. I work best when taking my songs and sharing them with a collaborator to see what new ideas we come up with that I never would’ve had myself. Though the rockers (“Hole in the Sky”, “Troubles”) were arranged live with Lee & Mike, the band was hardly ever together in space & time and a lot of it was arranged during recording. The arrangements that worked best were done in kind of intensives with one other person (Lee on “Wake”, Allison on “When I See You”, Cathy on “All Saints’ Day Baptism Liturgy”). I love how each of their styles and personalities colors each of those three songs.
Blade and I had to manage all the big picture stuff, though—some of the arrangements didn’t work, and we had to figure out how to fix them by adding and removing parts. Allison plugged some extra stuff in from Oregon, and we made Gabe drive to Illinois like three times. Cathy was the most crucial missing piece—she never met the rest of the band and was one of the last people to throw in on the project, but she’s on nearly every track on the album. It’s like she came in with her cello and anointed each song with completeness and cohesion. She often did this in single takes, after I would frantically throw another song at her while we had her in the studio. She like, intuitively improvised a whole string section on “Youngest Son”; that literally took 5 minutes.
The stuff I arranged more on my own is the spare stuff—“Faith”, “Untitled Memory Song”. I’m developing my ear as an arranger, and simple is usually the direction I go. Oh, and the vocal parts! I wrote all the vocal parts except Bonnie’s. Having Bonnie, Gabe and Allison sing on the album was really important to me, since they’re three of my favorite voices.