Okkervil River

When I saw Okkervil on the SXSW list, I had high hopes that a new album was coming. Hooray for me. In The Rainbow Rain will be out 4/27 via the fine folks at ATO. Okkervil’s last album, Away, was my favorite Okkervil release since The Stage Names. Based on this track, Sheff seems to have maintained the momentum. Here’s some info on the album.

Will Sheff and the band started work on the new album shortly after the end of that tour – and the presidential election. “If December 2016 was good for anything, it was good for writing songs,” he says. Galvanized by the seismic events of that Fall and the following year, Sheff, sometimes co-writing with his new band, channeled his outrage and sadness into music intended to be hopeful, healing and uplifting. Inspired by the Quaker meetings he had been attending, Sheff injected the album with undercurrents of spirituality and gratitude. The result is something akin to a modern secular gospel record, and among the best music of his career.

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Okkervil River is here

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Okkervil River – Away (album review)

by Woody on September 7, 2016

Okkervil2016

My favorite Okkervil tunes are the ones where it feels like the words are dragged from Will Sheff’s mouth. It gives the feeling that whatever emotion he’s dealing with is just too much to handle at that juncture.

The lead single, Okkervil River R.I.P, is exactly that and it is firmly entrenched in the pantheon of great Okkervil tunes. The mid-tempo tune finds Sheff at the crossroads of life, contemplating where he’s been and where he’s going. While I enjoy artists that sing of their struggles in their 20s and all that encompasses; Sheff’s open book about breaking shit down and moving on, that says, “Well, now what?” really hit home for me as I ease into my late 40s. Name-dropping his

After binging on that tune for a week, my anticipation was cresting as I received the album download. And I was duly rewarded. Away is my favorite Okkervil album since The Stage Names. My new favorite track, The Industry is no-holds account of the non-stop avalanche of bullshit that musicians need to deal with to survive. My favorite verse is

I thought I had a bunch of friends, I guess
I just had people pissed at me for shit
And the cheaper that the music starts to get
It’s like they’re trying to make us cheap along with it

Days Spent Floating (in the Halfbetween) is absolute genius. For a month Sheff jotted down the first sentence that popped into his mind. From there, they knocked it out in one take at the end of their recording sessions. Intentional or not, it does seem to do a great job of capturing my perceived interpretation Sheff’s mindset at the time – one of rebirth but without any happy ending or any ending at all for that matter. Due to the quick-fire approach of the recording, it will be interesting to see this tune take on a life of its own during the live performance.

I am an unabashed Will Sheff and Okkervil fan. Away stands among his best work and is one of the best albums of 2016.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Okkervil River is here

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Okkervil2016

I fucking love Okkervil River. They have a new album coming out in September via the fine folks at ATO Records. Below is the lead track titled Okkervil River RIP and it is my favorite tune they’ve released since The Stage Names. Here’s some background on the album from Will Sheff.

The new Okkervil River album is called ‘Away’. I didn’t plan to make it and initially wasn’t sure if it was going to be an Okkervil River album or if I’d ever put it out. I wrote the songs during a confusing time of transition in my personal and professional life and recorded them quickly with a brand new group of musicians. I got together the best New York players I could think of, people whose playing and personalities I was fans of and who came more out of a jazz or avant garde background, and we cut the songs live in one or two takes – trying to keep things as natural and immediate as possible – over three days in a studio on Long Island that hosts the Neve 8068 console which recorded Steely Dan’s Aja and John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. I asked Marissa Nadler to sing on it and got the composer Nathan Thatcher to write some beautiful orchestral arrangements, we recorded them with the classical ensemble and then I mixed the record with Jonathan Wilson out in Los Angeles.

2013-2015 had been a strange time for me. I lost some connections in a music industry that was visibly falling apart. Some members of the Okkervil River backing band left, moving on to family life or to their own projects. I spent a good deal of time sitting in hospice with my grandfather, who was my idol, while he died. I felt like I didn’t know where I belonged. When there was trouble at home, a friend offered me her empty house in the Catskills where I could go and clear my head. New songs were coming fast up there, so I set myself the challenge of trying to write as many as possible as quickly as possible. I wasn’t think about any kind of end product; the idea was just to write through what I was feeling, quickly and directly. Eventually, I realized I was writing a death story for a part of my life that had, buried inside of it, a path I could follow that might let me go somewhere new.

“Okkervil River R.I.P.” and “Call Yourself Renee” are good emotional transcriptions of that time. I wrote the latter on psylocibin mushrooms on a beautiful afternoon in early fall in the Catskills. I wrote “The Industry” quickly after getting some bad news. “Comes Indiana Through the Smoke” is an anthem for the battleship my grandfather served on during the Pacific Theater of World War II. Before becoming a private school Headmaster, my grandfather was also a jazz musician; he paid his way through college as a bandleader, toured with Les Brown and His Band of Renown, and spent summers playing a residency at a NH lakeside gay dance club called The Jungle Room that kept live monkeys in the basement. (You can hear his actual trumpet on this song, played by C.J. Camarieri from yMusic.) “Judey on a Street” is a love song, sunny but written late at night when the woods are maximum spooky. We cut “She Would Look for Me” pretty shapelessly, with a lot of improvisation, and it’s also a love song. “Mary on a Wave” is about the feminine aspect of God but is in a very masculine tuning: DADDAD. It’s also a love song. I wrote “Frontman in Heaven” in an obsessive three-day streak of writing for 14 hours, going to bed, getting up and writing again. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I wrote “Days Spent Floating (in the Halfbetween)” by just jotting down the first sentence that popped into my head every morning in October immediately after I opened my eyes. At the end of the month I had a finished song. It was recorded as an afterthought as the last thing we did when they were about to kick us out of the studio. You can hear me flub some lyrics. But one take and we had it.

I think this record was me taking my life back to zero and starting to add it all back up again, one plus one plus one. Any part that didn’t feel like it added up I left out. Weirdly, it was the easiest and most natural record I’ve ever made. More than any time in my life before, I felt guided by intuition – like I was going with the grain, walking in the direction the wind was blowing. The closer it got to being finished, the more the confusion I’d felt at the start went away. It’s not really an Okkervil River album and it’s also my favorite Okkervil River album.

Will Sheff May 2016

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Okkervil River is here

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Will Sheff proves you can go home again with The Silver Gymnasium. After Sheff and company delved into a bigger sound with I Am Very Far, The Silver Gymnasium sees them reverting back to the sounds more consistent with their earlier albums. They also turned over the producing to John Agnello as opposed to handling that as well. All in all, its their finest album since The Stage Names and stands amongst their finer work.

After experimenting with the sound, Sheff gets back to doing what he does best – writing songs that drip with emotion. Its what makes Sheff one of the special vocalists of the last twenty years. The Silver Gymnasium was inspired by Sheff’s upbringing in Meridien, NH. With the subject being so personal, it was great to see Sheff getting back to basics. The challenge in revisiting your youth is that you could come off as a cheesy nostalgic hack.

I was born and raised on Long Island, leaving for Chicago 20 years ago. When I left, I don’t think I had many nice things to say about Long Island. And from what I’ve read about Sheff, he could have felt the same way leaving Meridien. Oddly, as I have grown older and had kids myself, my stance has softened. While I could never see myself moving back, my remembrance of Long Island is considerably brighter than it was when I left.

Back when the album was released, Sheff was on Twitter like a proud papa, highlighting his favorite part that each band member did on the album. It wasn’t boastful, it seemed to be a blend of relief and a great sense of achievement that he could delve into a subject like that this and do it so well. Okkervil will be at The Metro Saturday tonight with Matthew E. White. I’ll see you there.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Okkervil River is here.

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Okkervil River – The Silver Gynasium out on 9/2

August 6, 2013

I have been smitten with Okkervil River and Will Sheff for so long I can’t remember them not being a part of my fabric. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sheff a few times during SXSW. I imagine it played out as if my daughter met Taylor Swift. For Okkervil’s new album, The Silver Gymnasium […]

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Okkervil River B-Side + Your Past Life As A Blast [new mp3]

August 22, 2011

Okkervil River’s latest album I Am Very Far is one of our favorites of the year so far. They recently released a 7″ for “Your Past Life Is A Blast” and they performed a b-side from I Am Very Far at The Crystal Ballroom in Portland, OR. The song is called “I Guess We Lost” […]

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Okkervil River – Wake and Be Fine [New Video]

May 17, 2011

We posted our review of Okkervil River’s new album I Am Very Far, but neglected to point out the video released for their new single “Wake and Be Fine.” The album continues to grow on me and the video places Will Sheff”s lyrics where they belong – all over the damn place. Okkervil River – […]

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Okkervil River – I Am Very Far [Album Review]

May 9, 2011

I Am Very Far sounds less like the title of Okkervil River’s new album than it does an acknowledgement by singer-songwriter Will Sheff about how much he’s grown. And he has come very far indeed.  On the album Sheff dares the band and listeners to join him. It’s as if he’s saying, “Everything’s so much […]

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Okkervil River perform new song on Fallon [Music Video]

January 11, 2011

2011 is heating up! New releases are coming in from Okkervil River, The Low Anthem, Drive-By Truckers, Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears, Jason Isbell, The Decemberists, The Builders and The Butchers, and many more that we’ll be discussing in short order. Okkervil River recently performed “Wake and Be Fine” on Jimmy Fallon with A.C. […]

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Okkervil River to tour with Wilco this summer.

May 21, 2009

I purchased my tickets to see Wilco at The Mountain Winery out here in Northern California and didn’t even know there would be an opening act for the show. Imagine my excitement when I found out that Okkervil River, one of my all time favs, is also joining.‚  Here are Okkervil’s tour dates with and […]

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