The essay below accompanies this album:
When people do not reckon with the painful parts of their pasts, they can find themselves lost, repeating destructive cycles over and over again. Even if they overcome these painful patterns, they can still find themselves cycled back to similar situations, but in the role of mentor/teacher for someone else who is lost in the way that they once were. Healing often requires that people re-live their worst days in some way. It is important to bring the recovered parts of themselves back to heal the parts that are still frozen in time. Most of us experience multiple deaths and rebirths throughout our lifetimes and, in some sense, time itself ceases to be a straight line, and can be better understood as a series of cycles.
For me, this idea has a very concrete application. When I was 14-years-old I spent a year in court-ordered detention and rehabilitative institutions, mostly to treat my substance abuse addiction. In December of that year, I was ordered to a rehab called Otter Brook Center, located in the remote woods of Keene, NH. My time there was equally horrifying and enlightening; it almost ended my life. It was the longest time I ever spent alone, far away from friends and family. It was also when listening to/writing music became my critical life support, and the primary way through which I processed the world. I used to lie on the floor of Otter Brook’s main building, staring into the tree-lined mountains that surrounded the facility (alien terrain for a city kid), listening to my favorite albums over and over again on my headphones. It helped me feel a little less lost.
I eventually transitioned home in my mid-teens and, in the subsequent decade-and-a-half, life got better in some ways and harder in other ways. Struggles with addiction (pre and post sobriety), personal traumas, and the deaths of many loved ones froze me in a troubling state. In many ways, it was impossible to fully feel anything, good or bad. Recovery from this paralysis required that I begin reckoning with parts of my past that I tried, unsuccessfully, to forget.
The most fruitful years of my recovery have taken place recently, in the last two years, which is also when “Where the Light Won’t Lie” ("WTLWL") was written and recorded. During this time, I did a lot of intense work on myself. I also mentored young people that were going through difficult issues, some similar to what I experienced as a youth. I often found myself giving them advice that was also resonating within the parts of me that I had not been able to fully access. As "WTLWL" began to take shape, an important conversation began: The resilient parts of me that made it safely through the hardest parts of life began connecting with the parts that were stuck, frozen in the past. My own recovery efforts, and the process of writing/recording "WTLWL", became the means through which I was reckoning with my past. So, again, music became the primary way through which I processed life.
"WTLWL" musically interprets this cyclical concept in its substance and its form. Specific lyrics, imagery, and musical themes are consistently repeated and returned to. The first and last songs even share the same chords, circling the album back upon itself by the end like a loop. I tried to emphasize the notion that reckoning the past can be a kind of time travel. I also tried to musically translate the emotional chaos that so often goes hand-in-hand with recovery.
"WTLWL" is also about the importance of place. “Otter Brook (Intro)”, the album’s instrumental introduction, was recorded on an old piano at my former rehab, Otter Brook Center, which is currently long out of operation, abandoned, and falling into disrepair. I traveled there on New Year's Day 2016, and was amazed to find a dusty piano in the room that I spent most of my time in. Recordings of the brook, for which the facility is named, and sound from the road in front of the facility are also incorporated into the intro.
Finally, the last song on "WTLWL" fades out on a recording of the heartbeat of my unborn child, heard in the womb through a fetal Doppler machine. To me, this represents the closing of a loop: now at the end of one stage of recovery work (I emphasize ONE stage, as the work of recovery never ends), I feel more complete as a man, and ready to embrace a new life. While the heartbeat is literally the sound of a new life, to me, it also represents the new sense of life that is achieved through processing loss, trauma, and addiction.
I don’t usually explain my musical writing process so exhaustively/ostentatiously, but it felt important to do so in this case. "WTLWL" is my most personal body of work. I feel like I have been trying to make this kind of album for over a decade, but I was not ready to do so until now. It’s more musically ambitious, diverse, and experimental than anything I’ve done previously. I ask that listeners approach it with an open mind, and listen to it in its entirety (preferably on headphones).
Writing & recording "WTLWL" helped me out of a dark place, but my ultimate hope is that this album helps at least one other lost person somewhere – preferably a young person, far away from home, surrounded by alien terrain, desperately trying to make sense of the world through their headphones. This album is for them.
March 3rd, 2016
PS: This album is also dedicated to: Emily (always), my unborn child (I can't wait to meet you), my immediate family (I love you all), Alex B (you've added immensely to my life and I'm so grateful for you), the Cheevers family (I love you all - you are my family; thanks for all the quinoa and sweet potato), Daniel S & Brion R (this album wouldn't exist without you...or maybe it's Shake Shack I'm thinking about), Tom J (mr. peanut), Daniel H (guz! he's a nice boy...), Emily S (powerwash the chicken), Jason C (glad you're no longer sleeping at the top of the stairs), George S, Heidi T (thanks for the walks and talks at OBC), Mr. Mayo (thanks for...too much to list), Glenn K, Jessica P, "Pablo", Lindsay F, Marybeth R, Kristina S, Ashley L, Andrea G, my triplet bro's & "Alex's", Father Hicks, MPM, thúy, Nick F, and Roland.
And for the lost: My sister Jennifer, Jesse & Dave (from Otter Brook), Greg H, Nance P, Mr. Sposato, Siobhan K, Hasani A, Yvelt V, and Darryl D.
released March 3, 2016
All songs written, performed*, engineered, and produced by Brendan Little in Boston MA, Wellfleet MA, and Keene NH.
Post-production, mixing, and mastering by Daniel Stone, Brion Regan, and Brendan Little. This album would not exist without Daniel and Brion's talent, patience, wisdom, and lending of equipment.
*Daniel Stone programmed/co-performed analog synthesizers on "Keene, NH".
Album design by PJ Decoteau, cover photo by Karin Goodfellow, additional art by Natalie Cheevers.
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