“Just outside My Window”
An interview with Teen Daze
words by guia cortassa
Lie down, close your eyes, listen. Even when you think you’re perfectly still, everything in and around you is in constant motion, ever changing, impossible to stop. There is no way for mankind to arrest the course of nature, but a lot can be done to interfere with it and chances are few this meddling might be a positive one. Yet, we’re all just a minuscule particle living in an infinite space, and it’s distressing to realize how small and irrelevant each and every one of us alone is within the big system of the world.
Jamison Isaak knows it very well. He learnt it all first hand: it was 2015 when he traveled for long in a foreign country, discovering new places and witnessing how our planet is quickly changing. He then got back home just in time to set off on tour; Playing and moving every day put him in a state of big anxiety, to the point that he decided to call off all the gigs and return to his secluded home in British Columbia to work on new music. The result of all of this is Teen Daze’s latest album, ‘Themes for Dying Earth.’
“Experiencing more cultures, and more countries and more places, opened up the amount of things that I care about, like climate changes: it affects everyone, all the world. Doing that traveling definitely gave me a greater empathy for people. As a person, that trip certainly shaped me and shaped what I wanted to talk about with the next record” Jamison tells me about the seven months he spent with his wife in Australia. He’s talking to me from his home in the Fraser Valley, B.C., on a day off among a few live shows. “I didn’t really do any recording or any writing when we were travelling, just a little bit if we were in a space that kind of allowed for, but for the most part I listened to a lot of music, and when I came home it was so much fun to get back into the act of recording again. I think it was pretty immediate, as soon as we moved into this place I set up the studio and started writing songs that ended up being on the record.”
‘Themes for Dying Earth’ sounds somewhat different from its predecessor. Soft, dilated sounds have taken over the indie guitars, so I can’t but ask him what were his listenings of choice at the time, to understand what could have possibly inspired this change of mood: “We listened to a lot of Nils Frahm, and to a lot of new age artist Laaraji’s ‘Essence Universe’ and that Suzanne Kraft record that came out in 2015 [‘Talk From Home’]. Yes, a lot of ambient and new age music, which is perfect for traveling because we got to see some incredibly beautiful places and those are the best soundtracks for those types of experiences. Also, when we were in Australia we met up with many new people who are also doing music, and I feel that I got trained to a lot of good Australian music, they make great dance music there, like the duo Ara Koufax, and Andras Fox–– Andras & Oscar’s ‘Cafe Romantica’ is very good. There’s a lot of cool stuff in Australia, music-wise.”
‘Themes from Dying Earth’ bears an intrinsic complexity, as it layers three different starting points Isaak’s been working on: between his personal experience struggling with mental health and his concerns towards the planet as a whole there is his relationship with the immediate geographical space he is inhabiting: “The thing that I’ve come to do while dealing with something like anxiety on tour is trying to organise my thoughts and my feelings, and ask myself, “What can I control in this situation? What I can I basically feel good about?” When I look at this record it’s a similar thing, it’s like first I started with the personal stuff, and then I looked at my direct community and area: what are my anxieties and my feelings about living specifically here in B.C.?
And what can I do about it? And then, again, to the broader scale of the planet as a whole. There are obviously some very heavy anxieties that can come along with what’s happening in the world right now, and it can be so overwhelming that it is good to be able to break it down and say “well, ok, so, climate change is something that is truly scary to me, what is it that I can do in my own life, what can I control in that situation in order to hopefully try and make something different?” And then also to be able to set up boundaries and say, “No matter what happens, there are just some things that are gonna be out of my control, like, I can recycle and reuse as much stuff, I can lower my energy consumption, my water consumption, but, at the end of the day, if the entire world is gonna be buying cheaply made goods made by some factories, then… It’s out of my control. I can’t control what other people are gonna do, but I can control my own experience.”
The Fraser Valley in British Columbia is, in fact, one of the main actors in the landscape of the album: “In my past records I’ve done a genuinely intentional job of trying to build a new world, with an escapist mentality,” Jamison explains, “and this time I felt much more inspired and conscious about trying to create more of a soundtrack for what’s actually just outside my window; it was so absolutely natural to try and represent the amazing scenery I see outdoors. I think I also probably just missed home, and when I was finally back after all of that traveling, I felt so good about being here that, again, it was just this natural thing that happened.” I ask him how did this course from his own person to the whole world take shape and he reveals that the path of the record almost parallels the path of actually making the record: “When I started, a lot of what I was writing about was a personal working through some stuff. The more I worked on it, the more I started to realize that a lot of those personal things that I was wrestling on, were indeed me trying to grasp much larger concepts. It was so natural, and, as I sequenced the record, because of the way the album came together, that was definitely on my mind. I put “Cycle” at the very start because it’s no doubt the most personal song on the record, and I wanted to set the tone like we’re gonna start inwards and like slowly make our way outwards.”
Though it may seem like, it isn’t odd for Jamison Isaak to use the first person plural while talking about this album: despite being such an intimate trail, on this trip from the self to the universal, he had, as a matter of fact, many different musician friends to aid in the work, establishing and strengthening human relationships in the most organic way. “That’s how all the collaborations went,” he reports, “It was my favourite part of all the process of making this record, getting emails back from one of the collaborators reading “Take a listen to what I’ve done, let me know what you think.” Every single time, I would hear it and just think it was perfect. Sometimes they would take the song in a direction that I wasn’t expecting. I think it was really good for me, on a personal level too, just to be able to involve more people in the project because, again, I think I couldn’t have done what someone like Dustin [Wong], who plays guitar on “Cherry Blossoms”, did; which makes sense, we are different people, we have different bodies, different minds, totally different ways of even playing the same instrument, but it was so incredible to hear what he did with that song and that that song wouldn’t have existed even close to the same way if it weren’t for him, there’s no way that I could duplicate what he did. I loved getting to share these experiences with all these other people, so, even though it was, definitely, a very cathartic personal experience for me to make the album, I got a strenuous amount of support from everyone that was also working on the record which was what I needed.”
That also happened with Nadia Hulett, who sang in ‘Lost’: “I was listening to that song, it was instrumental at the time and I thought it needed some sort of vocals to, kind of, lead it. I also wanted to have as much of a feminine presence on the record, I knew that Karen from Sound of Ceres was singing on another track and I felt like it would have been good to get another one of my female friends to sing and be involved in the project as much as possible. So I just sent Nadia an email saying “Hey, I don’t really know what your schedule’s looking like right now and all but if you’d like to contribute I would love to have you sing on this song” and the relationship that was formed over that was really really special. Her response to the record was extremely encouraging, she told me she loved to hear the songs because she felt in the same place and feeling a lot of the same stuff. For us to come together and make that song was really unique, because it felt like such a right place right time, we were just feeling the exact same way about this situation and it seemed almost random for us to come together and be able to make a song like that.”