It was, somehow, all the way back in 2013 when we first ‘Introduced’ Wilsen on this blog – the NYC project, led by Tamsin Wilson’s striking lead voice, charming us from their very first steps.
Half a decade – and a couple of full-lengths – later, Wilsen are back once again with another beautiful collection of songs, their Ruiner LP offering moments both emphatic and meditative, glacial guitar-led indie-rock, this time with a gentle lilt towards modern-folk (the nuanced hum of Rozi Plain is brought to-mind throughout).
Tamsin’s voice remains a thing of wide-eyed wonder, even in its quieter moments, and it is the lifeblood of Ruiner, breeding warmth to even the records rawer climes.
With the album released today, we’re very pleased to stream it here alongside a track-by-track guide written by the band. Find a quiet corner and dig in below…
Ruiner was written after a moment of self-sabotage. It was as if another being was acting on my behalf – I wanted to reconcile these various personas in a mission to do better.
We arranged the song and recorded the demo with the brilliant Will Whatley on drums. It was during this process that we came up with the elongated outro and the majority of the final parts. I remember we walked out of the first rehearsal with a strong sense Ruiner would be a key song on the album.
The basics and vocals were recorded with producer Andrew Sarlo at Douglass Recording. He sent the chorus vocals through the space echo while running rhythm guitar through a small modified projector amp. Johnny’s electric guitars were overdubbed at Black Lodge Recording.
Align is about the weight and occasional jolting effect of eye contact – those rare times when a shared look can throw you into a narrative.
The song was arranged with drummer Gabe Smith who helped us trim the excess and stabilize dynamics. His involvement was crucial in the album-making process. We tracked the basics at Douglass Recording and Johnny’s guitar overdubs at Black Lodge Recording, using the original bedroom demo vocal percussion to kick off the song.
Down is about the attempt to acknowledge instead of avoid feeling low. There’s a tendency to try to eliminate undesirable emotions with rationale and distraction. I’m learning that that’s a temporary fix; everything surfaces in time.
We dedicated a huge amount of rehearsals to arranging this song, with Gabe lending his talents once again. One of our objectives for the new material was to explore live band chemistry – we didn’t want to enter the studio until each song had a solid foundation.
Like all tracks, the basics for Down were recorded at Douglass Recording. Johnny use the Malekko Foxtrot pedal for the spazzers during the solo section while Sarlo orchestrated each take from the control room. They arranged the final part together.
This song came about in the Summer of 2018 while we were deep in demoing mode. I’d hit some roadblocks with a particular project and, feeling totally inadequate, was on the brink of abandoning it altogether.
As it was written for catharsis, this song wasn’t necessarily intended for release and it fell to the backburner. It resurfaced months later during a break in the Douglass Recording kitchen. Johnny and Drew picked up acoustic guitars and wrote their parts almost instantaneously. Nearly as quickly, Sarlo encouraged us to record that kitchen version with Will Whatley joining on drums.
Sarlo ran the drum kit through the space echo, giving Will the effected audio feed through headphones so he could perform to the produced sound. The final vocals were recorded at Sarlo’s studio in LA.
This song started with a bass melody Drew created. It’s transporting nature informed the lyrics; nostalgia for being kid-like and curious. Prior to recording we spent a while experimenting with different time feels and testing options for drum parts. Sarlo came aboard and advocated for an uptempo feel. We kept the original reverse electric guitars from the demo while re-tracking all other basics. The outro vocal was recorded in the same session by running three alternating lines through the space echo. The lead vocals were recorded at Sarlo’s studio in LA.
‘Birds’ was written about an absurd and vivid dream. Using steel and nylon string guitars, Johnny and I recorded our parts together in a handful of takes. We were aiming to capture the interplay between the guitars and vocals in free time. This was very similar to how we recorded the song ‘Sirens’ on our first release. The hums were overdubbed a couple months later with my home setup.
Birds and Birds II were originally one long song. It wasn’t until the mixing process that Sarlo had the idea to sandwich ‘Wedding’ between the two sections. When listeners jump around the album sequence, we hope they’ll discover that the tracks can be played in a multitude of ways.
‘Wedding’ was written for one of my sister’s weddings using words from a Khalil Gibran passage. As a personal track, it wasn’t intended to be performed by Wilsen but Drew and Johnny brought forward the idea when compiling songs for the album. We arranged it full-band and tested it live at a number of shows. In the studio we ultimately decided to pursue a more stripped-back arrangement using a guitar, wurlitzer, and Johnny’s ethereal sounds.
‘Birds II’ is a continuation of the dream from ‘Birds.’ The imagery and characters suggest an exchange between conformity and release. While demoing this song at a rehearsal studio, the upstairs neighbour became increasingly agitated and began banging on the pipes with something as effective as a hammer. We had planned on recording the full album in that space but it soon became obvious an alternative was needed. Enter Myles Rodenhouse, founder of Douglass Recordings.
Feeling Fancy is a song for the soft-spoken. Quietness can be mistaken for insecurity while it’s often the opposite – it’s being comfortable in your own presence without needing to be heard at every moment.
Like Down, YNTOO, and Align, we tweaked the arrangement with Gabe Smith until the song felt strong in a performance setting. The outro was written during this process and originally featured a full drumbeat through the final note.
At Douglass Recording we kept the basics quite true to the demo form. It was in this session that Johnny created the electric guitar tremolo loop. He later overdubbed the outro reverse guitars at Black Lodge Recording. Final vocals were recorded at Sarlo’s studio in LA while the harmonies were recorded in my laundry-turned-recording closet.
Fuse was the first song written for the album. It was November 2017, right after we had finished a long tour and I had returned home to my partner after months apart. I savoured the simple aspects of coexisting in contrast to the ever-changing nature of the road.
The song was arranged with Gabe Smith on drums and was incorporated into our live set immediately, making an appearance at our last show of the year. The basics were recorded at Douglass Recording and were kept true to the original demo form. We wound up keeping the scratch vocals from that basics session, as our overdub attempts didn’t accomplish the same impact.
Moon is about the brief moment you slip into birds-eye view and assess your day-to-day. What happens when you’ve been letting things move around you instead of consciously choosing each step? Moon is the aim to act intentionally instead of unfold accidentally. The song was originally arranged and demoed with a full band in our rehearsal studio. We delivered both the full band and solo versions to Sarlo and he encouraged the latter.
The final recording was made at Black Lodge with Drew, Johnny, and Sarlo sitting in the same room as I was playing. Drew instigated this idea to encourage the best performance. During mixing, the song was run through a tape machine and pitched down.
Ruiner is out now, via Dalliance Recordings
GoldFlakePaint is now a physical publication
Pre-order Issue 5 here