A Piano In Every Home
North American Review Part I Album Release
March 19, 2016 at Icehouse
with Chris Koza
21+ / $8 adv or $10 door / 11 pm
A Piano In Every Home is comprised of some of the most musically prolific young men in the Twin Cities, so don't act surprised when you see the names of Travis Erickson, Jacob Pavek, Jake Wallenius, Mark Kartarik thrown around online at The Current and other notable Twin Cities publications this spring. They just released Part I of their latest album, North American Review, and will take the stage at Icehouse Saturday night to perform it.
Joined by famed local collaborators including Leah Ottman (violin) and Kara Laudon (vocals), in North American Review Part I, the artists of A Piano In Every Home have perfected how to capture memories and feelings of the past in a way that is digestible in the present. The expertise these veteran players lend to the songwriting and sound make North American Review a polished piece reflecting their years of intertwining work together. Yet with Erickson at the vocal helm, these four craft one of the most original albums any of them have ever released.
A Piano In Every Home is the result of Erickson's 12+ year friendship with Pavek, started as kids in Hudson, Wisconsin, and almost 9 years of musical collaboration. They released Meridian in December of 2013, just the two of them. Wallenius and Kartarik joined for the release show, and then “we all moved under one roof," Erickson pointed out, and, "by the time we put out our last album, it was well, god, it’s interesting enough the two of us, but we should branch out a bit.”
The result of this doubling is two parts to one whole: North American Review Part I and Part II.
Yet, Erickson reminds us: "You can only have so much intentionally behind naming something."
"I know very much what I'm not good at. I think everyone in here knows what they're not good at. What we really know, we know how to do well." - Travis Erickson
"I know very much what I'm not good at," Erickson reveals. "I think everyone in here knows what they're not good at. What we really know, we know how to do well. I know how to sit down and write a self-portrait... I can do that. I can do it well... Beyond that, let's not get silly about it."
This knowledge of self is integral to the success of the album, as its genuine nature is infallible. Its stories many not be one hundred percent true, as mystery is an attractive element in good songwriting. But knowing what, as a band, you can do well, and selecting those best pieces to present to the world, is not a form of lying by omission. It's common sense. As Erickson advised, "Let's only put forth publicly... the things that we know we're very good at... we know our limitations, and I think that's part of why it works."
"The travel informs the writing," Erickson explains. He and Pavek spend their friendship often travelling the country, exploring foreign lands, and taking that perfect Instagram picture while hanging off the side of a mountain. It seems a charmed life, yet I get the sense they don't take it for granted. The way Erickson's eyes light up while describing the landscapes of Monterey and Big Sur hints at his love of natural beauty as inspiration. One place he hasn't been yet? Alaska, actually. "Anchorage" doesn't refer to the city, but rather, "a safe place or harbor" - a play on semantics for those wise with words.
While some songwriters can churn out linear narratives or messages of political advocacy, Erickson explains "I can't do that." He knows himself, and his process, well. Alluding to his other language of visual art, he illustrates: "The only way you can do it is to sit down, having a completely blank canvas, having no lines for drafting of what it might be. Working for a while, realizing that what is coming out are conversations and pictures and things that have been threading out and percolating and being distilled through your experience for some time. And then you can start to say okay, these are the shapes and the colors I'm working with, maybe I'm gonna push it intentionally somewhere, but it's always a very bottom up process, instead of a top down... Feelings and process first, instead of a 'here's what I want' and I'm gonna write a song to get what I want."
In the same way, A Piano In Every Home may not have followed a strict plan in the making of this album, but the detours they took sure have been advantageous to the final result. I could argue that taking the scenic route, in fact, has been essential to its arresting aftermath.
For the process of "Meridian, [we] wrote the songs... and then put drums and bass on top of them, made it into a full band thing without even knowing what it's going to sound like..." Pavek reminisces. It was an incomplete process for them, and this time around, luckily, "was totally different. So having Jake and Mark there to rehearse and play with us and realize the songs as a full band before we recorded them.... It made a huge difference."
Another gamble that the group made is its two-part release of North American Review. Part I debuted on March 11, 2016, and Part II is rumored for early June of this year. The reasons behind this choice are simple, yet the novelty of this format is enough to create a wave of attention, and questions.
Wallenius pointed out that the decision happened as a part of the process: "We didn't have final versions of the songs, and it was still at a point where different things fit together differently." Taking advantage of this opportunity, and his knowledge as a member of other bands, he pondered over the fact that, "You spend a lot of time making an album, put 10 or so songs in it, and realistically you maybe hopefully get radio play with one of them... How can we get it where we can put out something, given how people consume media?" He hit the nail on the head with: "If you put out an EP I'll listen probably to all of it because they're only four songs there.
"Why don't we present this in a way that people can enjoy this first part, there's something more to come that they can look forward to, and then we also give ourselves the opportunity to play multiple release shows." That's Wallenius for the win-win-win.
"[With] Meridian, we wrote the songs... [We] made it into a full band thing without even knowing what it's going to sound like... This was totally different. So having Jake and Mark there to rehearse and play with us and realize the songs as a full band before we recorded them... It made a huge difference." - Jacob Pavek
Using this analogy of foods, Erickson continued with, "That second part, it's exciting to play with the idea of anticipation, and if you are consuming something where you know there's going to be a second course, you consume that first course differently, instead of it all laid out.
"In three months, there's going to be four new songs - are they going to be like these? Are they going to be wildly different? ...it makes a much better narrative to thread a listener's experience through.
"It was made as an LP, it was very much made over the course of 2 years." Erickson adds, "We didn't want to be like well let's cheat ourselves and break it up and make two EPs, but how can we package it where at the end of the day, we're releasing for all intensive purposes [what] the audience will consume as an EP in March, and an EP in June. But if we can give them a common theme visually... how we release them and brand them... then people will hold them together and give them more clout, more weight."
So, taking advantage of the unique opportunities before them, they arranged their to-be LP into two parts. Two singles, two release shows, two album covers, and with two new band members. You could say it's twice as nice. Erickson takes it a step further, commenting that, in this instance, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." I would wholeheartedly agree.
Wallenius admits that being still so involved in music at the present time has come as a happy surprise to him.
"Going to school to be an attorney, I've been struggling with, when do I have to grow up and get a job where I'm not allowed to do these things anymore? Going through this whole process where you write songs where they started a long time ago... [I think maybe] I shouldn't be doing that, I should have a real job, but these are the things that make me really really happy, and I really enjoy them. So it's been this reaffirming thing that this band is something that I really enjoy doing."
Having played with Pavek and Kartarik for several years now, their ability to fall into sync and evolve their talent has grown exponentially. A Piano In Every Home and the creation of North American Review has been quite the rewarding experience. Perhaps Wallenius speaks for the whole band when he reflects: "It's really refreshing to have a project from start to finish, there's really no moments of doubt. It's like, we know what we're doing, we're good at this, you believe in it, you can see it all the way through... I think this is the strongest thing that we've put out, ever before."
"It's really refreshing to have a project from start to finish, there's really no moments of doubt. It's like, we know what we're doing, we're good at this, you believe in it, you can see it all the way through... I think this is the strongest thing that we've put out, ever before." - Jake Wallenius
Part of the secret to their success is The Alamo - the recording space where these guys and their collective of musicians spend many hours throughout the week creating, collaborating, and recording together. Most of North American Review was recorded at The Alamo, with a session of demos done prior to that up at a cabin in Nisswa, Minnesota.
Featured artists such as Casey Frensz (saxophone) and Michael McGarthwaite (lap steel) joined them at The Alamo to record parts on the single "April." While some of these additions were written out (violin), some improvisational magic went down with harmonies, and the steel guitar "threw paint," so to speak - recording many takes and then picking the best pieces of the mix. When professional saxophonist Frensz came by, however, they simply said: "do what you do." Except for Erickson's brief stint in middle school band, none of us in the room would really know what to do with a reed instrument.
"It's the longest ranging, most time consuming, single production project I've ever put my time into... It's a slow motion marathon." - Travis Erickson
Erickson extrapolated on another concept title, for which they plan to be, "reworking some of our songs, and doing them all self-produced... songs from Meridian... songs from this album, completely reworking them, some new songs and doing it all in house."
But don't worry, if you love what A Piano in Every Home has made with North American Review, "It is going to be a record where anyone who, for whatever reason, likes what we do, is going to be very much excited about."
Special thanks to Travis, Jacob, Jake, and Youa.