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“I got too many things on my mind,” Josh Rouse sings on his new album, ‘The Embers Of Time.’ It was that realization that led the acclaimed songwriter to find the only English-speaking therapist in Valencia, Spain—the small town on the Mediterranean coast where he’s lived for the last decade with his family—and face his anxiety head-on.
“While I was writing these songs, I was having a mid-life crisis I guess,” Rouse says. “I’d been living in a different country for a long time, and becoming a father and being someone who travels a lot, I was having a hard time.”
In his sessions, Rouse was introduced to Gestalt Therapy, which focuses on fully experiencing the present moment and the thoughts and feelings it encompasses, with the belief that growth and change come about from a total acceptance of one’s current reality rather than a pursuit of an alternate one.
“I started going back through my past and my childhood,” the Nebraska native explains, “growing up and moving around a lot and never really having a father figure, per say. All those things came out in this new set of songs. This is my surreal, ex-pat therapy life album.”
It’s also one of the finest collections in a celebrated career that’s earned him plaudits everywhere from the NY Times to NPR for his “pop-folk introspection” and “string of remarkable records.” Hailed for his “sharp wit” by Rolling Stone and as “a talent to outrank Ryan Adams or Conor Oberst” by Uncut, Rouse has long since solidified his status as a songwriter of the highest caliber over his ten preceding studio releases. Q called his acclaimed critical breakout album ’1972′ “the most intimate record of the year,” EW dubbed the follow-up album ‘Nashville’ “persistently gorgeous,” and PopMatters called his most recent record, 2013′s ‘The Happiness Waltz,’ “a big contender for Rouse’s best work.” In 2014, he won a Goya Award (the Spanish equivalent of an Oscar) for best song for “Do You Really Want To Be In Love,” from the film ‘La Gran Familia Española.’ But as he navigated the unfamiliar terrain of his forties while writing ‘The Embers of Time,’ Rouse found himself facing difficult questions.
Album opener “Some Days I’m Golden All Night” finds comfort in accepting that there are no easy answers.
“I think I had been talking to my therapist about it, and he was like, ‘It’s OK to feel like shit,’” says Rouse. “There’s a lot of emphasis out there on this kind of fake positivity, but if you feel bad you feel bad, and this song is about having good days and bad days just like everybody experiences.”
The album’s laidback, countrypolitan vibe—captured in part in Rouse’s studio in Valencia and in part in his former American home base of Nashville with producer Brad Jones—continues on “Too Many Things On My Mind,” which was inspired by economist E.F. Schumacher’s book ‘Small Is Beautiful.’
“It’s a book on economics,” explains Rouse, “but it was written in the mid-70′s and predicts what’s going on today with globalism and where we’re at in the world right now with consumerism and technology. That song is about downshifting and trying to live a bit more simply.”
“Taking care of loved ones / hanging out with friends / some big ideas going through their heads,” he sings. “Can we recover what’s been lost / So many people living in the box / Turn on your TV and stay offline / Too many things on my mind.”
Simplification is a recurring theme on the album, as the pedal steel and harmonica drenched “New Young” finds Rouse “making plans to move out to the country,” and “Crystal Falls” is propelled by uncomplicated rhythm from an unexpected source.
“That song feels very childlike,” says Rouse, “and that’s because my two-year-old son has a drum kit. He was banging on it and playing this beat, and I started playing along with it, and the initial idea for ‘Crystal Falls’ came out.”
Fatherhood influences Rouse’s writing throughout the album. “Just the other day I stopped by my stepfather’s grave / He died at 30 way too soon I forgot his face,” he sings on the delicate, mandolin-flecked “Time.” The reminder prompts him to contemplate his own mortality and how to make the most of his days on Earth with his own kids.
“It’s wonderful to bring my kids up around music and for them to have a father that does something different,” says Rouse, “but at the same time, there’s a sense of responsibility that can be overwhelming, especially having a career that’s as unstable as music.”
“How am I gonna tell another story / How am I gonna live another line? / Gotta wake up early in the morning / Take the kids to school by nine,” he sings on “Worried Blues,” a JJ Cale-inspired, tongue-in-cheek look at his unusual lifestyle.
“I’ve always been a fan of JJ Cale, and when he passed away it seemed like an appropriate time to give a nod to him,” says Rouse. “The song is about being worried about things I shouldn’t be worried about, but I didn’t want the record to come off as overly serious, so it was important to me that songs like this have a sense of humor to them.”
That sense of humor sustains Rouse as he faces down some of life’s biggest questions on this record with grace and humility. “Am I a hunter or a fox?” he sings on “Pheasant Feather.” ‘The Embers Of Time’ suggests that Rouse has discovered he may never know the answer, and that’s just fine.
Field Report is the creation of Chris Porterfield, who cut his musical teeth with DeYarmond Edison (the other members of which were Justin Vernon/Bon Iver and Megafaun). After their breakup in 2006, Bon Iver and Megafaun went on to success while Chris hung back in Wisconsin, thinking his career in music was over. It was really just beginning. For the first time in his life, he began writing his own songs, which he spent the following five years carefully divining, killing off, revising, and honing. In December 2011, the record was finally recorded at Vernon’s studio (with engineer Beau Sorenson).
Porterfield explains, “We began to feel like it was time to make a record in the fall of 2011. Around that time, Bon Iver was touring, and came through Milwaukee. I was talking with Justin, and he said that he had heard through the grapevine that I finally had found the right people to play with. He invited us to use his space. We were particularly interested in recording at his studio (April Base) because of the large live room. We wanted to capture the sound of a band in a moment. We specifically brought Beau [Sorenson] in for this reason, and for his love of later Talk Talk.”
The result is a haunting set of songs that’s crafty, lyrical, and poignant. After sending a few unfinished tracks to select people, the response was immediate and impactful: producer Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, Warren Zevon, The Pixies, Uncle Tupelo) fell in love with them and offered to mix the record, which he did in February 2012. The songs were also met with acclaim from many SXSW presenters, resulting in invitations to play at several high-profile showcases.
This momentum continued into the spring, as Rolling Stone’s feature on the band championed them as “poised to break out in 2012.” The sentiment was echoed by several other prominent media outlets such as SPIN, Pitchfork, Stereogum, and more. The most common praise has touched upon Field Report’s narrative lyrical content, citing Porterfield’s poetic prowess. “The songs always start out with the words,” says Porterfield, “If I don’t have something to say, there isn’t a point for this band to make music.”
After one of the pre-released tracks from the album, “Taking Alcatraz,” launched into the top 10 most downloaded blog tracks worldwide, Field Report accepted an opening spot on the national Counting Crows summer tour, once lead singer Adam Duritz heard the songs. “It is undeniable when you listen to Field Report,” Duritz enthused to Rolling Stone, “This is just great music.”
All this took place within two months of their first gig (between March and May, 2012). This summer, Field Report plans to tour relentlessly and allow fans to have the entire album digitally free-of-charge. “We understand that today people are more motivated to get music for free than to pay for it. We want to remove the barriers and the gatekeepers,” says Porterfield. “What’s important to us is that people who want to hear our music are able to do so, in the way we created it to be heard.”
Having a uniquely direct connection with fans is something Field Report has already emphasized. They have music freely downloadable on their site (www.field-report.org) as well as a phone number where fans can text a question directly to the band (414-215-9956).
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