Welcome to 2015, folks: meet the New Year, same as the Old Year. But even though the calendar which binds and contains us was installed by Pope Gregory XIII to make sure that Easter stays on the Spring Equinox (the better to celebrate with you my dear), it doesn’t mean we have to throw away the transformative features of feeling like you are in The Future…or at least The Present.
This year I wanted to dedicate myself to finding new music. Choosing records made by artists that have been drunk with your favorite bands is appealing for a while, but doesn’t have any legs. Spotify’s “New Release” playlists are a complete joke; the service doesn’t allow you to just see any kind of list of all newly added records. For my search I turned to that old standby: Bandcamp. I clicked the ‘Discover‘ button right on the top of their website, then ‘Folk’ and ‘New Arrivals’. A record cover caught my eye and when I clicked it, it started playing.
It turned out to be an excellent way to choose an album.
Gregory McKillop was the front man of the band Speaker For The Dead for years, and it transformed from himself and a guitar into a wandering home for musicians of all shapes, sizes, creeds, and instruments. He left it amicably to go solo again, and released Little Demon On The Back Seat on the potent date of December 31st, 2014. It’s the perfect kind of record for the end of one year and beginning of another: introspective, irreverent, and in the artist’s own words, “heavy”. I guess if you had to apply a genre ‘folk’ wouldn’t be too far off, but it wouldn’t hit the mark either. McKillop’s voice vacillates between a keening pop-punk sound, a fast almost spoken tempo, and clear ringing tones. The songs alternate between different traditions and tropes, with any hardly staying in the same time the whole way through. This record is an artist attempting to represent himself completely, in both lyrical and musical content, rather than stay married to one style.
This is an album dedicated to the idea of maturity, and the realization that even if you aren’t a kid any more you’re never done growing up. It’s part cautionary tale, part call to arms, and part diary. McKillop is dissecting himself over 15 tracks, and it causes us to think about ourselves. The prologue “The Fool” (one of many references to Tarot over the course of the record) says it explicitly: ‘This is not a song/About how I have no regrets”.
Little Demon On The Back Seat is a sprawling record, as heartwarming and fun as it can be harsh and heavy, with the resignedly optimistic “Bitter Punk” on one end of the spectrum and the four-part saga of “The Hanged Man” on the other. A note about McKillop’s music, evident especially in the song “This Is What Self Defense Looks Like” below: this is an album by a gay artist. That doesn’t make it a ‘gay’ record, doesn’t put it into any box or take it out of any other box. The beauty of sad bastard songs lies in empathy, ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. If a love song written by a man about a man affects your opinion of the song, maybe you need to check in on your understanding of love.
Though McKillop’s experiences are different from our own, the music he’s written about them touch the same parts of our own hearts and minds. This record is Micah Schnabel’s I’m Dead, Serious from the other side of a mirror. There’s the feeling of necessary self-immolation, of a catharsis that comes through slow trudging work rather than one brilliant moment of inspiration. McKillop has been a touring artist for a long time and plenty of his musings involve playing music, including my favorite turn of phrase on the record:
‘Whether you’re flying free as a bird,
or if you’ve been trapped inside that same old
god damn burg: a town they dared to call a city.
Well my friend: there is magic on the road,
and there is magic should you choose to stay at home.
That’s why they rhyme’
I reached out to Gregory and asked him some questions about his music and music culture, and he was kind enough to get back to me. I’m going to collect my thoughts and post more about that later, but give you a hint: this is an artist who has a lot to say, and Little Demon On The Back Seat is a wonderful example of that.