Track by Track is a new music feature in which we ask an artist to provide fans deeper insight into each song on their latest full-length release. Today, Silversun Pickups dive into their new album, Widow’s Weeds.
Silversun Pickups return today with their first album in four years, Widow’s Weeds. The follow-up to 2015’s Better Nature, the 10-track effort is available to stream below via Spotify and Apple Music.
The new record is an exercise in determination, not only in the music itself but in the journey to it. In the midst of recording, frontman Brian Aubert sought treatment for his depression-driven drinking and keyboardist Joe Lester’s father passed away. As Silversun Pickups regrouped with producer Butch Vig, they chose to push through their difficulties to make their most “extroverted, confident album” to date.
As Aubert explained in a press release,
“The record does have a mourning vibe, but it’s not sad. It’s change. It’s growing up and moving on and letting go of things. And it’s okay to be sad about those things and mourn them. It’s actually healthy to do so and take the time to do it. At the end of the day, it’s going to be much better and much more fulfilling when you get through it.”
For more insight into Silversun Pickups’ Widow’s Weeds, Aubert has given a thorough and insightful Track by Track breakdown of the LP. Read it as you listen below.
Stabbing sounds of dissonant guitars. That’s how this song started. I recently saw a video from a few years back that showed my son dancing around my living room. In the background, you can hear these chords coming from my bedroom. So clearly I was beginning this record way back then. An inadvertent time stamp. I would then later play these strums at many an outdoor shed during soundcheck on a summer long tour, trying to figure out if there was something there and if this was the beginning of wanderlust towards a new album. The chord movement was much more elaborate like Radiohead’s “Airbag” or Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh”. Once we got to the recording stage, it became simplified and more blunt so the open strings could carry it away. Making it more of a percussive thing rather than a lick. I wasn’t quite sure how this song was going to propel itself, but that showed itself quickly once Nikki (bass) and Christopher (drums) attached themselves to it. We knew it was going to open the record. One of many reasons why my first words are “Hello my friend… It’s nice to see you again”. I love the idea of taking a second to greet everybody. Good manners are important. The Neon Wound is a glaring internal malfunction that has not only caused some major problems, but also is the source for confrontation that can hopefully lead to someplace stronger. By giving it a “cute” name, it’s an attempt to defuse its potency.
“It Doesn’t Matter Why”:
I’ve been asked about this song a lot lately and it’s built in pun is never tiring to me. “What’s this song about?” My answer, “It doesn’t matter.” It’s the little joys I love. Dad jokes aside, it’s not wrong. Fundamentally, it’s about understanding that someone is upset or in a spell and instead of trying to deconstruct why or how they got to this state, the fact that they are there is all that needs to be recognized. Stop trying to solve it and just be there and listen. There’s also something very mischievous about it. Someone is demanding answers and needs relief and the answers that are coming to them are simple and not helpful in the slightest. Like trying to find safety in the hands of playful gremlins. When I would mess around with singing this song, I always used a voice that sounded more like The Knife in their most pitch shifting whisper shouts. The only time this song gets a little testy is when I say, “Feeling like you’re on your own, oh no.” Tsk tsk Bri Bri. This song introduces the strings element that has a major impact on the sonics of the record. They really drive most of the song and give a heads up to what their role will be throughout. Very filmic and not subtle and make their presence known. All the drive and tightness and repeating phrases are all built around getting to the bridge of the song. That’s where there’s a scene change and everything opens up and blooms.
Similar to “Neon Wound” thematically with another “cute” name. However, instead of urgency and and aches and pains, it’s about really opening yourself up and the beauty of being completely vulnerable, even though that can be terrifying. Like an animal rolling on it’s back. “Do we move along or wait and see?” It’s pretty much now or never. Something new needs to happen and whatever gets decided will shape the future and hopefully this willingness to be truly vulnerable will move it towards a new awarenesses and calmer waters. This song is very special to me. It’s been in my head for a while and I really wanted to make sure that the transition from imagination to people in a room hitting buttons and playing things would stay strong and intact. Sometimes these things are quite fragile and hard to put back together. Again, the strings really are at the helm. My guitar only steps into the spotlight during the solo. As I’ve said on this website before, my guitar solos on the album represent, to me, a level of emotion that my voice can’t get to.
“Don’t Know Yet”:
When I brought this song to the band, Joe (keys) asked me what it was called. “Don’t know yet.” I honestly didn’t know and through that exchange realized what it was about. Putting down the controller and jumping into the unknown without any fear. Stay present and don’t let the all the possible scenarios guide you to something low common denominator. Happy accidents like this are pretty much how SSPU functions most of the time. We can’t take credit for anything. We just happen to be paying attention when something worthwhile lands on us with a thud. This was the last song written for the album and at this point we had more than enough material to work on. I thought of it more as an interlude. The whole thing was just going to be a little meditation involving some pretty Wurlitzer chords, some snaps, and a vocal line that is now the verse and pre-chorus. Butch Vig (producer boss man) and Nikki both really loved what was happening and wanted me to give it more. I was so fried in the writing mind at that point that I thought I wouldn’t be able to. On a long walk to a friend’s house for a Halloween October type of jovial festivity, the chorus slammed into my head. I knew pretty quickly, which doesn’t happen often, that this song was going to be on the album now. Butch really guided us into making the chorus very bombastic in a way that I couldn’t imagine. I love this because it strengthens where the song began, making it’s more intimate quiet parts more so.
“A change, a ball, looks like you’ve got it all.” There’s been a version of this song floating in our world since we started. We could never figure out how to make it work so it faded away for years. As we were deep in the recording of the album, it started to float around my mind. Something about the way the record was shaping up started to make me think about this little dusty ditty. We dug up it’s bones, put the new album’s flesh on it and, to our delight, it finally found a home. We kept it tiny, the shortest of all of our songs, but wanted it to have a lot of weight. Surrounding it with the sonics of the album and having it zip in and out of parts in a flash felt natural. even though it’s bonkers. There’s so much going on in this little thing that it took a great deal of time for us to wrap our minds around it. Now it feels like a heartbeat on the album. After it was all done, Butch and the band nicknamed it John CARSpenter, due to its weaving in and out of sinister keys to stabbing power chords that reminded us of early CARS. I’m always tickled when I hear this on the album, it’s just what I needed.
“Bag of Bones”:
This might be my favorite on the album. That changes often in my mind but as of right now writing this, it’s my favorite. When I used to hold my son as a baby, I would call him my little bag of bones. I wrote this song freshly after a massive change in my life that left me feeling at my most fundamental. I was very raw and carrying around with me only the weight of my body and all the physical aspects that belong to it. It’s interesting to hear it now having, luckily, moved way beyond this point. Weirdly it makes me nostalgic for that moment in time and those feelings, although I’m not exactly sure why. Almost like echos in my muscle memory finding a pleasure in the senses but ignoring the fact that it wasn’t pleasant. There’s also something seductive about it. We really latched onto this when arranging the song. We looked at it like some kind of dance that was meant to draw you in with it’s motives and intentions a bit unclear. Is this healthy? Is this dangerous? Only one way to find out. “Swim like you need to sink…” I love hearing Butch in the beginning telling me which mic to sing into. There were only three mics and they were right next to each other. That’s a good window into my frazzled brain at this point in recording.
Another happy accident. We were in Butch’s house prepping for the final days of recording the album. I’ve had much of this song in my mind for quite a long time. While everyone was working on something else, I started to play this song on one of his acoustics not really thinking about it. Just in a daydream not even realizing I was playing anything. Butch stopped everything and told me that it had to go on the album. Now I completely understand, in fact we named the album after it which is something we’ve never done, but at the time I was confused. It came out of me so easily that it made me think there was nothing there. That might sum me up unfortunately. I’ll always struggle letting go of the idea that discomfort, difficulties, and pain equal worth. Thematically it pretty much cuts to a core idea of the album. Being able to mourn a loss (a self identity, a loved one, a earth quaking change of any kind) and not letting it define you, but almost finding the joy in it and using it to reshape you into something new. “Moves on you then covers me from head to toe in widow’s weeds.” Metamorphosis. A word that would have a lot of meaning to me during the year of making this album. I really love that Nikki and I sing this song together from beginning to end. it makes me feel like it’s being sung from a chorus and not an individual.
Bouncy. Jumping around in the studio. Hips shaking in every direction. Friends wondering what the fuck is going on here? This is what I remember when recording this song. This was fun. For everyone involved it felt like wrestling a wild animal. Watching everyone try to make sense of my guitar movements was fun. Watching everyone attach their parts to it like a puzzle was fun. Solving problems that just led to more problems was fun. Adding a scene change in the middle of the song that felt like you moved your radio dial was fun. We were directionless and adventurous and didn’t know how we were going to land this thing… and it was fun. It’s definitely the most extroverted song on the album. This is not about birds, but may or may not be a reference to a favorite Bioshock character of mine. Just saying, may or may not…
I am very proud of this song. It’s very romantic and basically about shining a light on what it is that connects you with someone and staying in that place rather than dwelling on what makes you different and at odds. It has a very Americana rootsy vibe intertwined with what will be the exit of the strings on the album. The strings get layered and layered eventually making them sound as if we’re adding effects on them or reversing the playback. It’s just a nice sonic trick birthing from what happens when you have multiple parts contrasting each other creating something moody and a bit atonal. When I would describe this song to the band and Butch, I would tell them to think about early James Bond movies. This would be our Bond song for a film that does not exist. Nikki Monninger as 007 in Simpatico. I want to watch that.
“We Are Chameleons”:
I would love to talk about how we knew this would be the end of the album. How we used the guitars as sound effects and what that melted ending is about. About certain melodic call backs to an older song. About, like Jeff Tweedy has said so eloquently, putting ornaments on a tree and then removing the tree. But what sums it up best is what Butch said while making this one. “I don’t know what this is. I don’t know what kind of song this is. I don’t know where we are going or how we got here. I don’t understand this at all.. and I love every minute of it.” Same Butch, same.