We spoke to LA bedroom pop outfit Worthitpurchase about West Coast fatalism, their egalitarian creative dynamic and new album Truthtelling
At initial discovery, Worthitpurchase sound deceptively simple: warm thrifty acoustic guitars, soft-spoken close mic’ed vocals, and usually a sparse drum computer providing a gentle heartbeat. Closer listens, however, reveal a broader range of stylistic interests; ambient synth panoramas, impulsive bursts of noise, and haunting vocal effects.
The use of these strange, abstract atmospherics feel like invasive agents, as if witnessing natural forces raging outside of a sheltered window view. In point of fact, Nicole Rowe, Omar Akrouche and Eric van Thyne all have an academic background in sound and composition, plunging knee-deep into the intricacies of melody and texture.
After Rowe and Akrouche recorded debut LP Dizzy Age, mostly as a duo, Van Thyne officially joined in as the band’s third member halfway through recording second album Truthtelling. And by cause and effect, like a slowly uprooting flower, Worthitpurchase’s inherently ethereal, homespun quality is infused with brighter colors and textures. In fact, just two songs in, “Sweater” already flirts with the kind widescreen reverie you’d find on a Broken Social Scene record.
With all hands moving the planchette, Worthitpurchase’s hierarchy may be a bit less defined than your typical band in a rehearsal space. At one point during our Zoom call, Rowe jokes the group incidentally make use of Oblique Strategies, a card-based series created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt to circumvent creative blocks and encourage new patterns of thought (the method was used by Coldplay, Phoenix and, most famously, David Bowie to help create his Berlin trilogy).
Though Oblique Strategies is often applied to solve some sort of logjam, all three musicians in Worthitpurchase agree that deadlocks rarely happen between the three of them, if at all.
“I think we are all huge fans of each other,” Akrouche nods. “I think we discovered this process when we were making Dizzy Age. We kinda focussed that we were really hyped on what we could deliver playing solo with acoustic guitar and singing, and having those songs translate directly. I think a huge thing for me and Nicole – at least for me – is all the solo stuff like Neil Young, or solo Joni Mitchell records or something like that, where a song can just translate on its own. Once we get there we pick the instruments, and let the instruments choose the part. I think that’s part of the ‘composing with sound’ which is kind of corny, honestly.”
“A lot of it has to do with not having a sense of ownership over our own songs,” Rowe adds. “These are our songs and we are all a part of them, because we’re all contributing ideas.”
Refreshingly, the trio treats their combined songwriting as an open source, passing recordings around without being overly precious about someone else flipping the original script into something new. That sense of carefree surrender is evident in the thematic shifts in the songs: the intimate confessions of Dizzy Age distorted into a more surrealistic, wandering train of thought.
“Not all the songs we wrote for this album are based in real life,” says Akrouche. “On Dizzy Age everything was super personal, to the point where we started calling it ‘diaristic’. It was exactly what was happening in real life, like a diary entry kind of thing. Some of the songs on Truthtelling, there’s definitely that, but there are generally more that are larger than what our immediate lives are about. Things we may not even fully understand yet right now.”
Putting a question mark behind their own album title is indicative of Worthitpurchase’s laconic sense of humor. On the title track, Akrouche sings about meeting a ghost on a metro line telling him “Truthtelling has become extinct”, right before the song spirals into an eerie quagmire of sound.
“I’m still figuring it out exactly what that means,” Akrouche admits. “It was coming from this place of intensely feeling that the world didn’t make any sense, and rethinking things, And again, this push-pull feeling in writing both myself and Nicole were starting to engage with for the first time.”
On “Stop Start Motion”, that push-pull movement is evident, as Akrouche sings about maybe visiting “a little town up the road where they still have laws and landline phones”, reframing something nostalgic and familiar into a novel phenomenon.
“I was in this phase where I was obsessed with the late David Berman from The Silver Jews,” Akrouche reveals. “His energy, mythologizing the woes of America, and finding both the humor and the magic in that. I don’t think there’s any of our songs that do that, but it was a big thing for me. Just the idea of allowing songs to not fully make sense, allowing things to be unsolved and writing about bigger themes.” During the pandemic, he delved into the history of San Francisco, and even took a history class in college, imagining himself navigating those unfamiliar archaic backdrops.
Rowe also drew heavily from non-literal, non-realistic scenarios to veer from the more brooding, candid writing. “I would think – especially with trying to write songs right now – I’ve been going through a pretty tough time. I don’t want to write about that, because I don’t want to sound like complaining through a song or ‘woe is me’,” he says. “There’s a really fine line you can cross when you are writing your own experience and live a lot of the time in a literal sense. It sounds like people should feel sorry for you. It sounds a little too self-absorbed, in a way that isn’t aware of the world. When you write about general experiences or ideas, it can help with that catharsis in a way that’s maybe better stylistically.”
On “Anne Hedonic”, Rowe pulls at the thread of the utopian idea of happy day-to-day life people are subconsciously chasing, especially in LA, the place that gravitates big dreamers towards it. “The ‘synthetic day’ felt like a lot of people – during such a dark state of the world – we’re trying to make it go away with all this fake happiness, without solving anything or making anyone feel better. The sort of ’quick fixes’ people are trying to give society I guess? Rather than a solution to what’s happening. That’s kind of the neon world turning grey. It’s kind of like a sarcastic little poke at corporate America.”
Being a California band, the fatalism of living in the West Coast inevitably creeps into Worthitpurchase’s bittersweet songs. Even their quirky name has an unsettling duality to it: the guilt trip of how materialism can cause a glint of spiritual joy, knowing full well how it relates to capitalism as a whole. The looming threat of natural disaster through earthquakes and wildfires versus the chasing of prosperous dreams make living there fertile ground for creativity as a whole, and with Worthitpurchase, that’s no exception.
“The title track of Truthtelling is basically about all of that,” Rowe says. “Living in California is a very cynical experience. Especially with San Francisco. It’s kind of popping into LA too, kind of big tech culture is very draining to be part of as an artist. Or as an everyday person that’s not In big tech.”
Instead of resigning to cynicism about structures op oppression, Worthitpurchase revel in surrealism on Truthtelling, extracting the absurd beauty from the sceneries they inhabit. While studying composition, Rowe coined a term “sonic inadvertent intention” as a way of explaining some of her recording methods. When bringing it up, she lets out a slightly awkward chuckle.
“I wrote that so long ago, in my freshman year of college,” she reflects. “I think it’s about knowing how you want something to sound without being so literal and harsh about it. Being very natural and organic the sonic aspects of the music that you write. There’s not just composition of notes in melody and harmony, but also composition of texture and tone. I think those are two very important aspects in considering recording.”
Meanwhile, Van Thyne (who jokes he was brought into the band as “the voice of reason”), has had the benefit of experiencing the songs as a listener beforehand. He brings a happy-go-lucky disposition to Worthitpurchase, a bolt of holistic energy that balances out Rowe and Akrouche’s wry songwriting instincts. Though he’s now composing and playing with them, he still glows about Truthtelling as a fan from the outside looking in.
“It feels like Worthitpurchase – at leasts the songs I was a part of – embraces more extreme sonic elements,” he says. “Gentle- fingerpicking acoustic guitars combine with these fast-paced 808 drum machines on “Sweater”, for example, it ties together this highly-contrasting thing.
“Being in California – you have one element of nature that’s acoustic folk instruments versus faster city life of San Francisco and LA. The synthetic draw of Worthitpurchase is where those elements are present.”
Truthtelling is out now via Anxiety Blanket Records. Order the album on Bandcamp.