Photo: OK McCausland

This Is Lorelei: “I went to too much church to have any real sense of spirituality”

You can never quite take the scrappy St. Johnsbury-daydreamer out of the Brooklynite art rocker, as Nate Amos would certainly attest. For all of Amos’s obstinate genre-spanning experimentation, he grew up as the son of a bluegrass musician: music that has pretty much remained the same since its inception.

Those roots might be the tether to Amos’s seemingly limitless creativity – a volatile journey fragmented and scattered over 33 recording projects under the moniker This Is Lorelei. Since 2014, it’s been the vehicle to scratch whatever musical itch Amos had. It’s truly time well spent getting lost in Amos’s cupboard of musical (mis)adventures. The range is, simply put, impressive: true-blue covers of Ween songs alter-Nate [insert wink-wink emoji] scatterbrained noise vignettes. You can stumble upon wake-up-in-utter-doldrums bedroom folk , 100 gecs-indebted, clamorous hyper-pop, and neoclassical organ meditations. To put it sparingly, This Is Lorelei is a mixed bag.

Up to this point, you might consider Amos’s solo project a personal landfill of compulsive musical ideas he can’t fully integrate in his more collaborative projects. As one half of the schismatic, ever-fascinating avant-pop tricksters Water From Your Eyes, Amos gifts as a songwriter exists in perfect symbiosis with bandmate (and former partner) Rachel Brown. Spanning a range that includes Burt Bacharach-esque chamber pop to post-industrial club thumpers, the method oftentimes trumps the madness, something Amos has gleefully described in the past as – and I’ll paraphrase – remixes of songs that don’t yet exist.

Then there’s My Idea, the project he formed with his equally prolific musical foil Lily Konigsberg (Palberta), which became somewhat of an inverse of Water From Your Eyes. It started pragmatically as a portfolio-project, to showcase the duo’s craftsmanship as songwriters and producers. In a simple twist of fate, their musical chemistry spilled over to an ill-omened romance, warping the music in the process. Fortunately, both artists came out of that messy chapter healthier and wiser, sobering up from years of substance abuse, and continuing to navigate their creative output in different, decidedly less self-destructive ways.

Which brings us to Amos’s new album under the This Is Lorelei-moniker, Box for Buddy, Box for Star, released just last week under DIY-imprint Double Double Whammy. To call it the ‘first proper’ This Is Lorelei-album – by means of a more traditional rollout – is maybe a bit disingenuous, since all of Amos’s idiosyncrasies – such as warping his own voice to perform an oddball country duet – are still rife. As musically curious as he remains, at its core, Box for Buddy, Box for Star is a heartland rock album brimming with bleeding-heart reflections, while at the same time, understatedly making fun of the notion of the ‘authentic songwriter’. Not one second do these songs strike like pompous irony; Amos is a close study on what makes the classics tick, and he wears his influences on his sleeve with an infectious, sincere reverence.

I had just finished a tour with Water From Your Eyes, during which I laid on the ground at Stonehenge for 40 minutes and decided to stop smoking weed,” Amos said in the press release. “Initially, this album was just a challenge to make music without getting high, and I was worried I wouldn’t come up with anything at all. I isolated myself from pretty much everyone and wrote songs all summer. I was pretty broke and significantly depressed, but also in a sort of healthy mental demolition mode, trying to reimagine how I wanted to move forward with my life. For better or worse, what I made ended up being a delayed recovery album, largely dealing with more significant addictions that I kicked a year earlier.”

A months ago, Amos called in over Zoom in Kansas City in the midsts of being on the road with Water From Your Eyes. A Q&A about treading the muddy waters between pisstake and sincerity, creating healthy proxies for unhealthy habits and his dazzling creative process.

I shouldn’t be surprised by now, given your prolific output, but I read that you have written over 70 songs for this recording project. I’m not entirely sure if that’s up to par with your batting average, or something extra-ordinary in your case. Was it a laborious process for you deciding which songs made the cut?

Definitely. I was essentially trying to write and record three songs a day, and there was tons of stuff – between a third and a half of it – I just wasn’t excited enough about to really finish. Then some songs got finished, and I just decided I didn’t like them. And some songs got finished, and I did like them, but they didn’t feel like they could fit on the album. Most of these songs already came out on EP’s and stuff since the summer of 2022. But yeah, this is the first time I’ve not just immediately put out a Lorelei release. Usually it goes straight to Spotify and Bandcamp.

Now that Water From Your Eyes is sort of caught in the record label machinery, I’d understand if you’d want to maintain that freewheeling modus operandi with Lorelei. What made you still decide to go for a more traditional rollout for Box for Buddy, Box for Star?

It does feel like a natural transition to do more formal albums with Lorelei. That’s what this album is: this classic, whatever, 10 song, 43-ish minutes type of rock album. And so it felt appropriate for this one to do more traditional, like industry-type rollout. It doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s how I’m going to do everything from now on. But I might try to take it a little more seriously moving forward, with this being a starting point.

Some songs delve back into your past, creating kind of a warped sense of nostalgia. “I’m All Fucked Up”, for instance, reads like a wryly funny diss song to your younger self. Did you have to retrace and reassess some earlier Lorelei releases during the writing process?

Not really. With Lorelei stuff I don’t do a whole ton of looking back. Every once in awhile I will listen to an old album. If anything, I tend to become a little bit frustrated when I do that; I feel with a lot of Lorelei stuff, if I had worked on it a little bit harder, I’d like it a lot more. This album was pretty fresh feeling when I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking about any of the old stuff.

Last time I interviewed you, for the My Idea record, you revealed you have gotten sober. For this album, it was explained how you’ve created healthier coping mechanism as proxies for unhealthy habits. Have these circumstances helped you realise what makes you tick as an artist and songwriter? And how to filter out the good from the disposable?

I’ve always done that to a certain extent. A lot of bands and albums I wrote and produced were geared towards making a cohesive thing. For a long time with Lorelei, I was kind of anti-that, but in a more conceptual way. It was almost like an exercise in a way. The whole idea was to write multiple songs a day until I ran out of steam. And at the end of the day, anything that’s finished will go on a release. And it would come out immediately. That’s partially a casual thing, but partially a conceptual thing as well: the medium in which these songs were meant to be presented. So choosing to make Box for Buddy, Box for Star a more focused album. That’s something I know how to do, for that very reason.

Water From Your Eyes is music I write subconsciously that I present very consciously. Whereas I feel Lorelei is the inverse of that; you try to write consciously, and you try to let that speak for itself, without any pizzazz to the presentation. And just have it be what it is. There was a point where this album was going to be a giant collection of songs, I think about 32 tracks with all kinds of interludes and things. It felt a bit bloated and for whatever reason I wanted to give it more of an identity. I’m very happy with all the songs that ended up on Box for Buddy, Box for Star, but it wasn’t based on what my favorite songs are. Out of the songs I deemed good enough, these songs painted a picture together that worked good as an album. And the music that didn’t fit ended up on the EPs.

With the benefit of hindsight, do have a clearer picture now why this collection of songs works well together?

Yeah, but in a very loose way. There are themes of duality throughout; there are a lot of – I wouldn’t say characters – but a lot of lyrical archetypes and stereotypes I tried to work with. But not for any particular reason, it was something I felt like doing at the time. I haven’t gone back and listened the album from start to finish in awhile. But there was definitely a sense of reflection about it. I was a year or so into not drinking. And that led to this whole recognition of, you know, people not really changing.

You can try and change things about yourself but people stay the same. Which led me to this weird track where I was thinking about the kinds of people that I’ve known who have just flipped the switch to become a completely different person. They become these born-again religious people. But I’ve also known people who have changed and are supposedly a different person now, and they act like it separates them from everything they used to be. And I believe that’s a weird and dangerous thing to do to you brain. Using it as a Get Out Of Jail Free-card from any mess you may have caused.

I think it’s really important to think about everything you’ve been at different points, to actually have an understanding of who you are, and to be able to work with yourself. So that’s something that’s been floating throughout Box for Buddy, Box for Star: being born again, but not necessarily in a religious way. There is a sense of atonement through the songs, and recognising your luck in making it through the things you’ve been experienced – and you know, wondering why you deserve that luck.

Transforming always comes with this extra gravity of letting go of certain people; people you sometimes love, who are still stuck in certain patterns. Then new people come into your life because of said transformation. Has this process helped clear the clouds of where you are headed?

I guess I was reminded of that, because there were different periods of my life where I had different issues. In the past when I was much younger, my approach was ‘If I’m the recipient of all the damage that I caused, then it’s all good’. I realised that was kind of selfish thing, because your own actions dictate the world around you. When you participate in a messy lifestyle and other people are doing the same, their people get caught in the crossfire and bad things tend to happen. And when you make it out relatively unscathed, you’re like: ‘Am I just lucky that this didn’t happen to me?’ If we’re are talking about moral codes here, I guess it’s just growing and accepting reality; the reality that everything’s connected, and to pursue your pursuits primarily on how they affect other people rather than yourself.

It’s tricky too, with the ‘tortured artist’-myth being perpetuated over and over in these big Hollywood-produced biopics. I saw the Amy Winehouse movie, and it kept homing in on me how it’s such a bleak thing to romanticise. It has become strangely quaint now. So I do like how the current generation of songwriters, I’m naming someone like Jessica Pratt or Alex G, but also yourself – create more of a healthy dissociation from the ‘confessional songwriter’-medley. It doesn’t make the music any less arresting, in my opinion anyway.

I mean, there’s plenty of great art that has come out of these complicated situations. And there’s this idea that from suffering comes art. That’s not untrue, but there is this kind of culture of intentionally putting yourself through it ‘for the sake of art’. And I feel like in that context a lot of the time, the confusion is between suffering and process. You can create a mechanism of creation, and a context for creation without it inherently involving suffering. Not that it can’t involve that, it became this weird focus of a lot of music, where there has to be this ‘blood-in-the-ink’ type thing.

Again I think it’s not entirely untrue, but it’s greatly exaggerated in the way that we perceive the tortured artist. The reality is that, I feel the most depressed people I’ve known are the funny ones. If you’re going down that route where your art comes from suffering and your medium is super serious, then you have to be twice as good to pull it off. Whereas dealing with darkness through lighter means is something that comes a little more naturally to me. And I’d think would be more relatable for people who are consuming art. That being said, a lot of my favorite art was made by fucked up people who were not having any fun at all. And definitely did not have a sense of humor. But a lot of my favorite art does come from people have gone through everything with a sense of lightness.

Which makes me think about your voice, or better put, your voices. I think you’ve really expanded as a vocalist on Box for Buddy, Box for Star. One moment you sound like Ween (“Two Legs”), another moment like The Waterboys (“Where Is Your Love Now”), and then you lean into your inner Big Star (“A Song That Sings About You”). I’m curious about your predisposition of using a myriad vocal styles and effects in your songs.

To be totally honest, it’s not something I think about at all. It’s kind of going to whatever direction the song is asking for. There wasn’t really a ton of intention behind singing different songs in different ways. Some songs have two vocal parts, and you try to figure out the best way to make them work together. “Angel’s Eye” is a duet, and I’m just one person, so the best way to make that work was singing it in two different ways.

But honestly, again, it’s just whatever the song seems to be asking for. Once the song idea is there and it’s being written, I kind of stop making decisions, I just focus on getting the job done. You know, all the decisions are at that weird and vague beginning point where there’s just the idea for for the song. After that, it becomes kind of like building a piece of furniture.

The title track is broken up into two acts, a rootsy folk stomp and an almost neoclassical piano interlude. Talk me through the process behind that track.

Those two things actually existed separately for a while. The piano park was made very early on, and the first part was made a little later during the album’s writing process.
Part of the reason it’s the title track, is because it’s almost like too on-the-nose, as a representation of what conceptually is going on in the album. The exact same energy being shot out in different directions via two different emotions. The push-and-pull between choosing to react to ugliness versus choosing to react to beauty. So that song is kind of like the decision to – for lack of a better descriptor – to choose to walk towards the light.

I mean, there’s God and Satan in “An Extra Beat for You and Me”. Now those are pretty big entities, so I wonder what your relationship is to spirituality in general. People use them as abstract concepts to create a world around, because they are strong figures who represent these absolutes. But they can allude to your spiritual belief system. Contrary to that, Water From Your Eyes songs seem more dispassionate, conceptual-uber-alles exercises, like using the Burroughs cut-up method of existing lyrics. But this feels pretty existential, Nate.

I honestly love God and Satan as ideas. But I went to too much church to have any real sense of spirituality. I I was prone to having some relationship with that world, it was just kind of like messed up, because I had so much bullshit spoonfed to me. So I just kind of messed it up. So I don’t know… great question. Love them as ideas, and I have no idea what my relationship to that world is. Because I’m still trying to get the taste out of my mouth from when I was younger.

We just talked about myth-building in popular music, which I myself and my music journalist peers certain have been guilty of. I feel social media has pulled the curtain on a lot of that discourse. On one hand, it gives artists a voice to express themselves on their own terms. But there’s the obvious darker side, where it can make things look cooler or more pleasant than they actually are. It got me thinking about artists choosing to project themselves as an artist, as opposed to their ‘authentic selves’. I remember the singer-songwriter Damien Jurado telling me he doesn’t want to be synonymous with his art, that it’s simply his job. He argued that firemen are more than people who simply exist to put out fires. So I’m curious, also since your work is growing in profile, how you’re navigating all of this?

I think that right now, it makes sense. With Water right now, there’s an opportunity; that if we work really hard, then we can build this into some sort of lasting thing. So there’s a mindset of putting in the work. But in terms of talking about music, I know it’s a necessary part of it, tou gotta talk about your music. But I do wish I didn’t have to. Because I find that – when I look at a song –– and I have to write a couple sentences, like doing a track-by-track or something. As soon as I put any particular meaning in sentence form to this music, it just takes away from the possibilities of what it could mean to people… and what it could mean to me.

So I would absolutely prefer to never have to talk about music after I’ve written it. My My thing is, if there is great song or something from a great artist that I want to hear: I don’t want to hear them talk about it. I just want to listen to it, because you don’t make music so you can tell people what it means. You make music so that people can listen to music. And that’s kind of like the way I approach writing too. So it’s hard to like, apply any particular meaning to a song, because that’s not what it’s meant to do.

I also feel like a lot of your music for This Is Lorelei speaks more of itself in its sincerity. I do however think your music is prone to these deep dives, because it’s very reverential to music made in the past, albeit twisted and idiosyncratic. “A Song That Sings About You” feel like a homage to figures like Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Brian Wilson, those timeless pop monoliths.

Out of the songs that made it onto the album, that’s the oldest one. That was I think the second song that got made when I was writing for the album. It started off with me wanting it to just be an incredibly simple pop song with a hook. The version of that that’s on the album is way shorter than the original. As I said before, part of this album is embracing these tongue-in-cheek archetypes. So part of that song was like: ‘Well I’m here, traveling, airport after fucking airport’, and I had gotten back from a tour doing just that.

I felt like I’ve never really done like stereotypical singer-songwriter thing where I write a song about going on tour. Or choose to write about the most melodramatic aspect of that. Rather than focusing on all the cool stiff you’re getting to do, focus on the fact there’s a person you would miss back home. So it’s kind of intentionally looking at a multifaceted situation and choosing to be a little baby about it. And complain about what isn’t there rather than appreciating what is there. But it’s also just a love song. [laughs]

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