Repelican is a former DC / former bmore / former philly / current vermont-based music projectile.
Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Repelican aka Jon Ehrens (Dungeonesse), Vermont-based musician whose album of collaborations entitled “I’m Not One” is out now.
More TBTs in our archives.
An album made up of collaborations with some of my favorite musicians who also are my friends. The tracks were all recorded remotely during the COVID pandemic quarantine. The only exceptions are the solo titular song and Wrong End of the Rise recorded with Tom Vollmer in Hamburg, PA. The themes of I’m Not One stem from the many events of 2020 that ideally would have caused solidarity among people who were asked to remain isolated. It’s a record about the overemphasis on individualism as the cause of this apparent societal implosion. More broadly and sweetly, though, this was a way to find light and feel connected to the friends whom I cannot physically be with in an unquestionably dark period.
Will Ryerson aka Giant Wave is one of my very best friends and one of my very favorite musicians. His band Other Colors, well, there’s an argument to be made they are my favorite band. We have collaborated in some forms in the past but this is maybe the most direct collaboration. Will sent me basically three unarranged segments of a song complete with drum machine, guitar, bass, and synth. I took the pieces and arranged them a little bit and then added live drums to it and wrote the vocals to it. Will then put his great voice on top and it sounded great! I had just bought a drumset and haven’t owned a proper one in years, so this was a funass song to get back into drumming with.
I lived in Baltimore from 2005-2014 (with a year in LA somewhere in there), and what an exciting time to live in Baltimore. It was a huge party filled with great music and fun people for like a decade. Sam and I became friends and mutual fans (he really liked my band The Art Department and I of course liked his band Future Islands). We lived together Grover Cleveland style (on two nonconsecutive occasions). I had recorded the instrumental to this song and thought it would sound great with Sam on it. I asked if he might be interested in collaborating and he was like “oh I don’t know you know, I got a lot going on, kinda busy, but send me the track” and I sent it to him and he immediately called me back “I love it” and within a week he sent me his vocals and the song was done and sounded great.
Nour is a very cool experimental artist in LA. We’ve been friends since we were literally 8 years old and we remain very close. We’re basically family I would say and have said. She is constantly recording and tinkering and experimenting so when I asked her if she wanted to collaborate, she was down and sent me a bunch of stuff she’d been making and said “have at it!” I took this weird yet melodic processed voiced poem piece and wrote a little guitar piece to it and voila! There is a much longer version of it too. If CD’s were still around maybe I would have made that the secret song.
I met Tom in the best context you can make a friend in… a pedal steel guitar party held in a Pennsylvania septic tank garage! For my day job producing radio shows, I was lightly looking for someone who played pedal steel. In my googling around, I stumbled on an article that had a quote from someone mentioning a PA pedal steel guy named Tom Vollmer. When I zoomed out, I realized that the publication was a septic trade magazine called Pumper and the article was a feature about this guy who is a “pumper” who loves pedal steel music. I called Tom and talked with him for a while and he was very charming. A month or so later he was like “you should come to this party that I have. They’ll be some good pickin’ there.” When I showed up, there was a huge garage filled with about 10 or 15 pedal steel guitars and players tuning up to jam with the small live house band. I was introduced to the crowd as the guy from the radio and me and my partner were basically the only non-family there. The band would call out classic country standards and play like 15 minute versions of each while every pedal steel player traded solos. It went on for hours. My partner and I decided to walk around the grounds and I noticed a septic tank there with some kind of poop joke on it and laughed. Then it hit me – I was at the garage of the “pumper” I had read about originally! Magical. Anyways, I stayed in touch with Tom and I went to his house (pre-covid) to record an old song of mine. This is the only redux of an old Repelican song (the original is on the album “Half Spasms”), and it’s the only song I wrote in full in a dream.
Cara is the leader of the cool good vibes band Outer Spaces. I think she moved into a room I lived in in Baltimore after I moved – I digress. We actually became better friends more recently online via a Facebook bracket style tournament I co-moderate to find the worst songs ever. It involves making jokes about bad music, always fun, Beavis and Butthead style. I had made the instrumental to this track and thought she would sound nice on it, and then she sent me her vocals and sounded amazing on it! That week was the week of California wildfires if you couldn’t guess from the lyrics.
Owen and I have been good friends since our freshman year at Goucher College. For this track I wanted to draw on some of the flavors that I know Owen at least used to dig that aren’t so readily apparent in his incredibly good band Horse Lords. I sent him my drumming and a guitar part I saw as repetitive, exciting and plodding enough that he would like it. He added his guitar (complete with a shreddy solo, whatttt), but it sounded very modal, something I know he prefers. Owen hates 3rds. Then he suggested that the bass could be synth bass. Then I thought the bass could be ARPEGGIATED synth bass that would totally amp up the whole stilted interlocking vibe. Instantly the first bass line I tried was this one, and it turned the song into a straight up new wave jammer, and I tried to sing in my best Stiv Bators voice because we used to listen to Stiv’s records in college. I was worried he would be putt off with how melodic the song was but he dug it, which is good because Owen is one of those figures I think about whenever I make something and consider his imaginary criticisms and it makes me want to do better. He also was instrumental in getting my fingerpicking chops up back in the day with some good tips.
I can’t recall how I met Joe… it’s like we’d been friends for years before we actually met. Of all the people that I asked to collaborate with, Joe was the most interested in the theme of the record, “I’m not one.” I explained about how 2020 is the year that American individualism was coming to a head, that our inability to do what’s needed to keep the vulnerable safe from infection, or from systematic racism, or quell fire-causing climate change, or even behave like decent people, is all rooted in how we feel about our individuality and individual freedoms. And the refrain “I’m not one” shows up in the record over and over, but ironically in the context of declaring something unique to the singer “I’m not one to pray/ I’m not one to cry/ I’m not one to brag, etc.” Anyways, Joe just sent me these fragments of his voice singing based on this theme. I had been listening a lot to this DJ on NTS radio named ONY who does weird remixes that are epic ambient anthems sprinkled with a capella autotuned rapping. So I kind of took inspiration from that and arranged Joe’s voice and hopped on my synth and droned out! Added a little guitar to it. It’s worth the journey if you ask me.
Drew (one half of Matmos) and his partner Martin (the other half of Matmos) moved to Baltimore I dunno 10 years ago when I was still living there, and at the time I thought it was nuts because I listened to a lot of Matmos as a teen in particular. Drew is a prolific person in many respects (music and academia) so I thought for sure he would be down to do a track. He sent me this funky bassline and pad/strings track. I did some disco drumming to it and added some synths and sent it back and he said “I’m going to get my friends to read Freud in French to put on top of this.” And that’s what happened! Can you tell?
Bakithi Kumalo, the longtime bass player for Paul Simon who it’s been said has the most famous bass solo of all time (the backwards one in “Call Me Al,” was another person I had the good fortune of meeting through my day job. He came the radio station where I work in Philly to be a guest on the air, and he happens to live in Allentown PA. On air he did this very cool loop pedal based improv where he would make percussive sounds with his voice, and then loop kalimba over that and then play the bass on top. We hung out after he was on the show and he was the sweetest dude. I asked if he wanted to play a show with my band The Art Department and he was down! We played a little club called PhilaMOCA in Philly and he was like “where’s the green room?” (there was no green room). The Art Department set was bad, and his set was fun. He asked me to jump on stage to sing Call Me Al but I didn’t know the words but was drunk enough to try. Anyways, I had been working on this song’s guitar lead for a long time and when I realized Bags (that’s his nickname) was down for a collab, I went for a full on “what if I was a baby boomer who had the opportunity to play with the bass player from Graceland” vibe. Talk singing I never do, and was a fun exercise. Lyrically it’s about the collaboration record itself, providing a way to feel close to my friends while not being able to physically be around them.
This is the cute little solo closing number about successfully staving off loneliness and isolation in a hard time via musical collaborations! The end.