During an interview about Doug Tielli‘s solo debut album ‘Swan Sky Sea Squirrel‘ Doug explained that there was no reason for him to make a record as there was no one waiting for it anywhere. Rather than worry about self-imposed timescales Doug took up retreat on Toronto Island in an old school portable. The buildings that exist on the island were scheduled for demolition many years ago until someone came up with the idea of making them into a retreat for artistic and non-profit communities as an affordable place to think, experiment and create ideas. The location backs onto a quiet beach where Doug spent most of his time just watching and listening to the world…awaiting inspiration.
So I spent most of the time in quiet, listening to and watching the animals – mostly different waterfowl and small birds, lying on the beach, looking wordlessly out to the horizon, finding interesting things to bring back to my portable like stones, beach treasures, butterflies, sticks … It is a beautiful place. It is odd too, because you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, but you can also feel the huge energetic shadow of the big city right behind you. Agnes Martin’s (a minimalist painter) book entitled ‘with my back to the world’ comes to mind … yes, my back was turned to the world, but the world was also at my back, and over my shoulder too. And so if I went indoors to record something, and it didn’t make me shiver like a good breeze, or warm me on the inside like a crabapple in the sun, I knew that the music wasn’t ripe yet, and I just went back outside to wander
The mention of Agnes Martin brought to mind an interview during which she talked about the inspiration behind her artwork. In it she said “there are so many people that don’t know what they want and I think that in this world the only thing you have to know is exactly what you want most. I paint with my back to the world, it took me twenty years to paint non-projector”.
Doug would know from reading about Agnes that her approach to her work was to have a vacant mind. Agnes recognised that the problem with many artsts is that they find inspiration this way but before they get to putting that work onto canvas another 50 different ideas take over and that original inspiration is lost. Despite being a painter she also saw music as the highest form of art being completely abstract…”we make about 8 times as much response to it as any other art and we respond to it emotionally”.
Those ideas form an inspiring basis to approach an album which is not based on concept but instead pure inspiration…this is no new idea, the American beat author Jack Kerouac wrote spontaneous prose on great big reams of teletype paper so those initial ideas could not be disrupted by other thoughts. After listening to Swan Sky Sea Squirrel it felt as though his adoption of Agnes Martin’s approach had paid off.
Musically the album has a folk DIY aesthetic, the opening ‘Yes I am Lonely‘ feels like a one-take track with friends sat around joining in the chorus, more a remote intimate house party than recording studio which gives it a great warmth, reminiscent of Alasdair Roberts, James Yorkston or King Creosote’s communal recordings. The music is stripped down and often has a reflective, open-minded mood about it. ‘When the Sky Opens‘ called to mind the abstract styled lyrics of Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) on which he also has a similar vocal style, the words are more prose like than song.
As you’d expect from a talented multi instrumentalist Doug opted to play a huge array of instruments himself from guitars, trombone, saw, bass, drums and more. As each song is unique there is a lot of variety on the album from the classic soul tinged ‘Riversea‘ (a reworking of a poem) to some amazing stripped down duets with Jennifer Castle (deer). These contrast to the dream-like psychedlic feel of ‘Swan‘ and the south sea island sounding ‘Squirrel Tip‘ with its time-warping effect of a slowing down and release of a turntable, a soporific swaying.
This is an album that feels cocooned from the outside world, even if he did feel like the world was at his shoulder, but true to his word each song has a warmth as well as some spine tingling moments. It deserves to be heard in one sitting so that by the time you hit the experimental ‘Lilia‘ you are tuned into Tielli’s beachcombing collection of sounds with a washing ocean backdrop. The finale ‘The Deepst End‘ is one of the most sonically moving songs on the album which leaves you with a regret that the album has ended. You just hope that when you re-visit it you can escape again for fifty minutes to the solitude of that Toronto Island beach.
Yes I Am Lonely from Mitch Fillion (southernsouls.ca)
Riversea from Mitch Fillion (southernsouls.ca)
Swan Sky Sea Squirrel is released on March 26th through Tin Angel Records.