The ambitious production quality, sly songwriting and sheer magnitude of the diverse instrumentation make “In Lieu of Flowers” an immediate top ten consideration. Ott tackles the idea of death in a series of twists and turns, with successful stylistic flourishes ranging from Ott’s own Americana sound to indie rock and even stadium rock and country.
One of the best things about the holiday season is friends coming home from afar. What’s even better is when they come back home and play a show with their old band and put on a party. Current Nashville resident and Rhode Island native Josh Cournoyer will perform with his high octane rock act Northern Lands at The Parlour on the day after Christmas for what should be one hell of a homecoming. Sharing the bill are the psychedelic folk of Viking Jesus and local rockers Jealous Fuck. Ahead of the weekend’s festivities, I caught up with Cournoyer about adjusting to Nashville, new musical projects and where he’ll be spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Rob Duguay: You first moved down to Nashville while being a member of the current Los Angeles rock band Runaway Saints. How was adjusting to a new city?
Josh Cournoyer: I think it was definitely sensory overload at first. From a musician’s standpoint there are a ton of great players down there and there are a lot of really great songwriters. You have a lot of different genres of music that are taking off out of Nashville right now and it’s all really great stuff. It was super fun starting to experience what the city is like, but I also kind of missed the camaraderie of the Providence music scene because it takes a little bit longer to find a group and a niche down there.
RD: You’re not in Runaway Saints anywhere and like I mentioned before they’re in Los Angeles now. What made you want to stay in Nashville rather than come back to Rhode Island?
JC: Well, I really love the energy of Nashville and the music that’s coming out of there. As much as it can be overwhelming at times from being with Runaway Saints, then working down there now and playing and writing, it’s great to feel challenged constantly. Nashville is kind of a melting pot, I have a group of friends that are musicians from all over the country. It’s constantly forcing me to grow, change and evolve a little bit. I’d never lived anywhere outside of Rhode Island prior to moving to Nashville so I felt like at this point in my life that I owed it to myself to experience something new. My fiancé and I decided to make a go of it in Nashville, try it out for a few years and see how we liked it.
RD: It seems that you’re enjoying yourself down there. Outside of Northern Lands, which particular music projects are you involved with in Nashville?
JC: Right now I’m writing a new record, I don’t know whether I’ll release it as Northern Lands or as a solo record, but I’ve been working on that for about a year and I’ll be recording it this spring. I also started doing some production work with a few different artists, along with working on the record.
RD: Do you plan on making the record in Nashville at a studio or do you plan on just doing it at your apartment?
JC: I’ve been demoing it both at my home studio in Nashville and at a studio that belongs to a friend of mine. Eventually I’ll record it at a studio in Nashville, but I’m doing the writing and pre-production either at my apartment or at my friend’s studio.
RD: It must be a lot cheaper to do that rather than do the writing and everything else at a studio right from the get-go. You said before how you missed the camaraderie in Providence where in Nashville it can be a tad difficult to network yourself. Is that what you miss the most about Providence or are there other things you miss about the city as well?
JC: I think Providence is such a great city, I’ve played in a lot of bands here over the years and I’ve made a lot of really great lifelong friends so it’s really difficult at times to be away from all of that. Smith & Weeden have stayed with me a bunch of times on tour, Dan Dodd has come down and played shows with me and I absolutely love when that stuff happens. It’s really cool to see those people come down, but you kind of miss that small town feel a little bit. Nashville is super collaborative so it’s not hard to necessarily network yourself, it’s that I had a routine and a pattern in Providence that I definitely miss. You have your favorite bars, I loved working at The Met and getting to see a ton of live music all the time. I get to see music in Nashville, but my pattern and my routine has shifted a lot from living in a new city.
RD: There can definitely be a little change in everything when you immerse yourself in a new environment. With it being the holiday season, who are you spending Christmas with and what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?
JC: I am going to be splitting time between my fiancé’s family and my family in Rhode Island for Christmas along with spending a lot of time with friends while I’m in town. For New Year’s Eve I haven’t actually decided yet. I’m going to look and see what the best thing going is and I’ll probably go with that.
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with JFCK and Viking Jesus Band
North Main Street
with Nymphidels, Jay Berndt, Zaid Blumberg Experience
$5 Benefit for Sojourner House
with Doris Duke, The VapoRubs
The Common Pub
“In Lieu of Flowers” by Eric Ott
75 or Less Records
File Under: indie, Americana, rock
Sounds like: Wilco, Simon and Garfunkel, Yo La Tengo
“Death was still such an abstract concept growing up.” “There’s a room that I go to in my mind when I want to think about death.” “It’s something that’s going to affect all of us.” These overlapping, meditative voice-overs guide the journey throughout Eric Ott’s death-inspired concept album, “In Lieu of Flowers.” What began as an RPM Challenge record in 2008 evolved into a vehicle for Ott to grapple with loss. Just like the stages of grief, his opus switches paces, styles, and perspectives often. To achieve his ambitious production goals, the award-winning songwriter enlisted the help of co-producer, engineer, and long-time collaborator Sean Yadisernia, as well as a bevy of musicians and friends including Dan McGary, Nate Laban, Chris Decato, and Mark Edgerly. The resulting ruminations about depression and the end of life turn in enjoyably surprising directions.
For “In Lieu of Flowers,” Ott tapped into new sonic inspiration, a longer list of collaborators, and an even bigger sound. Here, tackling the abstract concept of death and its effects on the living plays out in a number of successful stylistic and emotive choices, including his bread-and-butter Americana, indie rock, and even stadium pop and country. The production quality and magnitude of the diverse instrumentation, perhaps most notably Decato’s keyboards and the 10 contributing guitarists, are immediately noticeable. And yet, some of the biggest differences from Ott’s previous material are much more subtle.
Ott and guests slyly combine the earnest subject matter with playful musical or lyrical twists. On the opener, “Little Wars,” Ott tells a woeful tale of cancer and suicide, yet the catchy vocal melody — think They Might Be Giants meets Simon and Garfunkel — belies the morose message without making it a punchline. The song’s horn melodies could be interpreted as joyful or wailing. On “In Lieu,” that duality is a common theme that showcases a depth that can be difficult to achieve on concept records. Conversely, the stadium-pop anomaly, “Pop Starlet,” is full of triumphant hooks, keyboards, and guitar solos, while the lyrics reveal a cynical commentary about the hollow, even damaging love of celebrity and popular culture. It’s as infectious and powerful a song as an “Aladdin Sane”-era Bowie could have conceived, and one of the Seacoast’s best this year.
On “Old” and “Felt” we find Ott’s Americana sound with added hints of country twang and bended notes. Album highlights “If You Were Thinking” and the rocker “Under the Bed” merge Ott’s best anthemic melodies with his one of a kind songwriting and wit. “In Lieu of Flowers” is a diverse collection of expertly produced and compelling introspections that challenge us to listen, both as the living looking forward and as the dying looking back. It’s an outstanding record and a fitting one to round out one of the Seacoast’s finest, most productive years in recent memory.
Northeastern University After Hours Student Hall
People Incorporated Holiday Concert
Narrows Center For the Arts
Fall River, Mass
with The Breakfast Project, The Black Souls, and Bronson
345 Somerville Ave
with Sonic Grifters and The Callouts
43 Broad St