Artist Interview: Souvenirs
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Last fall Souvenirs released their third LP, Love for the Lack of It. It finds the band deeper into the sound they explored on 2017’s Posture of Apology, a dark and melodic indie rock sound that could hardly be farther from the rough-around-the-edges ‘90s emo throwback they started with. Like the title suggests, it’s an album about love – but above all else, love for oneself. I caught up with vocalist Tim Riley to discuss the album in-depth.
Let’s start with the most boring question. How’s it going? How’ve you been staying sane?
It’s funny because for you it’s the most boring question to ask, but for me it’s the most interesting question to answer in a time like this. Small talk’s gotten really hard to navigate. It’s like, “I’m great! Well, actually, no. I haven’t left the house in two weeks.” But all things considered I’m okay. I’m about a seven, which I’m not complaining about at this point in time.
I know “When the Bloom Fades” came out in 2019, and on my streaming copy of Love for the Lack of It, it said the release date was sometime in March.
How long’s the record been done?
Jeez, man. I feel like it’s been done for – I don’t wanna say two years. But maybe two years. It gets blurry. From the time I started writing – and some of these songs are over three years old at this point – by the time they become the versions in the public eye, they’re a bit different. The record as a whole probably is just shy of two years old. We were planning on releasing in March, but then, you know, something happened. Here we are now.
Have you paid any attention to the reception of the album at all?
A little bit. I mean, it’s hard to not. I try not to read reviews. It’s such a gauntlet to go through, hearing people critique your personal expressions. It’s hard to put that on a number scale, worth “three out of five stars.” I’m like…literally talking about wanting to commit suicide. Putting stars on a record is pretty arbitrary. But also, my definition of success for this record has changed drastically. I think actually most people’s definition of success has changed drastically. I try not to weigh myself by the numbers and the praise people may give me, but more so by whether I was honest with myself.
I’ve wanted to ask you since Posture of Apology came out, and so I know this is jumping backwards a bit, but this record and that one are so different from You, Fear and Me and I was curious how exactly that sonic change came about.
This ties back into what I was saying about my definition of success. For You, Fear and Me, when we made that record, we were hardcore kids inspired by ‘90s emo music. That record was the product of that calculation. After that we started to explore things that were less rooted in the subculture of things that were hardcore-adjacent, that stuff like Texas Is the Reason, Seaweed, those bands that are heavy-soft, quiet-loud type situations. I think the transition was just us playing what we wanted to play without thinking we needed distorted guitars in every song. It was like, “Wait, we can have a song that just sounds nice. Maybe it won’t change a lot dynamically but if we can express this feeling and have the song change dynamically through that, that would be cool.” I think Posture was a step in that direction and Love for the Lack of It is another one. I wanted to make a record where each song was a specific feeling, where I just dove into the song with blinders on and asked, “How can I make this song express this feeling in a way that feels true to myself, sounds original, and doesn’t make people feel alienated, feel like they can’t relate?” I dive in from there, and then, because it comes from me, all the songs are going to be connected, sonically, emotionally. I wasn’t so much paying attention to the album as a whole. We wrote I think eighteen songs? And then only like ten of them made the record. There’s nearly a whole other record we didn’t use.
I’m really surprised to hear that. Something I wanted to ask you was about that, just since it all feels, thematically, like a cohesive piece.
That’s the thing about songwriting as an individual. I’m making all these puzzle pieces, and once they’re done I spread them out on the table and then I think, “this can go here and these can go together,” and piece them together in a way that makes sense. Everything that was going to come out was going to fit together and it was just a matter of looking at the greater theme of the record. I didn’t know the record was going to be called Love for the Lack of It. The title track actually came together towards the end. Once we had the songs we knew we wanted to build the record around, we decided we liked how they sounded and kept in that direction, and then Love for the Lack of It just made the most sense – that was what we were trying to convey.
You’ve said that “Ribbon” is about the Maura Murray missing persons case and I was wondering what about that story stuck with you.
On You, Fear and Me I wrote a song about this legend called the island of the lonely woman. That song’s called “Twist.” It’s about this woman who lived on this island in this indigenous community off the Santa Barbara coast and then these conquistadors came through and brought all the people to the mainland. This was like 1600 or 1700s I think. They brought the whole tribe to what is now Santa Barbara but left behind this woman by accident. She stayed and taught these wild dogs how to hunt and herd seals onto the beach so she could eat. She made a shelter out of this whale skeleton – super crazy. There’s pictures and stuff. She lived there for like five years and then another sailor came through and took her against her will to Santa Barbara, and then in two or three weeks she got dysentery and died. This person thought they were saving her but she was better off on her own. I like having references to other records and whatnot in the universe of Souvenirs. I was interested in doing another song about lore, if you will. I was looking up the name Maura. I liked the name, thought maybe if I had a girl one day I’d name her Maura. The missing persons case of Maura Murray came up, and it was the first missing persons case of the social media age. The more I read the more interesting I thought it was. It happened a few days after Facebook launched. I just liked it and ran with it. Because Maura still hasn’t been found – she was a college student and she’d gotten into a car crash a few years earlier where she was at fault, so some people think she staged a disappearance because she was in an insane amount of debt, just ran away and decided to live as a different person. One of the last lines of the song is “Maura where have you been? / Living free of debt in the wind.” There’s a picture online of the little roadside monument that her family made for her, and they nailed a blue ribbon to a tree, and that’s why it’s called “Ribbon.” There’s a line, “Maura in your memory / we nailed a blue ribbon to a tree.”
“Fear and Moving Forward” and “Feel Enough” both have samples in them of people talking. What do those mean for the songs?
The sample in “Fear and Moving Forward” is my nutritionist. She’s one of teh first people I went to see when I came down with my condition. I started seeing all these doctors – for those who don’t know, I have an autoimmune disease called rheumatoid arthritis. It took about a year and a half, two years to figure it out and find a medication that would allow me to basically gain my mobility back. I lost probably 90% of my mobility. I couldn’t tie my shoes, couldn’t open a bottle of water. I could barely drive, let alone walk around the block. She was one of the first people I saw to try and find some answers for this, and she was a wealth of information. She said some things to me that just really helped me get through what was going to be a life-changing process. Specifically, in the sound clip, I think she says, “This is going to make you much more patient, much more compassionate,” and I was like, “What is this lady talking about? Compassion? Patience? I need her to put me on a diet that’ll fix my joints so I can go and do the things I used to do.” She was like, “You don’t understand. This will be life-changing for you.” The sound clip in “Feel Enough” is from an MD who specializes in endocrinology, internal medicine, and hospice care, and that specific clip is him on a podcast basically explaining what he thinks the progression of human interaction should be in order for us to change our course of direction. You know when you hear something you could’ve never articulated but you feel down to your bones? That, as people who are big consumers of music, I feel is a big draw of music – there are so many artists who say things that I could never express. This quote is that basically, somebody saying, “If only we felt enough at all times, because so often we tear each other down based on the insecurities that we have, thinking maybe if we believe something different it makes us feel wrong. Maybe if we made people feel enough the way they are, we’d be in a better place, be able to communicate more honestly.” I have a small circle of people but I don’t hear that enough, and I feel like maybe other people don’t either. I wanted to make it a point to say, “You are enough exactly as you are, and you’re worthy of love.”
I know the album wasn’t planned to come out when it did, but I feel like, lyrically and thematically, it’s very appropriate that it did. Those two clips really fit in well with the record as a whole, as I understand it. At what point did you decide to include those in these songs?
One of them, the one in “Feel Enough,” came after the fact. The song was finished and initially it was just a musical break, like “I love this riff and I want this riff to just be what it is.” I was so dead set on putting this clip on a song and I only had to clip like two words off each end to make it fit over that riff and I thought, “This is made for this.” I think maybe subconsciously I knew I wanted it over that riff and I just hadn’t put the pieces together yet. The “Fear and Moving Forward” one, when we were doing the buildup in the studio – that was one of the ones we wrote live – I was like, “It would be so cool if we had that clip right here and it’d end really abruptly.” I recorded all my conversations with my nutritionist so I could listen later because there’s so much information flying around. I thought it’d be sweet if the song just ends and goes straight into the next one. It’s like a metaphor for moving forward. You just have to take that step and just go. We’re going through this record, not hesitating anymore.
I wanted to backtrack for a second. You’d mentioned that some of the songs on Love for the Lack of It were two, three years old. Which are those?
I had the lyrics for “When the Bloom Fades” for a while, but had them for a different riff in the same sort of vibe. We put them to a different chord progression. That song I’d written for my dog Wendy, a really fluffy Australian shepherd. She just overheats in the summer. My wife and I got her as a puppy, and for those out there who’ve raised a puppy on their own, it’s also a life-changing situation. Everyone in LA in the summer is hiking, at the beach, biking – before COVID. Everyone’s out on the streets. Wendy just doesn’t do well in heat. I can’t help but think about mortality all the time. Putting so much of myself into this dog, I just love her so much. Knowing I’m going to watch her die, that idea just destroys me. This song was just me fleshing out that internal conversation. I hope I never forget those little things she does. You know when a dog has their mouth closed, then just opens it a little and it’s like, “Is this dog actually smiling at me?” Wendy does that. I’ll never remember every time she does that. It’s hard to choose what you remember, but I wanted to write a song about it. It’s a little piece of sonic history I can go back to.
I wanted to ask about “Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop.” It’s different for the album and for the band and I was curious how it came together.
It was one of those songs I was really championing the idea of diving into this one track and not thinking about how it fit with the others around it. I had actually written that electronic drumbeat when I lost the ability to play guitar – I went to Goodwill and bought this old Yamaha keyboard. I just started writing songs on the keyboard instead of guitar, and it’s got this drum option, so I’d write drumbeats. That one, at the back of that song, I wrote on this Goodwill keyboard. It was originally a voice memo but the sound quality was so bad I rerecorded it. That beat is me on this old crappy keyboard. The song is definitely one of the heavier songs – I don’t know, since every song is basically about depression – but the title is in reference to my tendency to create problems out of thin air. For me, when things are good, I’m always looking over my shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Amanda, my wife, and I got married and things were going great, and in my mind I was like, “This is too good to be true.” Lo and behold, four, five months after, I come down with this autoimmune disease. She has to put on my socks, tie my shoes for over a year. That’s what the title’s about. That’s kinda what the song is about. There’s a line in the song, “You keep me alive constantly.” I truly don’t know where I’d be without Amanda. That’s kind of the thesis of the song. The last line of the song is “You and I will never see the things we miss while you’re tying my shoes,” and it’s about the way we had all these dreams. Our first year of marriage, we’re going to travel, we’re going to do this, and then our whole lives were put on hold just for her to keep me alive. It’s super gnarly to talk about, but these are the things we should be talking about. This is life. What are we talking about if we don’t talk about the things that are important to us? We don’t talk about the way we feel enough.
I think that’s part of the reason I like talking to songwriters. You get to discuss things you ordinarily might not talk about with strangers.
Exactly. We’re in such a microcosm of a situation right now – total strangers, on the phone, you’re on the East Coast, I’m on the West Coast, but I’m talking to you about some of the most sensitive topics in my life. It’s a very, very strange and special situation we’re blessed to be in. These interactions really aren’t small. If we can talk to someone and have that influence us to be better, that’s the kind of movement we’re trying to create here.
I’ve just got one more – if you played Love for the Lack of It for the Tim who wrote You, Fear and Me back in 2014, what would he think of it?
I think he’d be excited. He’d be like, “Oh, so you’ve been listening to Death Cab, stopped listening to Mineral and Sunny Day Real Estate and started listening to Death Cab and the National.” I’d probably roast him a little bit.
That sounds awesome. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want readers to know?
I’m supposed to plug the record, and maybe people’ll listen to it. We made a cool music video for the song “Feel Enough.” It’s probably on YouTube. Be good to people. It’s so easy to find a couple things in common with someone you disagree with. If you can find the patience in yourself to find something in common and take those steps to not dislike the person, we’re all just human and we’re all just trying.
Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison
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