Inside the Songs: Bryan John Appleby’s Musings on Faith
The ‘nets have been buzzing about Seattle’s own Bryan John Appleby ever since his newest album, Fire on the Vine, dropped this year. After finally sitting down to explore this album, I was floored to hear one of the best voices in indie roots music today. And it’s not just the singing and the beautiful, complex instrumental arrangements on the albums; really the meat of what makes Bryan’s music so appetizing is the lyrics. At turns heart-wrenching and transcendent, the album moves between our fragile lives and our endless capacity for faith. It’s not religious per se, but it does tap into old epics and Biblical characters.
Driven by my own curiosity, I asked Bryan John Appleby for more information about how faith works into the lyrics. “To be specific, the album relates to the faith that I knew in my formative years, up until the last few years, and the irreconcilable aspects of that former faith and my current position,” he said. “It should be clear through the lyrics that I’ve made a departure. It is more ambiguous than it may seem though.”
You can hear this ambiguity in a song like The Words of the Revelator. Bryan said he wasn’t specifically referencing John the Revelator, but it’s hard not to hear the connection in the lyrics. “You turn away/I am left alone/Then came the sign/Then came the revelation,” is a great lyric that touches on the ambiguity of signs, while “You will find what you did not seek/A road less narrow/A way not steep,” sure sounds to me like the sigh of relief that comes from moving out from under the weight of religion. Talking further with my friend April at the blog Common Folk Music, Bryan said “In the song ‘Words of the Revelator,’ I created a conversation between an old craggy hermit scholar type and a young man. This relationship is analogous to the inner struggle that a thinking, reasoning person encounters when she or he is confronted by irreconcilable ways of thinking.” [read that Q&A here]
Bryan John Appleby: The Words of the Revelator
“Glory” is another powerful song from Bryan’s new album. At turns it’s a soaring ode to the human emotions of glory and accomplishment, an uplifting song, but there’s a biting edge underneath, a feeling of something lost. As if the glory he’s singing about, the kind of glory you’d get from growing up with epic Biblical stories, has slipped away as he’s passed into a later phase of his life. I asked Bryan about this song in particular: “Glory is the one song that sounds like its about God but really it means something different than that. No, not sex. It’s a salve for me. The album is sad most of the time so the song Glory is a nod to the beauty in our existence. It is subtle and wonderful.” I love the thought of this song as a salve, a healing intended to move us along on a new path.
Bryan John Appleby: Glory
Moving on from religion, I really wanted to ask Bryan more about how his music fits into the Pacific Northwest. It certainly seems so connected to our dark, rainy environment; it’s the kind of album that can only come out of an endless Seattle winter. I asked him what places in the Northwest inspired him. “My bedroom in the Beacon Hill house [note: check out this great video of Appleby composing at home]. My underground apartment after that,” he said. “It was all pretty spectacular when I first got up here. The Puget Sound and the islands. I’ve only been out there a few times but it’s a pretty overwhelming place. Georgetown has always felt good to be down in. Specific spaces, Acme Rubber Stamp Co, used to be in Ballard. The hand painted signage in the I.D…” Bryan’s been putting together some amazing videos recently, featuring different landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. And the venerable Doe Bay Fest just release an exceptional video of him out on the Puget Sound’s Orcas Island, so you can see him performing in the environment that first inspired his music out in the NW.
Bryan John Appleby: The Doe Bay Sessions
BUY THE ALBUM (it’s only out on Bandcamp)
Bryan John Appleby is performing at the 2011 Seattle Folk Festival. You can check out the full lineup at www.seattlefolkfestival.com. Bryan’s performing as part of the Columbia City Celebration, all-day Saturday, December 10, along with Sons of Warren Oates, Youth Rescue Mission, Brother Bear, Kevin Murphy of the Moondoggies, Pharis & Jason Romero, and more!