January 30, 2018 | doors at 8:00pm
Sharing is Caring
The Bowery presents:
Peter Oren
Jens Lekman
The new album is called Life Will See You Now. It will be out February 17th, 2017.

These are the songs on it: To Know Your Mission / Evening Prayer / Hotwire The Ferris Wheel / What's That Perfume That You Wear? / Our First Fight / Wedding in Finistere / How We Met, The Long Version / How Can I Tell Him / Postcard #17 / Dandelion Seed

The title came last second before deadline. I was panicking about that and I had a conversation about it with my girlfriend. She said "just describe to me what the album is about" and I said "well, it's about these people and it's like they're sitting in a waiting room waiting for life to start and then the nurse comes out and says "life will see you now"." Then we looked at each other and smiled and that was that.

The artwork was made by artist Klara Wiksten who made my favourite graphic novel of 2016 called Hjärnan Darrar (The Brain Trembles). A collection of stories about people who can't seem to adjust to the rules and frames of society. Her characters are humans who are very human, in all their ugliness and beauty. She ended up making an individual portrait for each song that I put on the back of the record, I guess you have to buy the physical record to see those (so please do!). It feels very different from how the album sounds and I love that. I love the contrast, to the music and to my previous more designed covers.

I'll tell you what I've been up to since my last album. That album, I Know What Love Isn't came out sept 2012. I went on tour and it was tough because that album was delicate and sad and understandably not as popular as Night Falls Over Kortedala. So going on tour and playing that album live was tough. A lot of shows were half-full and some nights it just felt like everyone was waiting to hear the old songs. I thought it didn't affect me much but I became sick over and over on those tours. And it continued when I came home, just feeling sick and worrying about being sick. Hypochondria and anxiety. But I started writing and felt inspired at first. I decided to not write about myself anymore, I was sick of Jens Lekman, I wanted to write myself out my songs. Since I had written so much about female characters before I invented a rule that I could only write about male characters to see what would happen. I started writing about masculinity, about a friend who did steroids when I grew up, about the feelings that bubbled up after being threatened with violence by some teenage boys, about the inability to express emotions and being vulnerable around other men. It got dark, it filled me with shame, it had no direction and there was no light in the end of that particular tunnel. I abandoned that idea for a while. Gave it a rest.

In 2014 I sent what I felt was an almost finished record to my label and some friends and was devastated when no one really believed in it. You see, I often feel like my music is all I have, when things go well for my music everything's great. When things go less well I am nothing. So that fall I just went around and felt worthless. I at least managed to put out a mixtape with three new songs called The WWJD Mixtape. "What's That Perfume" was on that mix. By the end of the year I knew I had to make some drastic choices to keep going.

Late 2014 I got the idea for Postcards -- to write, record and release a song for every week of 2015. It was like signing a contract with the world to keep me accountable to keep writing. I liked the idea because I had been longing to write songs without the pressure that comes when you make a record, that it should sell and be the best you've ever done and all that. I wanted to write about whatever was on my mind at the time, whatever was in the news, whatever happened on my way to work, whatever was important that week that could be completely insignificant the week after. The first weeks it freaked me out, I sat for days trying to make the songs as good as possible. But I got into the groove of it and a few months in I was writing the songs in my head as I was biking to work. I'll admit a bunch of the songs from Postcards are not more than decent, there's a lot of songs about walking for example. I like walking, but I think one song about walking is really enough, haha! But then there were other songs that came out brilliant and out of nowhere, that felt like songs I wouldn't have been able to write if it wasn't for the freedom that Postcards allowed me. And two songs (Postcard #17 and How We Met, The Long Version) ended up on the album.

Because I was making Postcards I caught the attention of Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and subsequently The Gothenburg Biennial who offered me to do a project with them. I had at that time had the idea to write myself out of my songs for quite a while but felt like maybe that wasn't the right way to go for the album. My trustable friends who heard the songs pointed out how when I removed myself from the songs it was much harder to feel emotionally invested in them. They had a good point. Still, the idea to remove myself from my songs came also from a longing to tell other people's stories, to step into someone else's shoes. Something that had been in my mind since I started releasing music and people had started sending me very personal stories from their lives. I came up with the project Ghostwriting where I collected stories from people, interviewed them in person and then turned them into songs. At the end of 2015 I performed these songs at one show in Cincinnati and one show in Gothenburg.

Postcards and Ghostwriting helped me a lot. They worked like input and output. Postcards offering inspiration and Ghostwriting offering a break from myself. By the end of 2015 I started putting together a plan to finish a new album. I got in touch with producer Ewan Pearson who I had worked with when I was singing on Tracey Thorn's album, I knew he had a good knowledge of electronic instruments and rhythms, two things I was working with on this album. I also liked him as a person and felt some sort of trust, which was important because I've tried working with producers before and it's never worked out, mainly because I want control. This is the first album where I let go of control. I handed him the songs and made him the boss. We recorded the album mostly in Berlin and London.

I was just in Paris doing press for this album. A couple of journalists thought the album was -- get this -- too happy! I couldn't believe my ears when I heard that but after talking to some other journalists it struck me that musically it is quite a colourful and happy album. Even the saddest stories are accompanied with disco beats, calypso samples and gospel singers. In the duet Hotwire The Ferris Wheel, Tracey Thorn sings to me "if you're gonna write a song about this, then please don't make it a sad song" which was something a friend once said to me. I didn't think much about it when I wrote it but there is a feeling on this album as if I was aware that every time I write a song, I have the power to decide it it's going to be a happy memory or a sad memory. If there is a way out or not.

I think the record could've been called Either / Or if it wasn't for the fact that Elliot Smith had already borrowed that title from the danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard's book. Because it's really an album about that transition from what Kierkegaard called the aesthetic to the ethical. It's an existentialist record, about seeing the consequences of your choices. From being a dandelion seed, blaming the wind for where it carries you, to saying the name of your fear three times in front of the mirror. Maybe this is an album about taking responsibility. How sexy isn't that?

I love growing old with my listeners because hopefully that means I can be your parallel twin that you can check in with to catch a glimpse of yourself and the path you've taken. I'm 35 now. I don't want to be any other age really. Or maybe sometimes I do. Sometimes I wish I was older, sometimes I wish I was through with this transitional phase. Being in your thirties is like your teenage years, but without all the cool role models. When you were a teenager you had the Ramones. When you're in your thirties you have the characters from Seinfeld. But anyway, as I said, I'm 35 now. So I should be writing about that.

Here's what I ended up writing about: I wrote about being close to someone who's seriously ill but not knowing exactly how close you are. About fear of conflict and the first big fight in a relationship. About a wedding I once played where I had to do some last minute counseling. About choosing who you want to be with. About a perfume that's been haunting me for years and the memories attached to this perfume. About the sadness of not being able to express love or being vulnerable with another man. About a mormon missionary I once met. About figuring out why we're here on earth. About the bridges we cross and how they burn behind us.

And that's all I can say about this right now. I'm still in the process of trying to figure out what it is I've done. If you could help me with that I'd be very grateful. These songs are yours now, take good care of them.
Peter Oren
Indiana-born, everywhere-based singer-songwriter Peter Oren possesses a remarkable singing voice, low and deep and richly textured: as solid as a glacier, as big as a mountain. Similar in its baritone gravel to Bill Callahan, a hero of his, it rumbles in your conscience, a righteous sound that marks him as an artist for our tumultuous times, when sanity seems absent from popular discussions. His voice is ideally suited to confront a topic as large and as ominous as the Anthropocene Age.

That term is relatively new, reportedly coined in the 1960s but popularized only in the new century to designate a new epoch in the earth’s history, when man has exerted a permanent—and, many would argue, an incredibly deleterious—change in the environment. Sea levels are rising, plants and animals facing mass extinctions; it may be humanity’s final epoch, which makes it a massive and daunting subject for a lone singer-songwriter to address, let alone a young musician making his second full-length record. But Oren has both the singing voice and the songwriting voice to put it all into perspective. The songs on Anthropocene, his first album for Western Vinyl, are direct and poetic, outraged and measured, taking in the entire fucked-up world from his fixed point of view.

Art and activism are inseparable on these ten songs, each bolstering the other. “There’s no separating art from reality,” says Oren. “The reality is that our politics are guided by our emotions, and music has the capacity to demonstrate those emotions, at least on an individual level. And if you can talk to someone on an individual level, you might be able to have a more useful conversation than if you’re talking to a roomful of people.” Oren hails from Columbus, Indiana, a city famed for its midcentury modern architecture (and as the hometown of our current vice president). Yet, as he notes on the sober “Falling Water,” the town is “named for a murderer and a misnomer”—not a brave explorer but a greedy exploiter. “What do you do when you’re from a place that’s named after a genocidal figure?” he asks, not quite rhetorically. “It’s a difficult thing to come to terms with: the long history of segregation that is by a long stretch not over.”

He began putting his thoughts down in poetry while a high school student, later picking up a guitar and setting his verses to music. “It was a form of therapy, a way to process whatever a teenager’s trying to figure out. And there’s a lot to figure out with politics. I’ve always had a tendency to be critical of what’s going on, and when I got pulled into the Occupy movement, I had my ideas about the world questioned.” As soon as he could, he left Columbus to travel the world: drifting along American highways in his trusty pick-up truck, folk and hip-hop albums his only company on the road. Along the way he kept his eyes and ears open for new experiences, new inspirations, new songs to excavate out of the earth like fossils. “I always go ‘cause I ain’t learned to stay,” he sings on “Burden of Proof,” a song full of
vivid highway imagery.

“I was trying to capture what it’s like traveling around the country, sleeping at rest stops, and harboring disdain for the both the evangelical tendencies of the Bible Belt and the commodification embedded in pop country music. Songs feel like a process of discovery more than creation. Most of the time I’m just trying to understand how I feel, trying to figure out if there’s some nuance or shape that I can give a feel. I feel best about the world when I’m writing a song or when I’m playing a song and I can tell people are really listening to it.”

After releasing his full-length debut in 2016, the eloquently spare Living By the Light, full of road songs and wanderers’ laments, he began playing more live shows, just him and his guitar on an empty stage. The set-up was not simply financially expedient but musically effective, allowing him to address listeners more directly, whether he’s singing to a scattering of curious onlookers or a full house of fans. Early encouragement came by way of Joe Pug, another singer-songwriter unafraid to confront big issues in his rootsy songs. “I was on a bill with him in Bloomington, Indiana, and he invited me to open another date for him in Chicago. His support was amazing. He was the first real professional musician I ever worked with.”

He would not be the last. Soon Oren attracted the attention of Ken Coomer, the drummer for Wilco and a producer in Nashville. Together, the duo assembled a backing band featuring some of the city’s finest session musicians, including keyboard player Michael Webb (John Fogerty), singer Maureen Murphy (Zac Brown Band), and guitarists Sam Wilson (Sons of Bill) and Laur Joamets (Sturgill Simpson). On Anthropocene they provide stately backing for Oren’s songs, with drips of pedal steel and quivers of strings subtly reinforcing his observations about the state of the world. “Throw Down” bristles with energy and resolve, penned for “the people on the far, far left,” Oren says, “the anarchists and the rioters. There’s not often a voice that’s trying to understand those people or defend those positions.”

Anthropocene might be merely didactic and oppressive—a giant bummer of an album—if those rallying cries weren’t tempered with something like hope, particularly on the sunny “New Gardens.” He penned the tune as a teenager, but as an adult felt the message still resonated. “Save the fences for the rabbits,” he sings on the earworm chorus. “If you need a tool, you can have it.” The song celebrates labor, individual and collective, as the most effective tool for last change, and that vision of communal responsibility that makes the album such a rousing call to arms. “Music is a sympathetic process, where people who feel the same can experience it together. I don’t know if my songs would change somebody’s mind, but they might help people feel a little bit less alone in their opinions and might encourage them to get involved in some way. Nobody’s going to riot when the album hits the street, but maybe it can in some small way help turn the tables.”