Loma – Tickets – Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR – April 13th, 2018


Sonically adventurous Sub Pop-signed trio featuring members of Shearwater and Cross Record


Jess Williamson

Fri, April 13, 2018

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

$12 ADV / $14 DOS

This event is 21 and over

Mostly Standing / Limited Balcony Seats 

Loma’s self-titled debut reveals a band obsessed with songs as sound. There are endless details to discover here, stoked by the album’s urgent and searching lyrical themes (exquisitely delivered by the translucent voice of Emily Cross); and on headphones, the album feels both intimate and expansive, like casting your eyes over a detailed painting on a vast canvas.

It’s also the product of a joint pilgrimage around the globe by fellow touring musicians. Jonathan Meiburg is best known as the singer of Shearwater; Cross and the multi-instrumentalist and engineer Dan Duszynski form Cross Record, originally from Chicago. They met through Ben Goldberg (of Badabing! records, who helped launch the careers of Tune-Yards, Beirut, and Sharon Van Etten), who sent Meiburg Cross Record’s 2015 album Wabi-Sabi, which led to the two bands traveling together across America and Europe throughout Shearwater’s 2016 tour for Jet Plane and Oxbow, often crammed into the same van. The tour was Cross Record’s first, but Meiburg was shocked by their maturity and confidence. “I couldn’t believe all that sound was coming out of two people,” he says. “They had their own world, their own rules, and they slayed every night. They were mesmerizing.”

While in the van or at soundchecks, they shared their musical knowledge and love of nature and animals. “I think Jonathan is one of the most special people we’ve ever met,” says Cross. “It’s hard not to like him. He has such a curious mind.” And after an especially memorable show in Belgium, Meiburg approached Cross and Duszynski about working together. “I fell in love with their music,” he admits, “and I wanted to know how they did it.”

They convened for two weeks in the house outside Austin where Cross Record recorded Wabi-Sabi to see what would happen, recording “Joy”, the gorgeously ambivalent “I Don’t Want Children”, and the beginnings of five more songs. An album seemed surprisingly imminent. “There was something special about the combination of the three of us,” Meiburg says, “and very different from either of our bands. But I think we were afraid to say so out loud, for fear of jinxing it.”

For the next few months, they convened for two weeks at a time, shaping new songs and casting away others. It was a strangely charged time, not least because when the album began, Cross and Duszynski were a married couple, but their relationship came to an end during the sessions—an atmosphere Meiburg found challenging but strangely inspiring. “There was no drama where I was concerned,” he recalls, “and I didn’t really know what was happening; but there was an unspoken feeling of urgency, and a sense that a big change was coming for all of us, and I think we all tried to channel that into the work.” The house was out in the country, off a dirt road, surrounded by the sounds of birds and wind; and it seemed like a world of its own—full of joy, fear, and heartbreak.

The place itself became the album’s muse. “I got sort of obsessed with capturing every sound inside and outside the house,” recalls Meiburg. (“Remember the whippoorwills?” asks Cross; Meiburg doesn’t know offhand if they made it into the album or not). From the cicadas and frogs of “Relay Runner” to the whooshes of wind and leaves on “White Glass” and “Black Willow”, Loma often sounds as if you’re not so much listening to it as living inside it. “The ‘dog solo’ on ‘Sun Dogs’ is one of my favorite moments,” Meiburg says; “and I remember Emily making a drum out of the cast-iron pot we cooked breakfast in. There were no rules; nobody was the designated drummer, or the bass player, or the guitarist. This freedom from their usual roles gave the trio a fresh rulebook to invent from. “Jonathan’s melodies were so different from the ones I’d choose,” says Cross. “He has a rich knowledge of songwriting. My approach is more unrefined and experimental, and it created a strong balance.”

Meiburg had never written for someone else before. “What a relief!” he laughs. “I was scared at first, but I tried to project myself into things I imagined Emily might say, or sing, or think—and in the end we landed on a voice that’s not quite her—but it’s not me either.” Cross, meanwhile, found a freedom in singing someone else’s words. “Usually vocals are scary for me,” she says, “but since I didn’t feel like I had to present entirely as myself, I felt open to doing things I wouldn’t normally do.” The album became a place where buried thoughts and energies found expression; Cross wrung catharsis from Meiburg’s lyrics and melodies while Duszynski buried himself in the sonic details of engineering and mixing (and conjured up some catharsis of his own in the hammering drums of “Dark Oscillations”).

The process also helped Cross locate a voice she’d never found before. While tracking “I Don’t Want Children,” her vocals were accidentally recorded at the wrong speed, and when played back, they were pitched slightly lower and slower than normal, yielding a voice that was recognizably hers, but deeper and more coarse-grained—a sound she decided to use for the rest of the album.

This sense of discovery extends to the listener; at times, Loma almost seems to be listening to you. But it doesn’t sound small, or hushed; “Dark Oscillations” and “Jornada” have a gritty, futuristic grandeur, and there’s also the loping groove of “Relay Runner”, the galloping euphoria of “Joy”, and the resolutely ambiguous choir of “Black Willow.” “The album is a journey,” muses Meiburg, “but we didn’t know where we were going until we arrived.” The journey’s end came with a surprising lesson. “It’s about having to let some precious things go,” Meiburg says, “so that new ones can take their place.”
Jess Williamson
Jess Williamson
In 2016, after living in Austin on and off for a decade, she left her home state of Texas for California. Deeply inspired by the move to Los Angeles and the bliss of new love, she rented a back house from an actor friend who was away on a movie and started writing the songs that eventually became Cosmic Wink. As she wrote, her beloved dog Frankie began going gray with old age.

All three of these seemingly dissimilar streams intersected to give Cosmic Wink a unified sound and feel. The openness of LA — and confronting the downbeat nature of her older songs while performing to hushed European crowds — challenged her supposition that “heartache, depression, and sadness” were “the only way to make interesting music,” as she puts it.

“You’re asking a lot if you expect an audience to be completely silent during your set and listen to every word. I started thinking about performing as something that could be fun, and having a good time playing with a band live, making songs that could be relatable to all kinds of people. I want my mom and her friends to like this album as much as someone with super obscure taste — and I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.”

Meanwhile, watching Frankie fade into old age gave her a new appreciation of the passage of time — and inspired the album’s opening song, “I See the White.” “I noticed the graying of the fur around her eyes,” Williamson says, “and I realized that she was a physical manifestation of the passing of time, and it was heartbreaking. It’s so easy to act like we have all the time in the world, to feel immortal or invincible.”

It’s that last realization that gives Cosmic Wink its paradoxically joyful center — the sense that time is slipping out of our grasp not only broke her heart, but also gave her a new sense of gratitude for the possibility inherent in the time she was afforded, and an attendant love for life and the people around her.

Throughout the album’s nine songs, Williamson’s love spills from her, readily, in poetic exhalations. “This love predates my name and my face and my age,” she sings in “Awakening, Baby.” “I can feel your heart / Or is it mine / Or is it ours?” She and her partner weave together in a kind of cosmic enmeshment — now they’re one person, now they’re two again — but she always sounds like an individual in possession of herself.

“When I left Austin and went to LA, I started to take my process more seriously,” she says. “I took my art more seriously. I didn’t have a normal job or a lot of friends when I first got to LA, so I just spent all day alone in that house writing. I got really into Carl Jung and working with my dreams. The title of the record is a reference to the Jungian concept of synchronicity and learning to live in a more magical way, looking for signs — which is maybe silly to some people, but it was working for me. And in a way, the record itself became a validation of the risks I was taking.”

Which isn’t to say that it came easy. Frankie died exactly one month before recording was set to begin. Williamson had decamped to Lockhart, TX, to write and rehearse with her band. Unable to work, she pasted a series of portraits on her wall — people she “wanted to think of as guardian angels,” as she puts it. Chan Marshall, Nina Simone, Townes Van Zandt, Patti Smith, and Leonard Cohen all served as icons. So did Frankie. And so did RF Shannon’s Shane Renfro — her bandmate of four years and the partner with whom she’d found herself so intertwined.

Her relationship with Renfro prompted a series of questions that she explores throughout Cosmic Wink, even as she marvels at the joy that love has brought her: “How much time do I have with this person? What’s going to happen after we die? Where will we go? Will you be there with me?”

She invited Renfro to collaborate on Cosmic Wink with her, as the producer. “It was the first time I was really willing to take a back seat to that process,” she says. “Shane and I had already been working together for so many years, and I wanted this album to be a marriage of our strengths.” Along with co-producer Dan Duszynski, Renfro slowly peels back Williamson’s songs, getting at their essence with a tender grace.

The music is appealingly swampy, occasionally static in ways that recalls Amen Dunes and the spectral spin of Alice Coltrane, until Williamson’s voice bursts through the circle in an ecstatic push. The songs unfold slowly, but her intimate delivery and the minute explorations of her band draw you into the details. She asks her subject to suspend their fixation on the passage of time in “Forever,” and she’s asking us to do so, too — come and get lost and see what you can see.

Cosmic Wink was recorded in Dripping Springs, TX, at Duszynski’s property, where the band lived, worked, and cooked meals together for a week, with occasional breaks for wildflower gathering and loops through the cedar-spotted woods. Working from an intuitive feeling that it would take her seven years to establish herself musically, Williamson released her first two albums on her own Brutal Honest label, and intended to do the same with Cosmic Wink before signing to Mexican Summer.

Cosmic Wink is out nearly seven years to the day after playing her first solo show — another quiet synchronicity. “I don’t feel like I’ve made it,” she says. “I feel like I’ve opened the door and walked through it.” On the other side? Everything the light chooses to illuminate.