For Ohio’s Dead Leaves, it’s all about the moments. A little detail here, a nostalgic remembrance there. When these moments are added together it makes for some powerfully sentimental vignettes that hit hard and speak volumes of the human condition.
It’s in these stories – and boy, can Dead Leaves tell you stories – that ‘Vultures’, the follow-up to the group’s 2015 self-titled EP, comes alive.
Of course, melancholy overtones count for nought if they’re just empty platitudes, and songwriter Elliott Blair, fresh from a day at the office and on his first day of living cigarette-free, is keen to talk about what makes Dead Leaves tick.
“The new record has a vulnerability, but it’s about being self-confident too,” he says. “I’d say the lyrics are definitely on the brighter side, as opposed to the EP and split that we released; you’ve got to have the bad experiences to appreciate the good.”
That’s not to say ‘Vultures’’- is brimming with positivity. In fact, some songs – and one in particular – are just devastating. ‘Sunrise’ paints a personal portrait of Alzheimer’s, and is based on Blair’s experiences of watching his grandma live with the condition almost a decade ago.
“I was thinking about it a lot when I was writing the song, and I was reading a lot about Alzheimer’s and the things that happen to the brain during that disease. I wanted to express that. So the song is about trying to remember the person that they love while dealing with Alzheimer’s or losing their sense of self.”
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Named after a chain of assisted living homes in the US, ‘Sunrise’ has the beautifully poetic, but emotionally crushing, chorus of “I was trying to remember your name”, and it’s such a perfectly-realised insight, it is impossible not to get a little emotional at the sentiment. For Blair, the song also has a second meaning: “It kind of works in a broader sense as well I think; like losing that idea of who you once were or might have once been,” he says.
Similarly, the outstanding ‘Hopeless Dweller’ sees Blair recount his experience of moving home with his girlfriend. Again, nostalgia plays a part, and for anyone who’s taken those first steps into adulthood by moving in with a partner, it’s sure to raise a wry smile. Bad heating? Dreadful plastering? Noisy neighbours? Blair’s got it all covered:
“That song [‘Hopeless Dweller’] was spawned off this idea of being a little homesick. So we’d just bought a house, but we had been in the same apartment for 5 years, and then we moved into this new house – and it was a lot nicer than what we’d been living in – but I was homesick a little bit.”
One lyric will strike a chord for anyone living in close proximity to neighbours though – that of having neighbours who make too much noise. Unsurprisingly, it’s based off a real experience. “It would be late at night – 11pm or midnight – and the upstairs neighbour, I think she’d just move in, and it would sound like all the furniture was moving – like she was dragging it across the floor. It was awful and loud.
“We found out later when we met her that she was actually deaf. We felt so bad,” he adds with an rueful laugh.
Yet for the serious nature of the lyrics, there’s a certain element of fun to the music. Like The Hotelier before them, ‘Vultures’ possesses a pop nous that blows away the oppressive gloom.
“I think we went more of the indie route with the previous releases,” considers Blair. “But, when we’d written the first song for the record, we decided to go for more of the pop route for some of the songs – because it kind of fit with what we wanted to do.
“I think we’re pretty open minded as far as writing goes. We’re all music lover in general, so we weren’t closed off to the idea of going down the pop route while still combining the heavy themes.”
It’s a decision that has paid off handsomely, resulting in a lyrically mature – but unbelievably vivid – experience that doesn’t wallow in sentiment. Instead, ‘Vultures’ fizzes with pop abandon on the likes of ‘Talk Me Down’ and ‘Sunset’, marrying the deep themes with strong hooks. The result is one of the best emo/indie-rock albums of the year.
‘Vultures’ by Dead Leaves is released on 25th August on Take This To Heart Records.
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)