The day has come (or actually tomorrow, March 3rd) and we have the release of the debut album from “The Cloud Hymn”. I have been waiting for this album for a while now ever since I started listening to a few demos last year and was so impressed, that I had to post then…on just the demos! Well, here we are and a full album is hitting the streets tomorrow and John Nielson and crew have not disappointed.
“A Seed Buried In The Ground” – is a gorgeous lo-fi journey. You get an almost entirely acoustic album, with just the right amount of accent from piano, harmonies and what could only be called, the aura of the album. This aura is one that walks the line of melancholy, darkness and hope, all while you sit there transfixed. I find that this is the kind of album that listens just as well on play 149 as on play 3. One look at my Last.fm stats and you know I can’t put the album down.
The demos I originally posted on are all on the final album release and are left almost untouched – they are still incredibly stunning – the kind of songs that curl you up in a ball or move you to that comforting place we all have. While much of the album was created out of unfortunate circumstances according to Nielson, the beauty created and the music that emerges from your speakers is refreshing, honest, spiritual and could be your “touchstone” in finding where you are and then where you need to be.
The Cloud Hymn’s “line up” hasn’t changed and is still the work of its creator – John Nielson. John gets integral assistance from two of his biggest proponents and great artists themselves – the astounding Tani Alyssa (her MySpace) and another Slowcoustic Favourite Paul Brandt (Cranes & Crows). While the album is a top album of the year so far, with holding power, let’s hear from John and some questions on him, his music and what is happening in the local music scene around Wisconsin.
You recently had a name change to become The Cloud Hymn, was it for specific reasons and who IS The Cloud Hymn?
I wanted to use the word hymn because the songs have a spiritual element to them and because hymn just reminded me of something that was genuine and thoughtful, in addition to being spiritual. Most the songs revolve around my relationship with God. I can’t really seem to write songs about anything else, nor is there a more meaningful or worthy subject in my opinion. I suppose I put cloud at the start of the name because most of the songs were written during times of struggle and that seemed to fit the theme.
The record and music project didn’t have a name until after we recorded it. Paul and Kyle both thought putting a name on it would be a good idea and I eventually came around to that. It’s nice to have it be its own thing and not have it be stringently tied to me as a person. The Cloud Hymn is a music project that revolves around my songs, but Tani and Paul have come to play an enormous role in the whole thing. I guess the nice about having a “band name” is that it can be whatever it needs to be.
The album name “A Seed Buried In The Ground” – is there a story behind it?
The album title comes from John 12:24. Jesus is using a parable to explain his death and explains that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will never grow and multiply. Most of these songs were written during a somewhat dark time of my life, but in retrospect I think I realized I had to go through those things to make it to where I am now.
Who was integral to getting your debut album “A Seed Buried In The Ground” created?
I’m glad you asked this question because I owe an enormous debt to everyone involved. I really had very little to do with making this album happen. I met Paul through a friend (the two of them make up Wake Up Poland, It’s Nine O’Clock). Paul heard some demos I had up on MySpace and told Eric about the songs. Eric then talked to me and said we should record them and that he would even do it for free. The whole thing was recorded at Eric’s home studio in Eau Claire in a weekend. So we really owe Eric an enormous debt and he’s an awesome guy to work with, in addition to having an incredible recording setup. Kyle is good friends with Eric, Paul, and everyone on Amble Down and he heard the songs and offered to release it.
From that point Kyle really took over, which was such a blessing. Eric mixed the record, Zach Hanson mastered it, and Brian Moen did the artwork. Kyle arranged all that and took care of all the details (and there are a lot more details than I imagined) and Kyle continues to take of pretty much everything promotion and production wise. In the end, we wound up with a really great sounding record with amazing album art, so much more than I had ever dreamed. I never even really expected these songs to be recorded and I would have been totally lost had I attempted to do what Kyle, Eric, Paul, and all those guys have been able to do. I owe all those guys a huge debt because essentially from stage one they just took over and did everything out of their own love of music.
Your album sounds very intimate, personal – stories from one man. Do you see yourself ever expanding TCH to a band or is it the singer-songwriter path for you?
I think it has really already become much more of a band. I don’t play solo anymore and Tani and Paul do a lot more live than on the record. Both of them play banjo, both play piano, and both sing, depending on the song. Paul also plays lap steel guitar. All that has added a lot to the sound, which we all are really pleased with. So in that respect it really has developed into a band. Tani and Paul do their own thing and write their own parts. However, I still write all the songs and kind of maintain some level of control. I guess it’s a band where I am the musical dictator, but we tend to agree on most everything. Paul and Tani both have their own songwriting projects (which are both incredible) and so that leaves The Cloud Hymn to be my thing that I am blessed to have them be a major part of. We hope to record again this coming summer and I think the next record will be much more in the vein of our live setup right now. I like things very minimal and sparse so hopefully we can find a balance where things are more textured and interesting while still retaining that simplicity.
Your Influences, name 3 bands or artists that you feel helped you define or become The Cloud Hymn.
1) All things Justin Vernon: Bon Iver, DeYarmond Edison, solo records. I could never say enough about how all that music has shaped me, musically and otherwise.
2) A band called Weatherbox always spurs me to write songs. Their album “American Art” has been in heavy rotation for the better part of the last year.
3) Paul and Tani both write great songs. They both have been writing songs and playing music a lot longer than I have and are great songwriters.
You are part of the incredible Wisconsin Indie/folk scene, with soo much great talent around – is it like a family?
Yea, in Eau Claire there is certainly a really tight knit group of people who play music and support each other. I am a pretty recent addition to that group and am lucky to have been invited into it. I met Paul (Brandt) through a friend and he asked me to play some shows with his band Cranes & Crows and that was really the start for me.
The Eau Claire scene whole scene is really interwoven. Paul plays in Merdiene which is almost the exact same lineup as Cranes & Crows, just with roles switched around. Eric Rykal, who recorded our album, is in Meridene and his project, The Gentle Guest, includes some folks in Meridene and Laarks. Laarks drummer Brian Moen did our artwork and played in DeYarmond Edison, Justin Vernon’s old band, for a while. Eric lives with Mike Noyce who now plays guitar in Bon Iver. Mike Noyce used to front a band called Fine which Paul and members of Meridene played in. Zach Hanson mastered our record and he plays bass in Laarks and drums in The Gentle Guest. Kyle Frenette, who runs Amble Down, is dear friends with everyone and manages Bon Iver. Kyle has always had a vision for Amble Down as being this medium for a bunch of musician friends to put out records. There’s infinitely more to be said, but I’m definitely not very qualified to explain it anyways. In any event, everyone is really supportive and I think great music made by great people inspires others to do the same. Or maybe there is just something in the water.
Any tours or promotion for the new album? Any stops in Calgary, Alberta, Canada – There is a correct answer to this one ;-)?
We really want to put together a tour this summer. It will most likely be a somewhat short one around the midwest. We all have jobs and school and whatnot, but we all really want to do something this summer. I would love to come to Canada but I don’t know if that is in the cards. I’m starting to realize how many sweet bands are from Canada, as long as we’re on the subject.
Other than your own, what album are you most looking forward to seeing released?
The Daredevil Christopher Wright is releasing their album “In Deference to a Broken Back” in May. A lot of people in Eau Claire (and elsewhere) have been waiting a really long time for that record to come out and when it does it is going to be incredible. A very close second would be the Laarks record which I am going to pick up in about four days. That is going to be insanely awesome also.
There you have it, a great interview by a great artist – Thank You again to John for having his music and thoughts on Slowcoustic! The new album once again is called “A Seed Buried In The Ground” and is available at Amble Down Records (highly recommended label with huge talent – check it out).