Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Illustratiom based on a photograph by John Darr, Recording engineered by Chris Michaels at Good Dannys in Austin, Texas
One of the lasting impressions I've kept with me from the week spent in Austin, during the latest running of the South By Southwest music festival/cluster-fuck was of the cool water that seemed to be slipping through the veins of Shearwater lead singer Jonathan Meiburg. It's not to say that he's a cool customer, for it's a bit of the opposite. He's wound tightly. He's nervous and hesitant in many ways. He's curious and he's a studious sort. He's reluctant in his enthusiasm, most of the time - reserved with his emotions. We crossed paths often, as Good Danny's - where we were holed up for the entirely of the week - was the band's rendezvous point both pre and post all of their official and unofficial performances. For both kinds of sightings, the energy levels were mostly decimated, but they were always soldiering on, on to that next load-in and moment of diminishing returns.
Meiburg kept himself mostly in black, from top to bottom, the entire week, joking that it was the color of his soul so it only made sense to wear it on the outside as well. It was a quip, but it was an indication of where his jumping off point was - that darkness that no more belongs to a body than it is foreign to a body. We listen to it and have conversations with it - even if they're mostly muted and halting. One evening, later in the week, he could be found on the front porch, sitting on the old church pew stationed there, for a few hours, with only the white-blue glow of his laptop screen reflecting off his glasses. All of the insanity was happening around him and there he was, lost in his own conversations - whatever they may have been. They could have been with a lover off in the distance, or they could have been those of solitary form, coming from someone thrilled to be by himself for a few precious hours.
It's those moments that Meiburg tends to bring us to the most, in Shearwater songs - those places that demand that we just sit down and shut up. We're supposed to just listen to the house breathe, to us breathe within the spine, the elbows and the eaves of a breathing house. We should hear the water drip like an embarrassing afterthought in the sink, just as the blood drips unexpectedly from our nose - both proof that things are broken and still alive at the same time.
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