Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
The deeper one gets, the darker it gets. Not so, says the man with the flicker in his half-drawn eyes. The deeper one gets, the more translucence one'll experience, he continues with an even draw and calm collective. It's an unwinnable battle of conflicting opinions - strong on both sides and supported equally well, an honor that time, all of mankind's time has allowed. These young starlets and stars and disengaged, disenfranchised everymen and women who feel those depressive monkey's crushing weight upon their shoulders have options to choose from when those bottoms are finally hit.
There are those who explore their thoughts and their conditions, the way things are, with the kind of dedicated aplomb, digging in cavalierly without taking any safety precautions, who find themselves popping up through the rabbit's holes at the ends of it and going off to write autobiographical books about rebirth and how getting through it, going there is their newly minted, greatest source of personal strength. Then there are those who loiter in the darkness, tunnel into the black abyss more and more, as if chasing a high score or confirmation, who find their eyes adjusting, but the feeling of being lost or bitten by a larger than anything power is always paramount. It takes precedence and actually helps focus their sight, brings clarity to all of the under currents and creepy phantoms that go bump in the daylight and otherwise.
Lou Rogai of Pennsylvanian band Lewis & Clarke is a doctor of these matters of thought, of going deeper, where the pinpricks of light no longer can exist and just trying to maintain a balance and sense of awareness through the nothingness. The nothingness though, is everything, as is the color of black - the combination of all other colors, so we're taught. It's absence of purity, just a conglomeration of spectrum and wheels of motion. Rogai seems to hope for the best, believes in the best and wants for it. Many of the gorgeous songs on last year's Blasts of Holy Birth feel like the forgotten ethers of out-of-control emissions sent from a brain going through a transcendental meditation session. They are words and lightly-smacking phrases of babbling music that are grabbing remainders, carrying ones and attempting to solve the greater mysteries for the greater good, knowing that the road might wind through the outskirts of Hades and might even have to deal with a Cerberus or two.
Whether or not that dog or dogs like it can be tamed is one of the questions that Rogai and the violin playing of Eve Miller are trying to discern in their own special, non-threatening investigative ways. His are the cold days when your toes crack from the terrible chill and your nose feels numbed completely off your face. They are the days of emptiness and longing that covers over you like a huge blanket. He is about exploring the dark, of following its teasing popcorn trail into the thickest woods where the bogeymen emerge and roam. He sings, "I heard it be told these doves come in black/There's coal in their feathers, they follow the tracks/Of steam locomotives bound for the hills/We trade in our white wings and wait for the thrill," on "Black Doves" and sings later on, "It's hard to remember the difference between ending it all and wiping it clean," signifying the shapeliest of paradoxes, the one that gets so many in trouble. It's the inability to tell the difference between the fall and the landing, the plummet and the splat or the plummet and the rolling, violent touching down with a happy ending. It's all covered here in the "book" of Rogai, a series of midnight flashes that we've been warned to cover our eyes when we see them coming, but they're really not all that frightening if you have the right translator.
*The thoughts and remembrances of Lou Rogai:*
Lewis & Clarke can be different things at different times, and we were travelling as a duo. I like to think of Lewis & Clarke as a vessel crafted for many, but operable alone if need be, as the verse remains the same. The songs then may always take new directions and follow any course that different variables offer, in some cases dancing in and out of space that could have been occupied (or not) in other ways. On this particular tour, Eve and I were a well-connected duo, and by the time we reached Rock Island we were wide open, two receptors in the surreal state of travelling and being awake way too long. We traversed through the night, driving from Minneapolis, our last live show of tour some 400 miles and seven hours away. We made it on time, which is rare for me, and shook off the caffeinated road jitters.
Rock Island seemed eerily quiet, but comforting, like home in Pennsylvania. I saw Sean's bicycle chained to the post out front with the baby seat on it. It was a different model seat than the one I use at home with my son, and I noticed the subtle differences in design. Did his child's legs bend at a perfect 90 degree angle with those foot rests, or were the knees up a bit too high? I thought about how my boy would like to see this other, different bicycle seat and meet the other little human being who rides in it. I felt relieved, as if we were entering a place that would feel like home, where people understood appreciation of difference....we knew they were up to something good up there, a few flights above the pizza shop. Perhaps I just needed some sleep.
After introductions and acclimation, I borrowed the nylon string guitar from the wonderful closet of musical instruments while Eve tuned and warmed up. It smelled stronger than my Spanish guitar at home. It felt like a thick mass of wood as opposed to the slim and nimble neck of the electric guitar I had been playing for the past few weeks of shows. It would be a nice change to feel its resonance and for cello and guitar to remain acoustic.
Patrick had his mic placements and the tape was rolling, the mix hitting it hot, with the vocals and cello way up front, guitar in the back seat. Pretty much opposite the way I would normally mix, but that is the joy of such situations. To place limitations on sound options is an interesting paradox that I can equate to cooking. On one hand, entirely liberating, capturing a moment in time, as is. You have a souvenir, a monastic morsel to be held with reverence. On the other hand, it is fun to capture initial magic, then start adding flavors and the cuisine becomes more complex. A matter of taste. How far can one take it with the bare minimum ingredients? How much sound can be made, and in what way? Eve was freestyling pizzicato representations of percussion and interpreting synth and sarod lines that exist on the studio album. I closed my eyes and timing became obsolete. We asked for another try perhaps, with the vocals down a bit. And I must admit, it felt real good while it was happening. Like on the path by the river, the wind in our hair with my son holding on, pedals spinning, the freewheel clicking, eyes squinting half-blinded with eyelash lens-flare....not knowing what is up ahead.