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A few years back Salem Wolves provided a nice history lesson with “More Weight!”, relaying the tale of the embattled Massachusetts city’s favorite cantankerous scoundrel of its Witch Trial era, Giles Corey. It fit in line with a lot of the Wolves’ lyrical narratives, tales of spells and worship and misdeeds of historical significance, pulled from the textbooks and tracts buried deep within the North Shore band’s own backyard.
With the Wolves still tearing it up across stages from Providence to Portsmouth, guitarist, vocalist and lyricist Gray Bouchard has pulled the trigger today on a more personal solo album, Dedication Songs. Where the Wolves’ usually aligned their tales with the struggles of others, this LP finds Bouchard retreating inward and shining the spotlight on his own growth and evolution. It carries a vastly different sonic tone from the Wolves’ gritty garage rock, a looser album on the surface but one that dips a bit deeper into an eclectic batch of sounds, a cocktail of polished folk-punk, roots, and stadium rock where Jesse Malin, The Replacements, and Japandroids gather at the bar down the street to exchange war stories after the gig.
Bouchard’s been crafting Dedication Songs for more than five years, so instead of us using our long-broken decoder ring to decipher exactly where he’s coming from on all this, we tossed him a bunch of questions over email to determine in what kind of shape, exactly, birthing this beast of a record has left him. Fire up a few of our selected Dedication Songs tracks below via Bandcamp, or press play and walk away (but not beyond earshot) via the entire LP courtesy of Soundcloud.
Michael Marotta: So we’ve been getting a healthy stream of Salem Wolves material lately, and now this solo record. Where’d these songs come from, internally?
Gray Bouchard: These songs came from a strange, dark place I was in a little over five years ago. I’d just moved back home to Massachusetts from the midwest after my life burned down. The circumstances of my coming back had me feeling cut off, isolated and yet desperate to communicate and connect. That’s where all my songs come from in some ways, the need to communicate who I am in a way that my broken mouth doesn’t allow. And that need in me to be heard isn’t soft and bashful — it’s hungry, loud and wild. These are desperate songs about desperate people (chiefly me at the time) trying desperately to connect across a distance.
How did they evolve into something else outside the world of Salem Wolves?
I never consciously approached the songwriting thinking, “This has to be different than Salem Wolves.” The project actually started before Salem Wolves formed and took a break while Salem Wolves was coming together. Beyond the aesthetic differences, Salem Wolves, I approach as a band, while this is coming off the dome with less in the middle. Salem Wolves has collaborative songwriting and arrangement. With Dedication Songs, it’s just the inside of my head.
The evolution of these songs has a lot to do with my collaborators, Erik Von Geldern and Don Schweihofer. They took the bare bones arrangements really turned them into what you hear on the album. Along the way, we tried to just follow aesthetic threads and let the song tell us what it wanted to be. We never went in saying “This song has to have big loud guitars” (though there is plenty of that). We just played around and listened for what seemed to fit. It took time and we really sweated the details. That’s probably why it’s so eclectic. And why it took five damn years.
That said, a few songs have distinct inspirations and I hate not copping to that: “Small Houses” is my message to all the folkie latecomers who are trying to rewrite their personal histories to pretend they weren’t in bands called “The Ashes of Our Dying Autumn” in high school (I see you, you cowboy hat wearing sons of bitches). “When I Was Yours” is my attempt to write a song as plaintive and mysterious as GBV’s “Things I Will Keep” (I failed in my mission, but the song turned out the most emotionally devastating for me and I’m not sure I’ll ever write something as honest and true again). “I Don’t Want You To Find Me” was inspired by the real life story of James Dallas Egbert III, whose life was sensationalized in the weird, hysterical made-for-TV movie Mazes and Monsters, featuring Tom Hanks in a very early role.
There’s a real eclectic mix of sounds here, they’re oddly unified in some ways but it almost sounds like songs from different eras. What’s the glue holding the LP together?
In terms of what unifies it all, I think it’s a mix of melody, honesty and directness. For a record that is much more produced than anything I’ve done with Salem Wolves, it’s actually some of the most confessional and autobiographical songs I’ve written — in my typical expressionistic way. These songs are a technicolor dream walk through my head and my heart.
Musically, what I love most about this record is that I get to indulge my love of pop. I’m an “all hooks, no filler” fella, and pop music has always been the most effective hook delivery system, but typically I find myself in the company of staunch rockists. Rock and roll is the damn coolest in a juvenile delinquent, “Play it so loud the headmaster’s toupee is blown off” kinda way, and it’s that filth and fury I get down on in Salem Wolves several times a week. That said, there’s nothing more tiresome than an aging white cis-dude clinging to the sinking ship of rock and roll like literally every single original member of the Ramones isn’t dead. It gets hacky and exclusionary real quick when rock becomes a uniform. So with this, I just wanted to follow musical and genre threads related to the songs I love. The glue of this record is the desire to deliver a catchy melody in a way that feels emotionally direct, without having to look over nervously at a Marshall amplifier for approval.
What was the best part about doing a solo record? Also what was the worst part about doing a solo record?
The best and worst part of doing a solo record is that it allows your imagination to run wild. I got to play with sounds and feels that I don’t usually get to dip into. You’re not beholden to anyone but yourself and your collaborators. This is the best and worst part of the solo thing, since you run the risk of just creating an echo chamber for yourself. On the flip side, you drain everything inspiring and surprising out of a song by focus-testing it to death in a live setting. I’ve always felt more like a song and dance man than a true “artist,” so writing and recording this record in a total vacuum was new for me and helped me flex different muscles.