Matthew Perryman Jones on "The Waking Hours"
Genius Loci: the prevailing character or atmosphere of a place.
by Matthew Perryman Jones
When considering writing for a new record, I knew I didn’t want to just sit in a writers room here in Nashville and hope the inspiration would float through the gray walls, I wanted to see how the “spirit of place” would inform the creative process. What compartments would a new environment open up in me? So I decided I would hit the road and see if the muse would be up for an adventure. I wanted to see where the “spirit” would lead and not plan too much, as far as where I would go.
I started out in Carbondale, IL at one of my favorite spots to get away and get my mind set on this project. It’s a house in a quiet, wooded area that holds a special place for me. I didn’t know where I would go next but as I was packing my car to leave Carbondale, I got a text from someone suggesting a place in Sophia, NC where he had been for an artist retreat. Next thing I was head to Sophia, NC to write in a cabin at a commune for artists.
I spent three days there writing, but not getting much finished. At one point, out of sheer frustration, I wrote a note to myself—“don’t worry if it’s any good, just tell the truth”. As I was leaving and thanking my host I expressed my disappointment in not leaving with a song. He quoted something from Madame L’Engle that my experience there was just “feeding the lake” of my little creative adventure. That was my take away from Sophia.
A few weeks later I had a fortuitous conversation with a photographer in Nashville who casually asked in our conversation if I was familiar with the expression “Genius Loci”. I told her, kind of dumbfounded, that that was the concept for my writing project. She then told me that I had to go to Tehuacana, TX. She had done some photo shoots in an abandoned missionary college out there and said it was a special place. So off I went to Tehuacana where I set up in a dilapidated auditorium with an occasional owl flying across the room.
I kept collecting song bits and pieces. I felt like I was in a David Lynch film while I was there. It’s a very small ghost town in the middle of nowhere Texas, with some very interesting characters who live there. I met a woman named Rosi who is a sister in law of Mick Jagger. Rosi told me all about the two walking to Indian tribe that was slaughtered there by another tribe who is just coming through. She told me that Tehuacana is an energy vortex and explained the lay lines and stone structures that indicate an energy vortex. She also read my past lives. Tehuacana was not short on character.
My last writing destination was to Santa Fe, New Mexico. This is where I intended to wrap up a lot of my writing. I rented a studio casita in the middle of town for two weeks. I set up a small writing studio and worked at ideas all day and took long walks in between. Santa Fe definitely has that energy about it that feels like the veil between heaven and earth is much thinner. However, I still went home with a lot of unfinished ideas and song bits.
After I got home to Nashville I went back into my studio, shut the door and the songs flowed free and started to finish. I was set to start recording my record a couple months after I got back from Santa Fe. I wanted to work this record with Josh Kaler & Owen Biddle—two of the most insanely talented people I know (and wildly funny). They work out of a studio in the middle of east Nashville hidden inside a bamboo forest. You would never find this place if you were looking for it. We often had to tell visitors to call when they got to the street so we could guide them in. The studio looks like a villa in the south of France with ivy growing over everything. You don’t feel like you’re in Nashville. This fit so well with “the spirit of place” theme I had been working with.
The three of us—Josh, Owen and I—did the record ourselves. We only hired on strings and some background singers. Otherwise, it was the three of us hashing out the songs. I had a blast working with them and feel l me they brought all the songs into the right place. I’m thrilled with what we created together.