Tennessee Mowrey on Japan and New EP Musedays
Multilingual, musical wunderkind Tennessee Mowrey ’14 has a lot on his plate these days, especially with studying abroad in Japan, but his musical body of work continues to grow with barely a hitch. The Argus spoke with him about his latest EP, Musedays, along with his life abroad and upcoming projects.
The Argus: Hey, Ten. How is Japan, and how are you finding time to make music there?
Tennesee Mowrey: Well, I’ve only been here for a few weeks. I recorded Musedays this summer, so I hope everyone doesn’t think I managed to record an EP in a week and a half while simultaneously getting my feet on the ground in another country. That would be low-key ridiculous. However, I bought a cheap guitar here (way less expensive than shipping mine here and back) and have been constantly writing—two new ones are almost done! It’s amazing how much you write when you travel. I’m also playing a more publicized show here in October and a couple of smaller shows at bars in the area this semester—I’m hoping to have at least one original in Japanese for some of those.
A: Where are the songs on Musedays coming from?
TM: I wrote them in the past year or so (eight months maybe? I don’t know) and put them together this summer. In terms of inspiration, some are about sex and some are about drugs and some are about birds and some are about mass-murders by cults in the 90s and obviously some are about love or lack thereof. I’d hesitate to say that any of them are about any one thing, though. I just try to take what I’m feeling in a certain moment and turn it into a melody, and then frame that melody in the way I think it deserves. I hope that wasn’t too esoteric.
A: Can you talk about the instrumentation and production of the songs?
TM: I did it all on GarageBand, believe it or not. I was working at a day camp this summer as a “recording studio specialist,” and the camp had some equipment that I could use in my breaks everyday. I would listen to the songs on repeat until I heard the part I wanted and then I would put it in. I would bring my guitar or my bass to camp when I knew I wanted to do a take, and I used their electric drumset (which I subsequently bought) for the drum takes. The synths are all sounds that you can find on GarageBand. Originally I couldn’t decide if I wanted to make a rock EP ala “Umbrellas” or a more synth-y EP in the vein of “Reprieve.” I decided that I could do both. Also, my conscience requires me to say that I used electric drums on two songs. Can you figure out which?
A: You did only a single take for each instrument on each track? That’s ridiculous!
TM: I feel like often musicians can fall into a trap of perfectionism—I know I did when I was recording an album my senior year of high school. I would do take after take after take and then stitch together the best bits of each one. Anything that was slightly off was nauseating to me, and because of that I never finished the album.
I didn’t want Musedays to be like that. Rock n’ Roll is meant to be raw. Sometimes people make mistakes. It’s a part of music. I’m not trying to say that I only did one take of each track. I would do two or three and then choose the one (the WHOLE one) that I liked, instead of trying to stich together the first verse from take one and the second chorus from take two and everything else from take three except that one note I missed in the bridge. That seems silly to me now. I just want people to hear the sounds that I hear.
A: This is a very strong solo project, but have you met any folks you’d like to collaborate with in the near future?
TM: Well, I bet that when I get back I’ll continue playing with the two bands I’m in, Borneo and Vices, both of which play tons of original music. I know that I need other collaborators. The most a songwriter can do is make the sounds that ze hears, and I think I’ve gotten good enough that I can do that accurately. However, I am still limited by myself. I only hear the sounds that I hear. Other people hear different parts, different feels in a song, whole different approaches. That’s super necessary for a good-sounding band. I think it’s obvious that one person made Musedays, and though that’s fun, I think that better music is made with more collaboration/more creative input.
I also have talked to a few people about collaboration/new projects, but I don’t want to pressure them publicly via The Argus. It’s their own choice to make.
A: What kind of output can we hope for over the next few months?
TM: I’d love to write enough songs (hopefully with tons of Japanese lyrics) for another EP in Japan and record it over winter break in the same manner. The great thing about the “fuck perfectionism” attitude is that you can record everything so much faster! But that might just be idealistic, especially the Japanese lyrics part.