Clint Niosi's 2008 LP, The Sound of Dead Horses Beaten Against Cold Shoulders, was a fine album built around his voice and acoustic guitar, but its spareness made it feel like a bookend on something bigger. Even the artist himself admits that:
"I felt in hindsight that perhaps it could have been a bit more daring."
The Fort Worth guitarist's new LP, For Pleasure and Spite, explores that. It is angry at times, quiet in others, the extremes when dealing with grief and loss, which were the foundation of the album. "Anxiously Awaiting the End" is only four minutes long, but unfurls, wave-like, cresting on Niosi's sharp storytelling, strings and horns, until you feel that titular anxiety. The ghosts of grief and loss are there, but Niosi also cuts his sadder vignettes with songs like the bittersweet "Little Heart" and Leonard Cohen double-take "Shark in Your Water."
Again helmed by producer/arranger James Talambas, the album also benefits from his ear, as well as a revolving door of guests, like violinist Petra Kelly, sax man Ben Marrow and French horn from Heather Test, filling out every corner of the room. I asked Niosi a bit about how the album came to be. Catch him; Eyes, Wings and Many Other Things; and Swirve at Good Records tomorrow, 7 p.m.
I read the description on your Kickstarter page, as to the events leading up to the recording of the new album. There were some emotional obstacles you had to overcome to get this album out. A couple of difficult events had a large effect on the mood and tone of the album. The first was the end of a four-year relationship, so you'll hear a couple of songs regarding that. The second, though certainly the most devastating, was the unexpected death of my mother. My mother and I were very close. I don't know that I can really convey to you the loss that it was to my family. In the wake of my mother's death, production on the album stopped entirely for about four or five months. I rewrote a few things during that time and tried to regroup. When we returned to the studio, everything seemed to have a black cloud over it, but I'm glad that I had something to do with those feelings. I also met my fiancée while working on the album, so there is a bright side.
How did you gather the players for this album? I found players on a song-by-song basis. Mr. Talambas and I would record demos and have long conversations about what we wanted to try. By the time we were looking for players, we knew the sound that the song needed. It's best to let the song lead the way. And of course the players that we brought in were just phenomenal. Everyone used their own unique gifts to bring these recordings to life. I'm grateful for the chance to work with so many talented people.
What will the live show be like? For the live show we have been focusing on guitar, vocals and strings and it has been a fantastic sound.
How does this album differ from your 2008 LP in terms of theme/sound? Did you feel the need to redirect after that album? While I'm very proud of The Sound of Dead Horses Beaten Against Cold Shoulders, I felt in hindsight that perhaps it could have been a bit more daring. It was also disappointing to hear that many critics seemed to be under the impression that I was an alternative country artist. With the new album, I had hoped to break with any previous rules or expectations, real or imagined. I wanted this to be a chance to really stretch my legs.