Somewhere out in the dark, vast vacuum of space, two golden phonographic records holding sounds of our civilization plunge farther and farther into the cosmic ocean. They are on board Voyager spacecraft 1 and 2, which were launched in the late-'70s.
The records act as time capsules, a message in a bottle to be discovered by some other advanced civilization in our search for discovery. More than four decades later, Voyager, local band Svenny Baby!’s latest album, aims for this kind of discovery in one’s self. It is their most introspective release yet.
“I wanted people to kind of get the idea that this is an album meant to help with self-discovery,” says Victor Toruno, vocalist, lyricist and keyboard player.
The first song, “Up to You,” launches the listener on a seemingly never-ending inward journey. The Voyager spacecrafts use nitrogen, hydrogen and plutonium-238 dioxide to maintain propulsion. Svenny Baby! uses their inherent grooviness, powerful instrumentals and hooky lyrics to do so.
The hook for the new album is the grooves, Toruno says, but they are coupled with some dark lyrics.
“Sometimes you need to raise awareness that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” he says.
Their song “4AM” turns up the volume. Still catchy, still groovy, this song exudes the maturity and confidence Svenny Baby! has been growing since their first release.
Through writing lyrics for this album, Toruno, who wrote all but two of the 14 songs, says he learned the power of pronouns. In their previous releases, Painting Pictures and Cool for a Moment, a lot of Svenny Baby!’s lyrics are written from the perspective of other people.
With Voyager, Toruno says he wanted to convey that the lyrics are coming from his perspective. He wanted to be more clear about the intention of his lyrics. It felt liberating, he says.
Before work on the album began, Toruno was looking to become stronger as a musician, songwriter and lyricist. He started taking lessons with Greta Salpeter, who now plays with Vampire Weekend.
“She posted something like, ‘I’m looking for people who want to learn,’ so I hit her up and just started working with her on songwriting and crafting lyrics,” Toruno says. “I really worked on myself a lot as a musician to try to make better music.”
The song “Cosmos” is clear evidence of Toruno’s enhanced songwriting skills. It tells the story of two lovestruck people who have to part. One ends up with someone else. The other remains alone. What is consistent in both circumstances is the cosmos.
In 1990, from 6 billion kilometers away, Voyager 1 captured a glimpse of Earth that its occupants had never seen before. The photograph, Pale Blue Dot, depicts the planet as it really is. It is a small stage in a cosmic arena, as Carl Sagan would say. The pains that people feel are nothing compared with the size of the cosmos, Toruno says, and we are part of that cosmos.
Three songs on the album, “Case A,” “Case B” and “Case C” do not have a vocal melody. Instead, in these songs there is just dialogue about existentialism, one’s place in the universe, along with other themes throughout the album, on top of lo-fi-esque music.
Recorded at Blackroom Studios in Georgetown, the album is full of large orchestrations. The band, consisting of Toruno, Jonathan Holder on bass, guitarist and vocalist Dustin Johnson and Felipe Rosales on drums, sometimes needs help sifting through their ideas in the studio. Producer Luke Garrigus acts as an unbiased set of ears during the recording process, Toruno says. Voyager is the third set of songs the band has recorded with Garrigus.
The ending of the album is short and sweet. “Deeper” is a song about a vagabond stuck in a cave. He is lost, hungry with no direction. Toruno says everyone is a bit like this at times.
“When we are in these times, it can be so easy to just quit and end things, but there is so much more in store if we keep going and have the courage to continue,” Toruno says.
With an octet behind the band, including woodwind and stringed instruments, the song becomes playful at times. Toruno says this is because he wanted it to sound like imagination and dreams were lifting the vagabond to a higher state of being.In the end the vagabond is left to travel alone with nothing but a ukulele to keep him company.
As the Voyager spacecraft continue to soar through space at 17 kilometers per second, they are also running out of fuel. The plutonium’s radioactive decay causes less energy production as the years go by. Eventually, there will not be enough energy for the spacecraft to heat essential systems on board, and they will shut down. Some suspect this will happen by 2020.
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Svenny Baby! has plans to live on long past the Voyagers.
“It’s just a ton of fun to do, and it’s been wonderful to see it grow,” Toruno says. “I’m curious to see what else I’ll learn through it. I’m a slave to the process.”
Crafting and recording their last album took two years. While the band waited for album art to be finished and some of the orchestrations to be recorded, they began working on new material. Toruno says they are in the process of working on their next album, which could be ready as early as spring.
In the meantime, Toruno says he and the band want to continue venturing out of their home city of Arlington to surrounding cities, and further into a journey toward self-discovery.