Joel Van Horne used locations – the ocean, his grandfather’s cabin, and the Utah desert – as thematic anchors for his first three albums. The Colorado singer-songwriter, who plays the role of Covenhoven, avoided that premise for his fourth album, the aptly titled IV.
âSometimes that limits you in terms of what you say in your songs,â observes Van Horne. “On this record, I put everything on the table a little more than in the past, perhaps speaking more openly about the current state of affairs.”
The new record also departs from his previous work in that it is more of a collaborative effort, he says, although the production has suffered some hardships and tribulations due to the socially remote pandemic.
âI was just ready for something new, something different,â he explains. âI didn’t want to make another record by myself, all alone in my home studio. I was really excited to work with other people and to collaborate and work with a producer.
Van Horne started working this way in early 2020, but about a month after the start of the effort, the process was stalled by the arrival of COVID, which brought to mind the idea of ââhaving a large group of musicians working together in a recording studio. unsafe. He started working on his own again, and although it eventually took a lot of pressure out of the process, it was quite painful and anxious at first.
“I had kind of a timeline in my head, then it was off,” recalls Van Horne. “None of us really knew what the future held.”
It turned out that making a record during the stop helped Van Horne get through it. The songs are cathartic, he says, and composing them has helped him focus on something positive. He had started writing a lot of them before the pandemic – he doesn’t like the idea of ââwalking into a studio without having already prepared most of an album – but they ended up getting colorful, because could they not?
âI was definitely not trying to write a pandemic recording or a quarantine recording,â he says. âI was actually trying to avoid it. But there is a different vibe to it that really was there at that time. I spoke more openly about how I really feel.
The collaborative approach made a comeback in fall 2020, and Van Horne is happy to have brought in a talented cast of a dozen musicians from Colorado, including Ben Wysocki of the Fray, who has co-produced and performs on some. pieces. . Singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov also makes an appearance, as do Julie Davis of Bluebook and Luke Mossman of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats.
The large cast lends an element of friendship to the record, according to Van Horne’s estimate.
âThe collaboration didn’t happen in the sense of writing,â he says. “It was more about bringing people in and recording and having guests on songs, that sort of thing.”
He thinks the new songs sound like they’ve taken a turn in indie rock. Although there is less emphasis on acoustic instruments such as the banjo and mandolin, making the songs potentially less âfolkyâ, there is still a lot of folk elements left. The record has more energy overall, although the songs still exist in Van Horne’s “contemplative and vibey world”, he notes.
âOne of the big changes is that I always started with a drumbeat,â he says. âThat’s kind of how these songs were born. I would sit down to drums and play different beats that I found interesting, record them and build songs around them.
On the content side, Van Horne tackled weighty subjects, subjects on which he spends a lot of time to think: climate change, for example, and all the tensions in the world. It focuses on issues that are hard to ignore, like Colorado which has appalling air quality all summer long from wildfires.
However, listeners won’t be hit over the head with any messages, as Van Horne’s lyrics tend to be more metaphorical than literal. “My music has always been an escape from this stuff,” he says, although he concedes that “on this album, I was trying to confront them a little more head-on.”
But as gloomy as it may seem, he’s always looking for a positive twist; he wants to understand the world around him and always find a reason to smile. âThere are so many things that can bring you down or make your life tough and difficult,â he says. “What I dwell on a lot is trying to add to the beauty of this world. It is a beautiful place if you are looking for it.”
As an example of this sentiment, Van Horne quotes a line from âNothing Left to Beâ, a song he wrote for his brother, who died a few years ago: âThere is nothing left to be. but beautiful. ”
âWe cremated my brother and scattered his ashes outside our family cabin in Wyoming,â he says. âNow these ashes nourish the flowers. Basically my brother became these flowers. So in the end, there is more to be beautiful.
IV is available October 15; the singles “Monterey”, “Everything I Said Yesterday” and “Everything in Between” are available now. Visit covenhoven.com for more information.