I really hope the apocalypse sounds like Whiskerman’s latest album, Nomad, because I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful soundtrack to the end of the world. Set to be released October 9th, the LP is full of gorgeous, soulful ballads, arresting synths and layered harmonic arrangements detailing the downfall of industrialized civilization. Singer-songwriter Graham Patzner croons about the collapse of modern society over the melodic guitar work of Charles Lloyd and steady grooves provided by drummer Nick Cobbett and bassist Will Lawrence, kind of like if The Band was fronted by a Baptist preacher or conspiracy theorist.
But Patzner is neither a religious zealot nor paranoid pothead with too much free time to contemplate the possibility of nefarious government plots. He’s just a man who observes the world around him — the chaos in the Middle East, the increasing severity of climate change’s deleterious effect on the planet, the mass media that closer resembles white noise than informative insights into society. The Donald Trump campaign being taken semi-seriously. Certainly, the end is nigh.
I spoke to Graham over the phone about the new album and what, exactly, inspired this potent mix of hope and hopelessness.
The Bay Bridged: Nomad is a dense and thematically connected record. Would you consider it a concept album? And did you originally conceive of it as one?
Graham Patzner: Yeah, I think it is of some sort. But it actually became less of a concept album as I made it and worked out the songs. I went in with the idea of a record about America’s fall, the American empire’s collapse, the fall of industrial civilization. Some of the songs that ended up on Nomad weren’t about that, or at least not directly. It became more of a singular journey wrestling with what’s happening today. It’s more about making your own story. One of the songs that I wrote a long time ago, “My Good Country,” is all about finding where you belong in society, where you fit in.
The Bay Bridged: Did you have a specific moment of inspiration for this concept? Or was it more the accumulation of little things?
Graham Patzner: It was a lot of different things. The song “One Good Way,” in particular, was written while I was traveling across the country. I remember at the time I had just heard about Michael Ruppert’s suicide. His documentary Collapse made a pretty big impact on me and how bitterly truthful it was about our dependence on oil and its lack of hope in the alternative energy industry. His story touched closely with what I was going through, what was going on in the world, and for a while I was really enveloped in the end of days concept. That can be a trap, though — Ruppert succumbed to it. But humanity is still moving forward. We have to. I think those thoughts and feelings inspired a lot of the material on this album.
TBB: Do you ever find yourself sometimes succumbing to that trap?
GP: Yeah, I feel that sometimes, especially when I’m driving through strip malls, or passing one of those small towns on the 5. All the same stores and fast-food joints and trucks clogging the road, you just start thinking: holy shit, is this what we signed up for? Where is this taking us? Is it possible to change it? It just seems to be getting bigger and bigger.
TBB: Well, do you think it’s possible for humanity to change its ways?
GP: I think a lot of people are trying to do it, and I definitely hope we can. I can’t say for sure though. To be honest, I haven’t been thinking about it too much lately, not since I finished the album. I feel like I got it out of my head once I recorded it, and now I can move on with my life. But I still have a mixture of hopelessness and hope for mankind. I was recently at a festival called Symbiosis — one of those Burning Man spin-offs — and the inclusive nature of everyone there was incredible. That mentality, that spirit of cooperation that I also observed during the Occupy movement, gives me hope. I do feel, however, that the media doesn’t really attempt to emphasize that side of humanity. They don’t even seem to acknowledge it. So much of it is nonsense and trash.
TBB: The sound of Whiskerman seems to change with each successive release. Do you consciously attempt a new stylistic approach on each record or does your music naturally evolve over the years?
GP: I think it comes naturally. I’ve been writing a lot of songs over the last five years in a lot of different styles, some that would fit better on a solo album, some that I’ve been able to mold for Whiskerman. When we started, we were going for a more straightforward, sort of soulful, catchy vibe. Our new producer Jeff Saltzman wanted to get away from that. He wanted to steer us in a new direction away from that narrow bluesy/soulful rock and branch into a more intricate style, one that was less genre-defined. I don’t consider Nomad a pure rock or soul album. There are a lot of different elements thrown into this one.
TBB: So Jeff had a pretty big impact on the sound of this record?
GP: Yeah, I think so. From the get-go, he was extremely clear about what he wanted, and I was excited about what he wanted to do with it. It was kinda relieving to come in and have someone definitively say “yes” or “no” to which songs might fit best. Both of us wanted to have a lot of strings and synths on this one to create an atmosphere we haven’t created before. We even considered hiring a small orchestra or choir at one point, but we were able to accomplish most of it by ourselves.
TBB: The melodies on these songs are quite beautiful, but a close listen to the lyrics reveals some dark subject matter. Do you purposefully strive for this dichotomy in your music?
GP: I guess that’s just how I naturally express myself. I never really wanted to write, nor do I think I could write, a genuinely positive song. I don’t feel like that’s true. I write to make an experience and to take the listener somewhere. Sometimes that’s a hard place to visit, but I do think it’s helpful to go there. For me, catchiness doesn’t really define a good song. What defines a good song is how deep it can take you.