On May 1st, Denver singer-songwriter, John Statz, released his new album Early Riser. It’s an album that encompasses a few of the events that defined 2019 — Notre Dame fire, Brexit, and Trump’s racist attacks on the congresswomen of color last July. It’s a thought-provoking album that is worth listening to, and, possibly, doing a little self-evaluation while playing it. So, naturally, I wanted to ask John a few questions about his album, and he obliged. Below is that little Q&A.
CFM: Are there hints of a consistent, underlying worldviews through the album? What do they say about the nature of reality, morality, and humanity? Are there ways in which this engages with, endorses or even challenges, your audience?
John Statz: I think that there are two underlying worldviews simmering throughout much of Early Riser. One is a sense of unease with our modern world, both distress with the inequality that exists alongside extreme wealth and general anxiety that society is fraying at the edges. The other is a need to find your peace and your happiness, to live your life and grow, despite the chaos. This reflects my own personal experience with reality, one of ingesting news, caring deeply about it, getting upset, calling my representatives in congress, donating some money to a campaign or cause, and then needing to also step away for the sake of sanity. We can’t let ourselves become entirely consumed by this madness around us or we will spend years of our lives miserable. I also want to recognize the privilege in that last statement, as I can choose to remove myself from a reality that others cannot. I hope it challenges the audience to think about how they exist and experience life and joy in a world that can make it difficult.
CFM: How did current affairs shape the songs on Early Riser? How do they shape you as an artist and as a person?
John Statz: The first single “What Would You Call That?” was written in July of 2019, shortly after the president told four congresswomen of color, essentially, that they should “go back to where they came from”. I read many accounts from people of color on social media sharing how many times somebody had told them to go back to where they came from, I began to understand that this was a common racist remark which I had never experienced for obvious reasons, and I became mad. I mean, can you believe that there are people, many people, who are convinced that white privilege isn’t a real thing? So I wrote a song with a bunch of examples of it and asked, “what would you call that?”
As I said above, I’m a person who reads thed r news, listens to NPR, aneads presidential biographies in chronological order. (I’m on Benjamin Harrison.) News, history, politics, it’s all one and it’s in me.
CFM: Do any of the tracks express the point of view of different persona and character, like “Table in Between Us?” Or do they seem more autobiographical?
John Statz: Yes, “Table in Between Us” is definitely somebody else’s point of view. I don’t have any kids or a wife, as the song mentions. I wrote this song on tour in Italy a couple of years ago after a long conversation with a friend over there on the nature of romantic chances that pass you by. I took her point of view, basically, and made it sound like it could be about me. I guess that’s the exception on this record, though, everything else that sounds autobiographical mostly is.
CFM: Were there particular songs, or even lines, which stick in your mind because of their lyrics?
John Statz: I’m really proud of the co-write on the album, “All the Wild”, which was written at a songwriting retreat last summer with a fellow Colorado songwriter, Gabrielle Louise. The song is about how taming something – the wilderness, a child, a partner – changes that thing and potentially ruins what made it special. I love how each chorus changes, especially the last one on relationships: “all the wild has been tamed, the wonder covered up, by fear pride and blame, control and mistrust.” We worked really hard on that song, to make it make sense, and there are so many words!
CFM: Do you detect any clear purpose in the way the album is structured? Is there a sense of progression or grouping? Or does it seem more like a string of stand alone tracks?
John Statz: I wouldn’t say that they are stand-alone tracks, no. The songs are meant to fit together. They are very much a product of my life and the events around us during the year 2019, when most of these songs were written. There isn’t necessarily one tidy narrative that ties them together, but I do feel that they represent the balancing act I’ve lived in recently, and I hope others can relate. As for the progression or track order, I’m not sure on that, but the songs felt right in this order. I definitely wanted to open with “Rainy Days in the U.K.” as it pretty clearly lays out the balancing act, and I knew I wanted to close with the Joni cover, “Come in from the Cold”, which felt like a summary of covered territory.
CFM: What does the album’s title — Early Riser — reveal, if anything, about the album’s impact and themes?
John Statz: Early Riser is an insight into the duality of my experience with reality. I wake up early in the mornings, too early, when I’m stressed or feeling anxiety about the state of things. I also wake up early often so that I don’t miss anything, a sunrise, a chance to sip my coffee in a quiet house, or an early start on a hiking trail. One is stress, the other is dealing with stress.
CFM: What is it like to work with people you admire like Jeremy Moses Curtis, Jeffrey Foucault, and Billy Conway? What qualities do each individual bring to the album?
John Statz: Gosh, it has just been such an honor to work with people like Jeffrey, Jeremy, and Billy. Jeffrey, who produced my 2015 album TULSA, is one of the absolute best living songwriters and a terrific mentor. Jeremy and Billy are the best rhythm section I can think of, all three are wonderful human beings. Jeremy and Billy were co-producers on this record alongside myself and Kate Hannington and their ideas are very much present in the songs, it was entirely a collaborative effort. Billy brings so much thought and purpose to his music-making, he has generally thought hard about something before he mentions it, and therefore his suggestions are always spot on. Jeremy is a natural with production, he hears a song clearly and takes it to the chopping block like a surgical pro. He knows how to trim the fat.
CFM: I read the Billy Conway has just been diagnosed with stage four liver cancer, how is he doing right now? Is there anything people can do to help Billy during this time?
John Statz: I don’t know the ins and outs of Billy’s medical situation, but we’ve been in touch a bit and I know that he is hanging in there and still finding some joy and beauty in life. He just released his first-ever solo album, and the number one thing you can do to help him AND yourself is buy it and listen to it: https://crazyviewrecords.com/. I’ve been singing along with the first track “Get Well” over and over, it’s a wonderful song for the times. There is also a spot on Billy’s website to donate to help cover his medical expenses, and I know every bit is extremely helpful to he and his partner Laurie.