The songs for Formative began as exercises in 2003. They once belonged to a catalog of fifty instrumentals entirely fabricated inside my laptop computer on winter evenings, weekend vacations and those moments of life that one savors for their relative calm. These doodles, built on rhythm and melody would absorb my free time, often on a sofa curled up in a blanket awash in lcd flicker, earphones cupping my head, midi keyboard resting on my lap. I likened myself to the curious child so often portrayed in movies, wide shot on a bed linens aloft and glowing orange; close up, we see the boy devouring the last chapters of a book by flashlight.
So they were for me very innocent, unfettered with words, built upon skittering beats, round bass, and the percussive voices one tends to associate with Christmas, childhood and the mystery of tribal cultures: glockenspiel, vibes, kalimba, xylophone, marimba. When I’d finish a song I’d audition it on the stereo, swelling with that naive sort of pride most people experience when they feel like they have made something that exceeded their expectations, with only a novice skill set.
In late 2004 I started writing the lyrics. Perhaps the synthesized sounds of the tracks reminded me of the pop music I devoured as an adolescent: Depeche Mode, Erasure, OMD, New Order and others were the soundtrack to those formative years. Growing up in Tigard, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, was in retrospect a pretty idyllic place to be a teenager. Intrinsically American, Tigard was essentially formed around a highway. I witnessed the strip-mallification of Tigard in the eighties, the encroachment of our quasi-country home by residential development, and lived out my glory days in the cul-de-sacs, split levels, fast food franchises, and relatively sterile environs of suburban America. This was the backdrop for the universal and occasionally mortifying experience of puberty and the socialization that comes from the cruel world of public school. Instinctively I began to chronicle some vignettes from that era with a certain detatchment and nostalgia that comes with the passing of time. But unlike the electronic pop songs I ingested as a kid, painted with impressionistic broad strokes of language, I wanted to include the detail, as goofy as it was. From the revelation that my peers were having sex (Down In The Developments) to the self-consciousness of being a suburban teenager (Humdrum) to the ebullient directionless idealism of youth (Let’s Go) I wanted evoke the world I grew up without too much editing: “All my foibles and flaws / I will embrace them all / I?ll tell it how it is / and not get embarrassed”. Half way in to the album I realized singing about being an embarrassed teenager might not be very rock?n’roll, and it was the very antithesis of contemporary hip hop, but it was something that as a 31 year old, had the allure of rediscovery. If it’s true that one’s personality is pretty much fully formed by high school–that you don’t really change as you age from then on–then it stands to reason that curling up with my first crush under a table in a pizza parlor is tantamount to the genes on my DNA strands, in terms of what makes me tick.
As a point of origin for the project Formative exists as a clearinghouse of suburban socialization, a sort of declaration of: Hey, I’m not embarrassed anymore. Still self conscious, even hyper-self aware, but not embarrassed.
Kicked Outta The Band
Down In The Developments
Don’t Sweat It
Stephanie, My First Crush