Spain’s Josh Haden leaves doors open for listening value in latest release

Critics and fans have called the music of Josh Haden’s Spain dreamy, layered, even “jazz-tinged slow core.” The band’s latest release, Sargent Place, produced by Gus Seyffert (Norah Jones, Beck) continues that floating thread of a subconscious, faraway inner turmoil longing for respite or recourse.


There’s a lot they don’t know about the bandleader, vocalist, composer, and musician — son of the legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden, who passed away in August. The younger bassist keeps his emotions in check in the music, stirring the coils and druids of a reflective, human light in the listener at hand. He’s done that for almost 20 years and through five major soundtracks since he’s kept the L.A.-based Spain alive.


“The name of the band comes from a dream and to me everyday life is very dream-like…dreams are part of what inspires me and what has inspired the content of the songs, and will continue to…” Josh Haden has said.


Spain’s fifth soundtrack dropped on November 4, 2014 like a dream. WXPN/NPR premiered the album the last week of October and Magnet Magazine previewed the band’s official music video for “Love At First Sight.” The Toronto-based label Dine Alone Records added Spain to its North American roster, and released Sargent Place, which features Haden, his The Soul Of Spain recording band — lead guitarist Daniel Brummel, keyboardist/guitarist Randy Kirk, and drummer Matt Mayhall, his violinist/vocalist sister Petra of the Decemberists, and their late father, the great Charlie Haden in his last studio recording.


Sargent Place is Spain’s first U.S. release in over a decade, recorded in Seyffert’s legendary Echo Park studio. The standout tracks depend on the listener. The gentle, dapple waves of “To Be A Man” and “You And I,” with Charlie Haden, touch on the relationship between a father and a son, or any deep relationship in the face of life’s bittersweet cycle. Haden’s space age cowboy turn with sister Petra on “The Fighter” and “From The Dust” seem to be a call from far away in the past, held on a universal repeat as travelers dust into the next adventure, stories within stories spinning sideways. “Sunday Morning” romps close to pop without giving away the goods.


Josh Haden would rather the listener tell him about the songs. He writes them as a well-kept secret. The answers are in the keys of the sleek and the bony, as his stricken voice repeats in the ear, strangely comforting, strangely unnerving, strangely true.


He gave a little more, just a little, in yesterday’s interview.


Who or what is Spain? 


Spain is a music project I started in 1993. It’s gone through various incarnations over the years, but remains true to one unified vision: revolution.


You took a break in 2001, after I Believe. What happened? 


Unfortunately not only can I not talk about this, I can’t even talk about why I can’t talk about this.


What did the break do for the evolution of your group Spain?


I’m too intimately involved with the project to make a judgment on this.


How has Spain evolved since you first founded it in 1995? 


Again, I can’t be the judge of something like this. Just doing the songwriting is difficult enough.


There definitely is a dream-like quality to the music. What is the process you go through as a man and a musician to reach this state of stasis and creation? 


I’m glad you get that from the music. However, the songwriting process isn’t very dream-like. I feel lucky if I come up with a melody or lyric I’m happy with. My only process is somehow finding the time to actually get songwriting done. My songs come from a lot of hard work and coffee drinking.


What’s Sargent Place about? Is it a continuing thread or a stark difference? 


To me, Sargent Place is about an awareness about beginnings, endings, and beginnings again. I suppose it’s a continuing thread in that sense. But everything already contains difference.


Family means a great deal to you. What did it mean for you to perform and record together with your father and one of your sisters, Petra? 


It meant a lot to me. It’s always a joy to play music with my sister Petra. My dad was very ill when he recorded for the album, and it took a lot out of him but he did it because he loved me and he loved my music. My dad was my biggest fan.


“You And I” became this living, breathing being during the composition and rearranging stages, initially on your own and then with producer Gus Seyffert. What was this song like before you and Seyffert recorded the bass in your father’s home? How did going to your father’s home change the balance? 


Gus thought the demo version of the song sounded “too much like U2.” That’s a pretty good description of the demo version. When we changed the tempo and dynamics of the song, it created a space for my dad to play. The technical act of recording at my dad’s house didn’t change anything. It was simply a matter of bringing a mobile studio set-up to my dad’s house, not very complicated. It turned my dad’s living room into a temporary recording studio. Which was good because it was difficult for my dad to leave the house at that point.


There’s a very romantic, space-age cowboy feel to the music. Your voice seems so faraway, like the voice in the back of our minds as we transition from sleep. It almost doesn’t matter what the words are in the songs. The combination of the music and your voice sort of fuses the meaning on a deeper level, as if we’re hearing it from the inside out. Is that what you get when you play? 


I’m really glad you see it this way. When I’m in the studio or writing a song, even though I’m in a magical world, I’m also in a world very much rooted in consciousness, a world about what works and what doesn’t work on a technical level. When I’m on stage I can close my eyes and get lost in the music a little bit. Until I break a bass string or there’s a problem with my monitors.


What would you like people to get out of listening to your new album, Sargent Place? What did you get out of it? 


The first part of this question is really hard to answer. I create the songs, and help create the recordings of the songs, and I would prefer that people listen to my songs, but if they do I really don’t know of anything I would like them to get out of listening to my songs. I write the songs, and the songs may or may not have a meaning or message to me, but only the listener can decide if the songs have a meaning or message to them. That is one of the beautiful things about art. Art, by definition, cannot dictate meaning.


Maybe Rembrandt used geometry when creating his paintings, but what that geometry means to one person, and what that geometry means to me, those could be two different things, and neither is right or wrong.


When it comes to what I got out of it, I had a really beautiful experience giving my songs to an amazing producer named Gus Seyffert and watching the songs blossom and come to life. When I go into a studio to record music for a project I control, I don’t want to be in control. I want to give myself and my music to a greater entity, and to be swept up in a magical event. And that’s exactly what happened during every recording phase of Sargent Place.


Can you preview some of the CD release shows coming up in support of Sargent Place


Sure, we recently played a show supporting Sargent Place at the greatest record store in the world, Amoeba Music Hollywood, and we hope to have more shows soon, both on the West and East Coasts of North America.

Carol Banks Weber
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