Esopus 20 CD Features Songs Inspired by Personal Belongings

October 8, 2013

For its latest audio compilation, Esopus invited 10 musical acts—including Sam Phillips, Wesley Stace, and Prince Rama—to create new songs inspired by items from their personal belongings, ranging from family heirlooms to found objects. The CD will appear in Esopus 20: Special Collections, the latest edition of the award-winning nonprofit arts publication that includes a themed musical compilation in every issue. .

The theme of the CD relates directly to that of the issue itself, which is filled with archival material from a variety of sources, including institutions like the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art as well as individuals such as Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner (a selection of his handwritten notes that inspired the award-winning AMC series) and Dean Wareham (pages from the musician’s notebooks featuring his never-before-seen early drafts of Galaxie 500 song lyrics).

Most of the objects chosen as inspiration for songs on the CD held deep personal meaning for the participants, many relating in some way to family or friends. Wesley Stace (a.k.a. John Wesley Harding) zeroed in on a jukebox given to him by his wife that friends and family have stocked with their favorite songs over the years. Kip Uilhorn, of Memphis-based Cloudland Canyon, also selected a gift from his wife: a tiny vial of dirt from his grandfather’s grave in Georgia. Jeff Mercel (Mercury Rev) took inspiration from a small leather-bound portfolio he found in a box of items belonging to his deceased father that contained fly-fishing paraphernalia assembled by his great-grandfather.

Sam Phillips picked a desert rock from Yucca Valley, California, where the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter spent many childhood weekends at her late grandfather’s cabin, and Brooklyn-based Cassandra Jenkins created a song inspired by a taxidermied pet rabbit. A copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 short story The Gold-Bug inspired The Garment District’s Jennifer Baron to create one of three instrumentals on the CD; the other two are by Julian Lynch (which references the repeating patterns in a brick wall in his apartment) and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Lee Sargent, who wrote a track inspired by a painting left on his doorstep in Brooklyn. Another Brooklynite, Graham Smith, also chose an anonymous artwork as the starting point for his contribution: a painting of four ships hanging in his living room. And in one case, a chosen “possession” was anything but inanimate: Prince Rama’s Taraka Larson wrote “Feel It Again” about her boyfriend. 

The issue will be on newsstands in early November.