Bomethius' new album Seasons of Limbo is out now! We chat to the musician about the release and more.
Image: Barbara Brands
Texas based artist Bomethius recently released his fifth studio album, Seasons Of Limbo. The release showcases a more vulnerable side of the musician, with a particular focus on the human experience during the COVID-19 pandemic from his perspective.
We caught up with the musician to chat about the record, how his musicianship and approach to creating has evolved since his debut, creating music during the COVID-19 pandemic, his approach to the folk-genre and so much more!
Seasons Of Limbo is out now! Read our interview with Bomethius below.
How did you get started in music? What brought you to it?
I began studying the violin when I was 3 years old. My mom had this way of convincing each of us, (I’m the oldest of six kids), from the time we were quite small, that it was our own idea to play our respective instruments — she decided which stringed instrument we would play based upon our personalities in utero. The indoctrination worked wonders for getting us super duper excited about beginning to play our instrument, but once we had begun we came to realize that attaining some degree of competence was directly contingent upon no small degree of effort, and this seemed quite tragic. And then we would begin to wonder whose idea this really was, and whether or not this was something to be excited about. It was also around then that Mom made us aware of the fact that we would have to play our instrument at least until we were 18.
“After you move out you can do whatever you want,” she quipped. “But right now you live under a benevolent dictatorship.” And then she would laugh really hard, and we would have a hard think about what that meant. I’m the first born, so I got to experience this myself, and then I watched it happen to each of my siblings — the initial horror of having to work hard at something became more entertaining, and more bearable, as we were introduced to other victims with whom to commiserate.
Even still, I didn’t enjoy the violin for a long time, and in many ways I couldn’t stand it, but Mom was unflinching — we were going to play even if we thought it was killing us. Of course it wasn’t killing us, and eventually I came to enjoy the violin, but it took a long time. I think the issue was that I always loved music, but I detested being told how to make it. I selfishly wanted to make music that didn’t require anything of me, but this was to labor under a delusion borne out of sheer ignorance. As you come to really know music, which is an entirely different thing in substance, form, and purpose than any pedagogically sound method book would ever have you believe, you necessarily realize that music requires almost everything of you. That being said, there are many instruments that require a great deal less of you than the violin does, and I was able to find significant satisfaction in the instantaneous gratification of the guitar, the piano, and eventually the voice.
By the time I turned 18, and should have been free of Mom’s Rule, I had decided I would not only continue playing the violin, I would get a degree in it. But even after 20 years, and a degree, the violin is generally the cyclical process of laboring through (or wallowing in) the depths of my own incompetence only to be delighted by intermittent bursts of what appears to be progress. It really isn’t for the fainthearted. Thankfully, music itself isn’t the grand sum of its meager instruments, rather, music is the ultimate end to which every instrument groans to be affixed. There are few things that could compel me to habitually practice, perform, and record on a clumsy, unnatural instrument like the violin, except my mom, and music itself — one of those got me started, and the other sustains me.
Congratulations on the release of your new album, Seasons of Limbo. Could you tell us a bit about the creative process when writing and recording Seasons of Limbo?
Oh, the same it always is. Sometimes there’s a sound you can’t get out of your head, sometimes there’s a funny thought or turn of phrase. Either way I write it down or record those little bits, and later on, when I’ve collected enough phrases, or when I’ve become sufficiently interested in a chord progression I end up with a form (musical or poetic). Then there are also those few moments where all of it happens at once, and the spontaneity and excitement leads to the whole thing being completed in close to one go. But that’s rare. My albums are loosely autobiographical, so whatever I’m wrestling with or thinking about at the time tends to define which songs appear on the album, and the order of the tracks, etc. I don’t tend to outline my albums far in advance, and then formulaically write the songs. I much prefer that they unravel before me with the passage of time. Every conscious moment contains the potential for a call (to engage), and all of my music is merely a response to the calls that seem loudest in my head — keeps it a bit more exciting, but also, I hope, a bit more sincere.
I recorded the album the same way I’ve recorded all of my work: at home, with a single condenser mic and Garageband. However, on this record I collaborated with more studio musicians than I ever have before, and though I still wrote the record alone, I was blessed to work with Travis Carroll, Matt Shaw, Jeff Tullis, Phil Hodges, Chris Stubblefield, Ricky Roshell, Luke Blase, Aaron Hauser, Caroline Davis, and Michael Minkoff — each of whom brought their own ideas to the table with their parts. It definitely wouldn’t have been the same record without even one of these people, and I’m extremely thankful to know and have made music with each of them.
The album offers up a vulnerable side, reflecting on the human experience during the COVID-19 pandemic through your own eyes. Could you tell us about the themes explored within the body of work and why the album is titled Seasons of Limbo?
I decided on that title well over a year before I’d even started recording the songs. It’s kind of like when you climb to the top of a big zip-line rig, and you’re standing on this platform some 80 feet in the air, feeling the structure creak and groan with the wind, wondering about your life decisions, and waiting for them to strap that big cable to your harness. But then it gets worse, and they ask you to step out and wait (for interminable seconds) on this rickety platform that feels like it was just barely nailed into position and might give way at any second. So you stand there looking down at what is almost certainly your fate, and you pray that the harness holds. And then they tell you to, “Jump!” And you do, and it’s terrible, and exciting, and then suddenly it’s ok, and finally you just enjoy it, but now it’s over. Well, while I was writing this album, I was either in the midst of climbing to the top of the rig, or I was nervously inching my way to the edge of the platform, but I had not yet been told to jump, and I didn’t have a clue as to whether my harness would hold. Just about everything was anxiety, and disappointment, but it wasn’t completely soul crushing — there was just enough space for hope. Technically, I’m still in something like Limbo, I think perhaps we all are most of the time, but it’s getting better, and I think I’m just on the cusp of being told to jump. If the harness holds, I’ll have another album out next year, haha!
This is your fifth full-length release within five years! What new knowledge and experience did you bring to the writing sessions for Seasons of Limbo that differs from where you started with Intimatitudes?
Yeah, I’ve been trying to work through my issues! Thanks for noticing my previous releases. Well first there’s the production, and the quality of the recordings. I’ve always done everything myself so one of the interesting things to observe over the course of the discography is how each subsequent release improves upon the former — not only are you listening to me experience, and think about new things, you’re also (hopefully) listening to me get better at my craft: the writing, arranging, recording, mixing, etc.
In terms of my general trajectory, Intimatitudes is generally written from the perspective of someone who is slightly convinced that he has been predestined for the innermost circle of hell, and until the very last track of that album, I had little hope in salvation of any kind. Each subsequent album to follow Intimatitudes seems to document my realization that perhaps there is some sense of hope — even for me, haha! I also may have spent too much time trying to write clever songs that fed into the idiosyncratic manic indifference of my alias… But on Seasons of Limbo I endeavoured to write sincere songs that made me feel better; that ministered to my hurts and anxieties; that felt like I had actually said something that could perhaps even be misconstrued as truth. Some days I like to hope that I almost succeeded, but given that I recorded, mixed, and mastered the album, I can’t really hear it anymore... so I don’t know if I was successful. But what I hope this record does is exemplify the innermost struggle to remember the big picture, to love people, to be grateful, and to laugh — especially when we feel like we’re in the outermost circle of hell.
How did you arrive at the sonic sounds present on this album?
Oh, that kind of thing just sort of happens. I remember my old roommate, Travis Carroll, wandered into our living room one day, and I asked him to listen to my progress. He listened for a bit, and then he took the headphones off and was like, “You know, I think you might be writing an alt-Texas, country album. Huh.” We exploded with laughter really hard at how ridiculous that was, and then we carried on. It was particularly funny that this was the sound that was going to follow my 4th album, inadiquit. I mean that album won comparisons to Pink Floyd, and The Jellyfish, so it was just too perfect to leave that behind, and do a country album of all things. I’ve kind of insisted upon evading genres, trying to self-categorize my work as Baroque/Folk Pop, but here it was just inexorable: these songs wanted to be more folk-y than baroque-y — and I wasn’t about to get in the way of that. Plus, I grew up idolizing and singing Johnny Cash, so it was all just a matter of time.
Overall the visuals that correspond with your work are another layer of detail that adds to your vision. How important are these visuals to you when it comes to conveying the story, and meaning present on your tracks? Also how does the evolution of the idea develop?
Most of the visual ideas came from brainstorming with the various directors for each video: Jordan Gracey (Traffic), Swayyy (Tornados in Dallas), Marc Atkinson, and Travis Wright (Goodbye, Covid-19). I particularly like how different each video ended up being. And given that they were the first music videos I’d ever done, the whole thing was at least as exciting as it was informative. I think on future projects I’ll probably have more specific ideas about how to visualize and further communicate my music, but I tend to be pretty terrible at that side of things, so who knows, haha!
Did you encounter any challenges whilst creating music during the COVID-19 pandemic? One of your songs actually makes a direct reference to the pandemic, did this period of time influence you creatively?
Being an artist during Covid-19 is probably what it was for most people: frightening, frustrating, confusing, and tragic. I managed to stay pretty productive, but I had had my work cut out for me way in advance — the songs were mostly finished, I just had to record and arrange them. I took a small break from recording after inadiquit was released, but once the boredom of quarantine began to set in, I got to work.
With the song “Goodbye, Covid-19” I had written the chord progression that became that song, and one day as I was practicing it, I jokingly sang “So, goodbye, Covid-19.” Cynthia, my then fiancé, and I had been attempting to plan our wedding, but then Covid-19 descended upon humanity and everything was shut down, or closed, or rescheduled, and we didn’t really know what we were going to do. That song is mostly about trying to find some notion of stability in the midst of unprecedented chaos, specifically with our wedding.
If you had to pick one song off Seasons of Limbo to play for someone who had never heard your music, to make them an instant fan, which song would it be and why?
I would probably play them the ninth track, All I’ll Need. I’m willing to admit that Seasons of Limbo is something like a country record, but All I’ll Need is decidedly not country, and it’s about as Bomethian as it gets. It’s a keyboard based song, for one — whereas almost everything else on the record is guitar based. The whole progression is basically just major 7th chords, and there’s an incredible sax solo from Ricky Roshell, a groovin’ bass line from Jeff Tullis, gorgeous guitar playing from my uncle, Phil Hodges, understated drums from Matt Shaw, and a wordless, string arrangement of the hymn “It Is Well” ends the track… I mean it’s a seriously complicated, and nuanced recording, but it somehow manages to feel kind of serene. To me, that recording feels like my best synthesis to date, or like it’ll act as the standard to which I hold my future projects. So it’s probably a good introduction… but it might also give a first time listener unsustainable expectations for the rest of my work, haha!
How would you describe your sound to someone who is about to press play on Seasons of Limbo?
It’s like if Randy Newman, Andrew Bird, and M. Ward produced a particularly folky Elliott Smith album, but where Elliott Smith had found Jesus or something. Does that make sense?
If Seasons of Limbo was a piece of pre-existing visual art (painting, sculpture, photograph etc. anything excluding the albums cover art and visuals), which artwork would it be and why?
I haven’t the foggiest, and I’m unqualified to answer this question.
What’s one line from the whole album that you find at times could be stuck in your head? Or a line that you come back to?
I really enjoy how provocative the opening lines of “As Yourself” are:
Let’s retire early on in our thirties
Like Elliott Smith and Jesus
The anthem of our party will be
“Just murder me.”
Or this line from “Where Are My People”:
Let’s calm down and take it all less serious
Especially what they’ve told us to believe
God has a sense of humor, or well I guess he better
Why else would he make you and me?
With everything that’s been happening in the world, touring has changed. What are your 2021 touring plans, and what can fans expect from a
live show, and is there a chance we’ll see you performing in Australia
Yeah, I’d really like to be able to tour sometime soon, but we really just have to wait and see how the year goes. I tend to prefer playing intimate, acoustic shows, so that’s probably what fans should expect whenever I am on tour. I would love to be able tour to Australia! I have absolutely no idea as to when that might be even remotely possible, but I’m certainly open to it.
Andrew Bird, Brian Wilson, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Randy Newman, Dave Chappelle, Mike Birbiglia, Søren Kierkegaard, Haruki Murakami, and David Bentley Hart.
If I ever manage to collaborate with Andrew Bird the world might explode. We both started violin quite early, hold undergraduate degrees in violin performance, left classical music for pop music, whistle, play guitar, create our own idiosyncratic forms for songs, and aren’t afraid of singing polysyllabic words… It would almost be a pointless collaboration. I wonder if we would just hate each other? Still, a dream is a dream.
Album that has had the most impact on you?
Recently I’ve been listening to Lucy Dacus’ record Historian. A lot.
How do you define your musical style in 3 words?
Mischievous Baroque/Folk Pop
A release you’re most looking forward to in 2021?
Lucy Dacus just announced a new album! I’m tentatively excited about that. It’s always a bit bleak for any great artist to have to follow their best work, and Historian is a towering monument of a record, but it’s also only her second. I just really hope she sticks the landing — she probably will.
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
Maybe a Wes Anderson movie? I’d actually really like to get into soundtracks someday, but I’m not sure if I’ve recently seen a movie and thought, “Oh, now this. I really wish I’d been given this job.”
Album you would listen to on repeat on a road trip?
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel
Last concert you went to?
I don’t really go to concerts, I tend to find them loud, crowded, miserable affairs, but I saw Muse down in Austin, Texas once. It was absurd. I hated music for almost a full week after that show, but I also learned something. I remember when I first discovered Muse, it was mind-splitting — kind of like the first time I read David Bentley Hart or Kierkegaard. But over the years I began to find Muse to be less and less capable of sustaining my interest. Around the time I saw them live, I had almost entirely abandoned my obsession with they’re music, but there, on stage, all of the songs that had grown so boring were suddenly and inexorably astounding: it was like hearing them for the first time. Which brings me to my point: Muse is really meant to be experienced on stage. It’s like Opera or Shakespeare’s plays. Don’t listen to the album expecting to fully understand it: go to the show. I should probably take my own advice and start seeing other bands live, haha!
If you were a Spice Girl, what would your spice nickname be?
Emaciated Spice. I basically have the physique of Woody, from Toy Story.
Guilty music pleasure?
Jack Johnson. There’s something about albums like To The Sea or Sleep Through the Static. At his best, his sound gives definition to words like pleasant and warm. Whenever I’ve had a terrible day, Jack Johnson, like Enya, is amongst the artists I go to for comfort. And you know what? I’m tired of feeling guilty about that. Anyone who wants to belittle Jack Johnson has a heart of iron, and heaven has no need for hearts of iron. Otherwise, there’s Weezer (Ok Human is actually great), Green day (American Idiot is a good album), and Muse (Origin of Symmetry, Absolution, and sometimes The Resistance). Muse seems to insist upon my continued patronage becoming progressively more and more guilty with each subsequent release… (Simulation Theory: Ugh.)
If you could support any artist on tour, who would it be?
Randy Newman? Tom Waits? Andrew Bird? M. Ward? Sufjan Stevens? Lucy Dacus? One of these probably.
An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry.
“Like anyone could even know that, Napoleon.” But seriously, Franz Liszt? The Beatles? Is there a correct “rapid fire” answer to a question like this?
What advice would your current self give your future self, for a year from now?
My future self will almost certainly laugh in the face of anything my current self might want to pass off as advice, but with that being said: maybe start working out consistently or something? I’m not sure I have the will power right now, but I’m really hoping you will eventually. Ok, good talk.
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
My dad was diagnosed with cancer over 9 years ago. He fully recovered, which was an immense blessing, but somewhere in the midst of that experience I realized that music was all I wanted to do.