In Port O’Brien, singer/songwriter Van Pierszalowski fronted a band with an arsenal of loose, ramshackle anthems. With that group’s demise, Pierszalowski has turned his attention inward, recording a solo album, Out in the Light, as WATERS. By inward, I don’t mean “mopey” or “solipsistic,” like the term usually means when linked with the other buzzword in this introduction, “singer/songwriter”. As WATERS, Pierszalowski investigates the themes in his own life—the freedom of travel, finding hope in small moments—yes, but he does so with gusto, turning the guitars up and letting the drums fill the mix. WATERS is the work of one guy, but with all this volume and energy, you might not think so.
In the months leading up to the recording of Out in the Light, Pierszalowski spent a staggering amount of time on the road—and not even only as a touring musician. Travel seems to be woven into his creative DNA. During the record’s compositional process, he lived in Norway, California, Alaska, New York. But Pierszalowski makes a distinction between this sort of scene-hopping and travel, in the standard sense. He wasn’t looking for inspiration in wanderlust, necessarily, but it came about naturally through the rhythms of his personal life: “It never really felt too much like I was traveling,” he says. “I was more living in all these different places for short times. I met a girl in Oslo on one of the last Port O’Brien tours, so I wanted to be there as much as possible, but of course the government won’t let me do that. So I lived there as much as I could, lived in Brooklyn for three months of intense winter, and spent the summer working on my dad’s boat on Kodiak Island, and in between couch surfed up and down California. In terms of the writing process, I think it had more to do with what was going on in my life at the time, then any of the particular places.”
As for that writing process, Pierszalowski found the shift from writing with Port O’Brien to writing solo a liberating experience. As he explains it, When I’d write a song for Port O’Brien, I’d come up with a few parts and bring it in and we’d just make something out of it together. With WATERS, I spent months obsessing over the structures and lyrics of all the songs before I played them with any sort of band. They were able to take more a firm shape and feel in my head before they were born, which I feel was a pretty great advantage to have while taking them to the next stage of rehearsing and recording.” And Out in the Light is a record about finding liberation, in a way. In the same way that Pierszalowski hasn’t put down roots in one place for very long, always starting over in a new place, he also feels like he’s doing so in his work. “The record is really about starting over,” he says, “and feeling reborn in a way, and a part of that is making sure I had my own shit figured out, and that I could be okay on my own.”
This sentiment brings a fair amount of optimism to Out in the Light, somewhat strange for a record recorded in the Norwegian perma-winter. Pierszalowski says he doesn’t shy away from more downcast music, even when in wintry surroundings or a wintry state of mind, but that he believes in music’s ability to “really help turn things around.” He thinks Out in the Light may have some of those moments, ones “that can really help turn sadness…into a more determined state.” He’s being modest. WATERS and Out in the Light resonate with an earnest, hard-won hope. Pierszalowski has made a perfect winter record, one that has enough warmth to last until Spring.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.