Is that Trent Reznor on the cover? No? Phew. Exponentially lesser known and exponentially more prolific than the industrial giant, Kevin Tihista is a music scene veteran (Maus, Wood, Triple Fast Action, Veruca Salt) turned home-recording songwriter geyser. Seriously, the man is now known more for writing tons of songs than for the songs themselves. Home Demons Volume 1 collects leftovers, demos, and studio tracks, seemingly setting the stage for scads more such releases or perhaps a Proust-worthy box set. As odds ‘n’ sods records tend to be, Tihista’s is fairly hit-or-miss, but as with spiritual kin Robert Pollard and Jack Logan, picking and sifting for the occasional gem is half the fun, and enough enticement to track down more recordings.
Browsing through various press on Tihista reveals lots of comparisons to Elliott Smith, which are vaguely understandable. The brief but wonderful “Stratford Upon Avon” dips in the same solo-Beatle inspired trickbag, pulling out double-tracked vocals, nimbly picked guitar, and a Lennonesque melody to declare “Shakespeare’s a hoax but let the legend live on”. But shared influences aside, there’s little to connect Tihista’s sensibilities to Smith’s. Then there’s the home-cooked Casio sounds of “Wake Up Captain” and the instrumental “#32”, complete with faux-trumpet trills and stuffy back beats. “Captain” (also the title of his 2004 release under the moniker Kevin Tihista’s Red Terror) is absurdly catchy, repeating a sequence of chords under an even more repetitive keyboard whistle, offsetting the hangdog reflection of “I know I’ve seen good times in my life / But now I can’t remember if they were even mine or not / There’s just no way to get back home”.
Much of Home Demons is like watching a romantic comedy where a hapless but likeable leading man/woman mopes and obsesses over his/her issues and tough times. You empathize, but ultimately there’s no sense of real danger of bottoming out and not finding good times in the end. There’s a breeziness on every song that shaves the edges off, for better or worse. The Ida-like “I Don’t Blame You” addresses a dissolving relationship with such an understanding tone that it’s almost aggressively well-adjusted: “I’m not here to judge you on what you do with your life / Just know that I’ll always love you / And I know you’re gonna be just fine”. Humorously, the sentiment spills over into a syrupy reading of Dave Mason’s ‘70’s gold classic “We Just Disagree”. But although moves like this are amusing, and easier to pull of on records designed for experiments and leftover tracks, they don’t always beg to be replayed more than a couple times.
Tihista himself is quick to admit in the liner notes that “track 11 kind of sucks, but who cares”, a typical act of self-deprecating charm. But there it is anyway, “15 Hundred Miles”, laid out warts-and-all. As such, it fits here as a document of the songwriting process that’s been so fruitful for him. There’s a constant ebb and flow of good and bad, and “15 Hundred Miles” is only marginally schmaltzy until the ultra-cheesy resolve at the end, which does in fact suck enough to cause heads to turn in whatever room it’s playing. But Tihista’s willingness to take the piss out of himself is refreshing, demystifying the often too-pious position of singer-songwriter. Towards the end of the excellently titled “Jim Henson’s Blues/You’re Not Bad”, the guitars fall out of the mix to frame the rant, “Some motherfucker looked like Ryan Adams and I slapped that bitch in the teeth”. If a hip-hop style song feud could erupt from this and spawn a couple albums on both sides, I’d say it’s all worth it.