Rachel Taylor Brown‘s new release, Run Tiny Human (out October 19), is a walk with art and science, a collection of pieces that contemplate the fate of the world: global warming, the apparent oncoming extinction of redheads, the ongoing question of whether there is or isn’t a God, space junk that has crashed to the earth.
Along the way there are quiet vignettes, such as the opening “You (Yourself)” and the contemplative poem/plea “Marry Me”, the boisterous, glitchy meditation on poverty “Gitcher”, the Sam Phillips-meets-Suzanne Vega-meets-Aimee Mann-meets Paul McCartney “Maker” and unapologetically in-your-face “Up You”. It’s as much as an album for now as it is an album for any point in time: angry, filled with a particularly smart sense of humor that teeters on the dark but sways back, convincing us that there may be a tunnel at the end of the light. The release serves as her tenth and eighth working with Jeff Stuart Saltzman (Block Party, Stephen Malkmus), who recorded and mixed the set.
“A lot of songs came to me while I was falling asleep”, she says, noting that “Little Gyre” was among them. The piece chronicles what happens when bits of space junk crashed into the Pacific Ocean. If there is a central theme to the LP, it’s one of frustration at environmental disasters and a state, country, and planet on the verge of collapse.
“While I’m making an album I’m not really thinking that hard about what it means but at the end, I can look back and say, ‘Oh, I can see where my head was at.’ But I try not to think too hard while I’m writing”, she adds. “I try to be as dumb as possible and let what’s going to come. I know that sounds so mystical/magical, probably insufferably so.” That said, she offers, “The songs have a lot to do with what’s been happening in Portland, then a national and international level, then a world level.”
Talk turns to rising housing costs and the influx of transplants to the once sleepy-ish city in the Pacific Northwest. With high rent and low wages, some are forced to move outside the city, destined to long and expensive commutes that become more about travelling and working than living. Then there are developers who infiltrate what were intended to be affordable places to live, spiking the costs even higher. These are the very things that might keep one from being rested.
“I think, particularly, in America, the stress we’re under is strange. And I see people doing all kinds of weird things to cope with it. I was in the Safeway the other day, looking for apples; it’s a nice, relatively upscale Safeway and everybody’s faces I looked at, and I don’t think I was projecting, but people looked so beat. Tired.”
She adds, “Some of the things that came out on the album were really about how people are coping with these huge global changes and then the political climate in America.”
One can certainly look to history and see moments of tension but the current moment adds some extra dimensions. “What’s different this time is polar ice caps melting. That’s stuff that, when it goes, is going to be difficult to get back. It’s already impacting the jet stream,” she says. “That’s why we’ve had atypical heat in Oregon and Washington and in Alaska and Canada. That’s not to sound like the voice of doom, but it’s hard not to.”
So, does it help to make art which voices frustration in light of all of that? Taylor Brown says it does. “It’s like lancing a boil. That’s a terrible way to describe it, but it does bring a sense of relief”, she offers. “I feel that you can express things in all art that, if you were to just talk about it with them they wouldn’t listen. But with music, you can sneak it past them. But if people don’t listen to the words, that’s OK. I just want them to like my songs.”