Interview: Stuart Pearson releases new Dark Americana album, "Mojave"
by Ascendant Magazine
Stuart Pearson is a talented Dark Americana musician and song-writer originally from Long Island. A music-lover from a young age, Stuart would spend summers on his grandfather's farm in Wisconsin listening to iconic music artists such as Johnny Cash, Bobby Gentry, and Charlie Rich. Back home, when the city’s punk scene blossomed, he discovered the noise made by the NY Dolls, Television, and the Ramones, leading him to the Velvet Underground.
Stuart Pearson's band named, Through The Woods, was impressively voted Band of The Year by the National Academy of Songwriters in the late nineties. Together, they would create their unique and eclectic sound by utilizing items and instruments such as bicycle wheels, bowed guitars, tuba, glockenspiel, hurdy gurdy, squeezebox, banjo, hubcaps, sax and clarinet, making what is now called "Dark Americana".
Most recently, Stuart has released his newest album titled, "Mojave", onto all digital streaming platforms. "Mojave" is the second of a series of Dark Americana albums, and is more modern than its predecessor titled, "Dark Americana: Stories and Songs". While steeped in the dusty American west, “Mojave” has hints of Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Leonard Cohen thrown in a bucket with ghosts of the 1800's. “Mojave” looks at the crumbling abandoned buildings that rot next to the two-lane highway cutting through Death Valley. These are murder ballads, songs of bad decisions, bad people and bad consequences.
"Dark Americana music wants you to fill in the blanks." - Stuart Pearson
Hello, Stuart! I'd love to know, when did you first discover your passion for music?
Stuart: I guess I was around six or seven years old. My father played a bit of piano when friends were over and I thought it was the coolest thing. I had epilepsy as a kid and plunking a finger on the keys of the piano helped me focus. It made me feel like everything was alright. When I stumbled across my first C major triad, I thought I had just discovered penicillin. I was going to CHANGE THE WORLD with this C-E-G. GOOD LORDEE HOW COULD PEOPLE NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS C-E-G THING?!?! Imagine my disappointment when finding that people DID know about C-E-G. I did the only thing I could do – I wrote hundreds of really, really terrible songs. They thankfully got better over time.
What three words would you say best summarize who you are/your art?
Stuart: “Severe Tire Damage”. Have you ever seen that road sign? “Do not back-up. Severe Tire Damage”. I don’t want to make music that I’ll regret later. I don’t want to repeat myself or make music that feels like a compromise. That said, I’d be delighted to write a jingle for any “bucket o’ chicken” company that needs a toe-tapper. Big fan of chicken here. I suppose the Gothic Western music tends to be dark meat.
Tell me about your latest album release, "Mojave".. what was the inspiration for you to write it?
Stuart: “Mojave” is the second Dark Americana/Gothic Western album (the first is called “Stories and Songs”). I had just finished the first album when the pandemic hit. Hunter (my wife and writing partner) and I were accustomed to travelling all over the place, but then in the mid-covid panic, when we were brave enough to go outside, we would drive to the desert. Death Valley is a couple hours outside of Los Angeles. There is a challenge to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts; Nature itself doesn’t want you there. And that natural friction makes the people that do live out there fascinating. There are some areas where people DARE nature to take them out. The sulfuric Salton Sea, the living ghost town of Bombay Beach, the art colonies of East Jesus and West Satan. These are tiny, teensy towns out there. Drifters, Artists, people who live off the grid. Maybe hiding from bad former lives. They celebrate their isolation.
Most artists say that through their art they learn more about themselves, heal injuries… in what ways has music helped you?
Stuart: Music reminds me that we are all meat bags with stories. Some of us are swankier meat bags, maybe made of a higher quality leather. Regardless, we all eventually de-pixilate, but that music just sticks around after we’re fertilizer. It’s eternal and knows you’re not. Music looks down on us with a certain sense of pity. As a kid, it gave me a place to hide. All the neighborhood kids were trained to run to my house and scream for my mom if I had a seizure while playing in the street. So sometimes I didn’t want to go outside; it was embarrassing when a seizure would come. I think I secretly liked all that attention though. It probably led to me wanting to be on stage – to get all that attention back without hitting my head on concrete.
How do you want your music to help other people?
Stuart: That’s a strange question to saddle. I think some music doesn’t want to help people – it wants to give them the side-eye and make them shift uncomfortably back and forth in their seat. Dark Americana music wants you to fill in the blanks. Give you the willies. Not every writer takes that Hippocratic oath to teach the world to sing – some of us are just little stinkers. I was fortunate enough to see Tom Petty’s second-to-last performance at the Hollywood Bowl and it gave me an “aha!” moment. When I hear Petty’s music, I want to form a rock band and steal beer from a supermarket. When I hear Bruce Springsteen, I want to build affordable housing. I love the music of both equally (I really do). To me, they just go after different reactions, even though they both are/were very philanthropic. And let me repeat, I LOVE Springsteen’s music - please no hate mail. We need more affordable housing.
What would you say is your songwriting process?
Stuart: I like really bad movies. Bad acting, bad scripts, bad lighting, I just can’t get enough. When I see a truly ridiculous movie, I can’t help but think of ways to make it better. It’s human nature – we’re problem-solvers, right? In that problem-solving comes great material. How do you write a song for a terrible movie? Do you write a song that makes fun of it? OF COURSE NOT! You’re not heartless - you write something full of emotion and reach. Something vital. Let that poor movie know there are (possibly) worse movies out there and you believe in it. Songwriting is like that – you’re always putting band aids on things – hurt feelings, shoulda-woulda-coulda’s. What Dark Americana / Gothic Western music does for me is give me the freedom to be naughty. I tell Hunter that if she gets writer’s block to write a lyric about cannibalism – it’s an awful subject so it has nothing it needs to live up to.
Who are the first music artists that inspired you?
Stuart: The very first influence for me was watching my dad play piano when friends were over. Then my older brother had a rock band that played at some parties and that really polished the brass for me. Beyond that, the first record I owned was a 45 of “Bella Notte” from Disney’s, “The Lady and the Tramp”. What a song. I’d love to cover that someday, though I think I would taint its perfection with my gloomy noise. Then there were the soundtracks to “Exodus” and “Fiddler on the Roof” that I found from watching them on tv. If it wasn’t for my older brother and sister having all the records of the big hits of the day, I probably would have ended up in singing showtunes on a cruise ship in the Philippines. Thank god for the Velvet Underground!
What is your favorite song you've written or recorded to date?
Stuart: I think the best way to answer that is to triangulate where the next album is heading after spooning up, “Mojave”. If you listen to “You Don’t See Me (Jimmy Crack Corn)”, “The Interstate” and “Dragging The Lake (on the day of the dead)”, you’ll get an impression of where the next album is going. It shall be dark and experimental, making monsters out of banjo sounds. Accordions with bad attitudes. Fiddles that key your car. I’m hoping my favorite song is on that album.
What is the next "big thing" the world can expect from you?
Stuart: That would be the next album, tentatively titled “Carnivals”. It’s in the enclosed, black garbage bag stage, where it’s all gooey, oddly warm and smells funny. Tempos and keys will clash in places, like a Walmart after Thanksgiving. It will be tuneful though, and you’ll be ashamed of yourself when you find you’re singing along.
Where will you be performing next?
Stuart: I’m rehearsing now to start solo performances. I used to perform with a toy monkey banging on his cymbals, remote-controlled Christmas toys, hurdy gurdy, and a Slinky. This time around it will be darker though - mainly an acoustic guitar, a slide, and an e-bow. I’m promoting “Mojave” in the Scandinavian countries right now and hoping to work out logistics to do a brief series of shows there in the next 6-12 months. Before that, I’ll probably show up at different places in Los Angeles to wiggle some sticks at people.