Hrishikesh Hirway goes by the stage name the One A.M. Radio. The L.A.-based Massachusetts native makes albums and EPs that most would, on casual listen, place firmly in the Folktronica bin — which might in fact be the most appropriate place for them — but with a twist or two.
Since around 1997 or so, Hirway’s been refining and releasing his gently broody blend of acoustic guitars, twining violins, glitchy electronics and prominent polybeats, including his 2002 debut album, The Hum of Electric Air!, 2004’s A Name Writ in Water and a thumpingly good EP last year called On the Shore of the Wide World, featuring remixes by some of L.A.’s finest, namely Daedelus and John Tejada.
Hirway’s recent, third full-length, This Too Will Pass, on the praiseworthy Dangerbird label, was finally deemed ready to be born after a somewhat hellish year during which young Hirway spent downtime in solitude at his now-vacant childhood home, or crashing on friends’ floors, or in his car, on a rootless journey that took him from L.A. to India and back again.
So what was up with Hrishikesh Hirway? The short version is that this was simply the chronicle of that typically troubling time of life when crumbling relationships and faltering identities tend to make a big mess of things for young people, especially perhaps for those who’d dedicate themselves to a life of art. The longer version involves the notion that great (or at least, very good) results — or at the very, very least, some kind of catharsis — can result from these times of loneliness, confusion and pain.
Ahem. Hirway has another, less arty reason the album took so long to make, however.
“I work really slowly,” he says. “I’ve never been a prolific writer; it’s always been a really slow process for me to finish one song. And on this record, it moved even slower because I was moving around a lot.”
He’d been living in L.A. for a couple of years, and left in 2004 to do some freelance graphic-design work for Apple in San Francisco. It was a good way to make some money, and was only a three-month commitment.
When he was finished, Hirway went back to the East Coast for a while, played some shows, and then returned to Los Angeles, where he found himself staying in sublets or doing the couch tour at his mates’ flats.
We flirt with the melodramatic here, but the fact is, Hirway had entered a period when he’d finished school, broken off a long-standing relationship, and was left wondering, frankly, if he had any music left in him at all, or if indeed the life of an itinerant minstrel was any proper path for a Yale graduate such as himself.
“I’d been having a block for a while, after the last record had come out,” he says. “I’d toured for almost a year solid after it came out, and while I was doing that, I just wasn’t really writing.”
So in the time-honored tradition of several scores of seekers before him, he went to India.
Hirway’s time spent helping out his extended family there, and reading books, served to shake things loose, mentally. But it was his Indian uncle’s divorce — still quite a tumultuous thing in that mainly conservative country — that finally severed his writer’s block.
“Seeing my uncle’s situation — and I was reading Anna Karenina at the time — and trying to figure out who he is, I recognized some parallels. There’s something about having that distance for your metaphor . . .”
So Hrishikesh Hirway endured quite a bit of turmoil to get the material for This Too together; thus it’s no big shock that the results show such a quantum leap in emotional depth and musical substance. The album’s overarching themes of isolation, unease, upheaval and acceptance come heavily laden with a sumptuously produced cornucopia of audio delights, including lovely cello and violin interplay with his longtime collaborator Jane Yakowitz; various friends added a tasty ensemble sound of upright bass, French horn, trumpet and trombone; Hirway pounded real drum skins (recorded at Coverge’s studio in Salem, Massachusetts, for an extra-scary monster sound), and the aforementioned Daedelus threw down bass-clarinet magic.
While tracks such as “Lest I Forget,” “A Brittle Filament” and “Where I’m Headed” demonstrate Hirway’s gift for lyrical delicacy in exploring the hurts and strains of growing up absurd in an often annoyingly adrenalized world, it’s the foreboding instrumental textures and chillingly beautiful melodies of tracks such as “Fires” and “Your Name” that will most likely etch themselves firmly into the brain and heart.
It’s interesting too, and probably totally lame, to ponder how Hirway’s time spent in his family’s native India might have affected the surprisingly multihued sound of This Too Will Pass. While the album doesn’t appear overly impacted in any obvious way by recognizable Indian styles, classical, pop or otherwise, the gloriously unbiased way it combines tonalities and textures betrays an influence from the Old Country that he says is buried in his music’s DNA.
“I grew up listening to Indian music,” he says, “especially old Bollywood classics from the ’50s and ’60s that my folks listened to when they were growing up. Even more than the records, though, my memory of that music is my mom singing it. In a sort of defractive way, Indian music is filtering within my own life.”
Whatever the case, Hrishikesh Hirway is back on track. Doing the album helped; signing with Dangerbird, he says, was a godsend. He’s back in L.A., too, and quite happy to be here.
“Those questions I was asking: Where is it I belong? What’s the life that I’m trying to live? And more immediately, where am I gonna do it? A lot of these things came together. I’m not sure what will come of that, musically. This Too Will Pass was about trying to find some kind of solace in the idea that there is a resolution, yet that often you just have to let go of the need for resolution. And it’s so nice to start accumulating furniture and stuff again.”
THE ONE A.M. RADIO | This Too Will Pass | Dangerbird