Jeffrey Silverstein | Interview | New Album, ‘Western Sky Music’
‘Western Sky Music’ by Jeffery Silverstein is a soulful masterpiece, a brilliant deduction and exploration of the cosmic structure that holds everything tentatively in place.
What’s laid down on ‘Western Sky Music’ is not expansive, it’s smooth, it nearly evaporates, it hovers close to the earth with a resounding warmth of things half remembered, things held just out of sight and is intoxicatingly delicious. It’s impossible for me to discuss this album without making reference to Rose City Band or Relatively Clean Rivers, but only in passing, as Jeffery Silverstein and his band of nimble weird latter-day cowboys own the patch of ground on which they stand, beholden to no one. The record is a couchbound wonderland, filled with independent jangles and melodies that dovetail together like blue smoke caught on a breeze drifting out of an open window, just as a big ol’ smiling orange moon is rising over the mountains, filling the atmosphere with good time pastoral vibes.
“It’s been a long journey”
Jenell: Ladies & Gentlemen, tonight I have the pleasure of sitting down with Jeffrey Silverstein, where I hope we’ll be spreading a bit of cosmic bliss … Jeffery, thanks for pulling up a chair. Please, allow me to jump right in and say that your new album ‘Western Sky Music’ is an imaginative laidback slice of cosmic haze. What inspired you to come face to face with those interlocking jangling rhythms?
Jeffrey Silverstein: I consider ‘Western Sky Music’ to be my first “full-band” album. It’s a product of having developed both a strong personal vision for my work, while leaning heavily into collaboration with my crew. Arrangements for many of these songs were finalized while recording. I’m at an exciting moment where my confidence has grown as a bandleader and I’m also performing/recording with guys whose musical knowledge and skill is far superior to my own. They are consistently pushing me, it’s made me a better player and songwriter.
Your numbers are almost meditative, filled with a gentleness, was that a conscious decision on your part? And within the construct of this gotta-have-it-now world, your music nearly requires that people set aside everything and become couch-bound in order to connect with you.
That’s kind of you. It’s not a conscious decision, more a reflection of how I want to be showing up for people, including myself on a day to day level.
It’s been inferred that your sound is that of latter-day country, though I prefer Cosmic Americana, especially with your sparse and buried vocals. How do you determine where, when, and if needed at all to add your voice?
Usually I’ll know right away whether or not a song will have vocals. There are times I’ve surprised myself, or have wound up adding vocals to a song where I initially could not hear them, but typically the line is drawn early in the writing process. If a vocal melody presents itself first, that usually means a song will have lyrics. It can also depend on how a song changes once I bring it to the band.
Have you become comfortable with your voice, do you have plans for more traditional songs with vocal arrangements?
It’s been a long journey, but I can finally say that I love my voice. Up until releasing music under my own name, I only played guitar in other projects. I found being a front-person terrifying for quite some time, especially when playing solo sets. Working with Ryan Oxford (engineer) on my vocals has been huge, he’s done some wonderful coaching and I look forward to continuing to build on this feeling. I also just love being in a space where I don’t feel confined to have to do only instrumentals or only vocal numbers … It’s freeing.
A couple of history questions if you’ll indulge me. You’re from Baltimore and moved to the west coast, where I’m from Philadelphia and moved to New Mexico, do you find that having been part of such a cosmopolitan multidimensional society gives you a greater vision?
I’d like to believe that it does. I’m very grateful for my time in Baltimore and NYC, those cities gave me a wonderful foundation and education.
“Patience is one of the things I value most in music”
Along the same path, I understand that you were/are a teacher, did teaching affect your musical direction?
Teaching is oftentimes rooted in performance and patience. Patience is one of the things I value most in music, so I’m sure that even unconsciously it has impacted much music. High school students see through and call you out on your bullshit real quick. You’ve got to figure out a way to bring your authentic self to the classroom in the same way you have to find your authentic voice as a musician.
You might laugh at me, but I’m gonna say it anyway, I met J. J. Cale back in the early 70’s, and you have a similar sly boogie undercurrent that is just resounding?
That’s a huge compliment. J.J.’s music is a major influence for me … endless boogie.
You have some wayward gunslingers siding with you on this album, would you mind introducing them, what they bring to the table and perhaps how you met?
The second guitar you hear on ‘Cowboy Grass’ is played by Ryan Oxford. Ryan runs the studio (Color Therapy) where I recorded my past three releases (‘Western Sky Music,’ ‘Torii Gates,’ and ‘You Become the Mountain’) and is now a close cosmic friend and songwriting partner. William Tyler makes an appearance on the song ‘Chet’. I’ve been a big William Taylor fan for quite some time. William contributed a track (with Julianna Barwick) to a tribute compilation I curated for the late Ted Lucas back in 2021. The pedal-steel work you hear is by Barry Walker Jr. (from North Americans, Mouth Painter and the Rose City Band). Barry became a quick friend when I moved to Portland, we were both releasing music on Driftless Recordings at the time, and we have been close friends ever since.
Do you picture, or could you imagine yourself with a formal band, or do you enjoy the pickup concept and vision of what another artist might bring to a song?
Been trying for consistency wherever possible, but I absolutely love letting other musicians interpret the songs. I’ve had west coast, east coast and UK bands, all who brought their own energy. It’s great that songs can take new shapes and forms depending on who is in the mix.
And for our gear-heads, are there any effects you employ, or would like to? And from there, is there any dream equipment, say a vintage pedal steel that may be floating your way in the near future?
I’m not much of a gear head. On our recent tour with Fruit Bats I got to take a Benson Monarch Reverb amp out on the road. Benson Amps are made here in Portland! I absolutely fell in love with that amp, might need to pull the trigger and buy one for myself.
Without a doubt ‘Sunny Jean’ is a knockout for me, would you please elaborate on that track for a moment?
Glad you dug it. ‘Sunny Jean’ is an ode to my wife. The lyric “you keep your name clean” pulls from a famous Patti Smith speech. Kind of just a way to acknowledge how privileged I am to share a life with someone I admire and love to the utmost degree.
Jeffrey, who’s on your turntable right now?
Hirth Martinez, Rob Galbraith, Bobby Lee, Dommegang, Palm Sunday, Chu Osaka, David Blue and Growing Bryan.
Jeffery, is there anything I’ve missed, anything you’d like to say?
Thanks so much for taking some time for me. ‘Western Sky Music’ is out now on Arrowhawk Records. You can grab a copy on vinyl from my Bandcamp page or from the Arrowhawk Webstore.
I want to thank you for sitting in tonight. From the heart, I wish you all the best in the coming days.
Headline photo: Shade Standard