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"It's whiskey in the morning, gin and tonic at noon. Pulling down the blinds in a motel room..."
"Strugglin'" is the first single from the debut EP by the trio of Austin-based musical veterans that collectively form I Am The Albatross. The song begins as a stumbling, lost soul's barroom lament before exploding into a blistering barn-burner, with a protagonist who dejectedly sneers at the hopelessness of the apocalyptic times he has found himself in. "Strugglin'" propels itself forward on a high-speed, borderline polka, gypsy groove and eventually bursts into full on punk-rock fury.
"The song is an exaggerated expression of the feelings of imprisonment and tension that we all experience in times of financial and emotional insecurity. Everyone at some point in their life may find themselves trapped in a dark, windowless room (figuratively, hopefully), just searching for a crack in the wall where a tiny bit of light might be shining through," explains band leader, Jesse Berkowitz.
Austin-based trio I Am The Albatross combines the backwoods mysticism of old-time American folk songs with the savage spirit of rock, punk and psychedelic noise. The band’s brand of storytelling takes listeners through smoky terrain where tranquil rivers bleed out onto the shores of scorching deserts. It’s a stirring concoction of music that defines an alternate America with a strange dream landscape, forever out of place.
“I was born in a very small town in Virginia and literally grew up in the woods and spent my teenage years in an equally small town in New Mexico,” explains bandleader Jesse Berkowitz. “The Appalachian landscape and dialects, and the vast deserts of the Southwest and Western American culture, are equally important and influential in my songwriting. I have a great affinity for the types of characters that come from those places.”
Berkowitz continues, “The idea behind the sound of I Am The Albatross is to combine the worlds of Black Sabbath, Leonard Cohen, Black Flag, and Bob Dylan. Scenes of desolation, destruction, confusion, self-loathing, and human struggle are as present in the lyrics of punk rock songs as they are in early bluegrass music, so I’m applying those ideas to something with more volume,” he says.
Formed in Austin only a year ago, I Am the Albatross has since become a live staple of the local Red River scene. In addition to Berkowitz on guitar and vocals, the band also features Giuseppe Ponti on bass and vocals, and Marc Henry on drums. All three collaborate to arrive at the thoughtful arrangements that comprise the band’s tunes.
“The three of us have played together for years now, starting in 2010 as the heavy instrumental band, Vanished Clan,” Berkowitz says of the work he’s been creating with Ponti and Henry for over four years.
Berkowitz utilized his background in music theory to fuel Vanished Clan’s complex and epic compositions, and when Ponti and Henry began to work on additional projects, Berkowitz followed suit with focusing on the more traditional songwriting and storytelling aspects of his work.
“We remained friends throughout, and I eventually approached the two of them about the possibility of working up some band arrangements of the folk songs I was writing,” Berkowitz remembers. “When they re-joined the fold, the music became much more aggressive.”
As for the origin of the band’s name, the phrase “I am the albatross” is borrowed from a work by poet Sara Vial, written on a monument to sailors who died trying to round Cape Horn off the coast of South America, which is known as one of the most dangerous ocean crossings.
Berkowitz elaborates, saying, “An albatross is also a mythological creature that is considered both a good omen and a bad one, as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘The Rime of The Ancient Mariner.’ In the poem, an albatross that is thought to bring good luck is mistakenly killed and therefore becomes a symbol of devastation and curse.”
I Am The Albatross will release its debut self-titled EP on March 4th, 2014, preceded by the single “Strugglin’,” which was recorded direct to two-inch tape in the heat of a particularly fierce Texas summer during a whiskey-fueled session at Austin’s 5th Street Studios.
Following the release of the EP, I Am The Albatross will perform live during South By Southwest where the band brings a defined and dynamic presence, frequently shifting from walls of noise to a folky hush, with bluesy, snaking riffs all around, and Berkowitz’s vocals veering from harsh growls to ghostly harmonies.
There's a lot of people out there in the world tonight
That ain't gonna make it 'til the morning light...
There's a lot of people out there, got nowhere to go
Alone in a city that they don't know....
My baby's struggling, and I'm struggling too
Searching for a crack where the light shines through...
When things can't get any worse, well that's when they do
Searching for a crack where the light shines through...
It's whiskey in the morning, gin and tonic at noon
Pulling down the blinds in a motel room...
The higher that you go, the farther you can fall,
It's best to keep low and just crawl, baby, crawl!
Snakes are in the grass, wolves are at the door
Ain't a lot of people you can trust anymore....
Towers are burning down, levees gonna break...
Get the hell out of the way, run for God's sake!
Ships are lost out in the fog....
Begging and starving like a stray dog....
Waiting for the spider
Tangled up like a fly...
Ain't gonna make it out alive!
Cain, he went and dwelt in the land of Nod....
I'm running like hell from a vengeful god.
Evil is sleeping in the hearts of men...
Try to stay quiet in the lion's den.