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"This EP should be subtitled ‘My Year of Plagues,’" says Bill DeMain, with a chuckle.
In May 2010, a record-setting flood hit Nashville, filling the basement of DeMain’s condo with over five feet of water. Among his possessions washed away were years worth of personal journals and songwriting notebooks. "I write with a fountain pen, so the few waterlogged notebooks that I retrieved just looked like big Rorschach ink blots," he says.
Four months later, a cigarette butt thrown by a careless neighbor caused a fire that took out DeMain’s entire home.
"Between the flood and the fire, I lost about 80% of my stuff," he says. "I was actually home when the fire started, and did manage to escape with my 1937 Martin acoustic, my laptop and some clothes."
There followed thirteen months of what DeMain calls his "bohemian interlude."
"Suddenly, I was living this transient life. I had very little in the way of material stuff." Renting various funky apartments and farm cottages around Nashville, DeMain dealt with a host of oversized insects, mice, rats and even blood-sucking chicken mites.
Thankfully, there was an upside to all this.
"I wrote a lot of songs," says DeMain, "and as the months went by and I was still in limbo waiting for my condo to be rebuilt, I knew I needed a project to take my mind off the whole affair of losing my home. So I thought, "Why not make a record?"
As one half of Swan Dive, DeMain had already released nine acclaimed albums over the past decade and a half with his singing partner Molly Felder, enjoying great success in Japan, Thailand and Korea. He’d also written songs for and with many other artists, including Marshall Crenshaw, David Mead, Bleu, Kim Richey, Farrah and Boo Hewerdine. But he’d never done a solo record.
Armed with his laptop, the Martin, a few mics and a borrowed analog synth, he started recording. He invited friends to join him. He recorded some more. In all, he cut eighteen songs. But since it was his first solo project, he thought it would be better to keep things brief. "Six-song EPs always appeal to me," DeMain says, "because if you get it right, you can make a strong, concise statement that hopefully leaves people wanting more."
And on Extended Stay, DeMain gets it right. From the moving autobiographical opener "Looking For A Place To Live" and the Paul Simon-meets-Beach Boys retro romp of "St. Joe’s ‘75" through the sweet acoustic jangle of "Honeylove" to the swirling, Wings-like pop of "Common Love Song" and jaunty, Nilsson-esque "Raggedy Man," this EP moves through peaks and valleys, takes unexpected twists and turns, all while packing in melodic hooks for miles. Through it all, it feels like an intimate conversation with its author.
"I think I got to express different sides of what I do as a songwriter," says DeMain. "And also, writing for myself as a singer freed me up to say a lot of personal things that might not have worked in the context of Swan Dive."
Recently, DeMain moved back into his newly rebuilt condo, a long-awaited reunion. "Even though there was a lot about the experience of being displaced and losing my stuff that really sucked," DeMain says, "I feel fortunate that I came through it all with my health and my friends. And I’m proud that I’ve got this EP that documents what was going on in my life during this very strange year."