How To Say Goodbye
Photo Ops is the stunning, contemplative dream pop project of Terry Price, whose new album How To Say Goodbye draws on the tragedy and triumph of his recent past. The 30-year-old Nashville singer-songwriter, formerly of esteemed indie act Oblio, has had a traumatizing few years, including the death of his father and the sudden onset of a disfiguring medical condition.
“I wanted to have a stylized, melodic, easy-to-understand album about sadness and pain and strangeness, and somehow find some catharsis,” he says. Indeed the concise and beautiful work -- which draws on influences from Phil Spector, Paul Simon, Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac to dream pop acts of The Radio Dept. and Starflyer 59-- is his attempt to move forward in his life and give comfort to others.
Price grew up outside of Dallas, and in high school studied choir, band and jazz band, with his own Christian alternative group to boot. His parents met in a Fort Worth seminary studying to be ministers, and his father traveled across the country taking pictures in 1970 – which helped inspire Price's artist name Photo Ops. But his dad was cursed with a severe schizo-effective disorder, with symptoms of manic depression and schizophrenia, and he required heavy medication and eventually was forced to move back in with his parents in Georgia. He died in early 2011 of a heart attack at age 55; since then Price has slowly gone through his personal belongings, including his pictures and his tortured journals. “It took me a long time to accept just how horrible it had been for him,” he says.
Meanwhile, Price was dealing with health issues of his own. He woke up one morning in 2009 to find the left side of his face completely paralyzed. Diagnosed with a condition called Bell’s palsy, he lacked health insurance and further was forced to take off months of work. In response the owner of popular Nashville record store Grimey’s held a benefit concert to help with his expenses, drawing members of My Morning Jacket and The Features. Price underwent extensive acupuncture and eventually recovered movement in his face. His health prognosis is positive, and many of his friends say he looks just as before. Still, “one eye is a little smaller than the other,” says Price. “I can be a little self-conscious about it.
These traumas informed How To Say Goodbye, a project which he undertook in the aftermath of Oblio’s breakup. That group had released a pair of full-length albums, toured with Camera Obscura, and drawn the admiration of publications like Paste. “My band focused on putting so much of our energy into the live show. We toured our asses off -- such a hard grind,” he says, adding that he took a different approach with Photo Ops. “I thought, even though album sales are so slow, it’s still the best promotional tool.”
And so he bore down on the work, playing nearly all of the instruments, including acoustic and electric guitar, the Roland Juno-60 analog synthesizer, organ, piano, and bass, He co-produced it with Patrick Damphier of Saddle Creek act The Mynabirds, at the latter’s studio. Featuring driving, mesmerizing melodies – immediately appealing but substantial – the album is led off by “All the World Is,” which unveils the full-length's autobiographical undertones: “It’s hard to recover from a bad year/ Friends that were with us, are no longer near.” Later, on “Someplace” he sings: “All this memory has gone out the window/ Like how to be a person in general/ Age is more than a number/ When you’re as old as you feel.”
The goal was to “sonically fuse” three albums, Paul Simon’s eponymous 1972 album, Dion’s Born to Be With You (produced by Phil Spector) and The Radio Dept.’s Clinging to a Scheme. “I wanted to combine chillwave with a more straightforward, honest approach,” he says.
“The album title How To Say Goodbye may seem clichéd,” he goes on, “but I didn’t want there to be a question of what I was singing about: How to say goodbye to youth, friendships, innocence, thinking you understand the world, all that in general.”
Still, the work is not just for him. Some of his friends were going through similar difficulties, he says, and he created tracks like “Go To Sleep” almost as lullabies. “The last song – ‘Sail Across My Eyes’ – is like, ‘Let’s commiserate.’”
The listener will surely feel the same way. Out of tragedy comes this empathetic, haunting work, without a doubt one of the best of 2012. -By Ben Westhoff