By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Mass.-based post-rock Americana act Constellation Myths will self-release their new album next month, already anticipated off the singles “It Would’ve Been Enough,” “Suffer” and “Case History,” the latter of which features vocals from Molly Seamans.
Main members Justin Kehoe (drums, keys vocals) and Josh Goldman (guitar, bass, banjo, dulcimer) have played a wide variety of genres together from post-hardcore and indie-pop to math-rock since the late-90’s, but as Constellation Myths, they can focus more on writing and match it with roots of their pasts, going for a sound they described as an emulation of “hazy orange-tinted songs from ’70s country radio stations.”
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with Kehoe/Goldman about their upcoming album and more.
Music Bugle – How did you guys decide on the band name?
Josh Goldman – Our name was originally the title of one of our songs that I had chosen from a book I was reading when I was working on it. It became the name of our band after discussing a flurry of other contenders.
Justin Kehoe – Picking a name is hard. This is a pretty good one and I’ve certainly been in bands with names I’ve liked a good deal less. Luckily, it was just me and Josh deciding on the name. The more people involved in that decision, the more painful it gets.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for the single “Case History”?
Josh Goldman – I want the same thing I’ve always wanted from making music – to connect to someone. If it’s a lot of people, that’d be great, but honestly, I just would be so thrilled to really, really connect to one single person. I’d love for someone to truly dig what we’ve made, to really enjoy it, hopefully react to it and have it drive them to want to do something creative too.
Justin Kehoe – The songs that start with Josh – 80 to 90 percent of our songs – tend to lean toward the folky or Americana side of things, which stems naturally from his composing them on acoustic guitar or banjo. I have a propensity to push things in a more post-rock direction. I love the marriage of those elements, but with “Case History,” I felt like I wanted to preserve the easy, straightforward country charm of the song, not crowd it or overcomplicate it with noisy bits, especially after Molly came up with the vocal line. I could tell that the strong vocal melody would help carry the song and everything I was doing on the drums and keys needed to be unobtrusive and complementary. As far as the lyrics go, Molly and I wanted to capture a similar autumnal, AM gold-hued nostalgia as we could feel in the music.
Music Bugle – What makes you the most proud about where you come from?
Justin Kehoe – As a Vermonter, I guess I’m just proud I’m not from New Hampshire. Just kidding. My hometown is on the New Hampshire border and my siblings both live in New Hampshire. Traitors! Again, totally kidding. I didn’t always love growing up in the sticks, but it made me who I am. I guess if pressed, I’d say I’m proud of the amazing friends I made in high school, friends who are still in my life and continue to be gloriously weird, challenging – in the best sense – and just totally awesome. When people here in Boston that we know in common realize we all came from the same tiny backwater town, they are always like, “What is in the water up there?!”
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Justin Kehoe – As I mentioned before, I love the pairing and synthesis of our two primary impulses – the sunny, autumn-sun Americana of the plucked banjo and finger-picked guitar and the late night, atmospheric post-rock vibe that comes through in the electric piano and organ. Sometimes, they are in tension with one another, but that tension is generative and I think helps to keep us from falling into lazy or easy genre clichés. We do have songs that fit more tidily into one category or the other, because that’s just what works for that particular song, but altogether, I’m excited by the territory we’ve staked out, this combination of post-rock and Americana. It keeps options open for us to do whatever we feel needs to be done in a particular song, without the constraining pressure of feeling like the song ultimately has to fit within the conventions of a genre.
Josh Goldman – I fully agree with Justin. With Constellation Myths I feel complete freedom to let our songs evolve in whichever way feels right without being hemmed in by preconceptions about genre. Being primarily a recording project, there’s no pressure to write in a way that we’d have to translate live. It’s quite liberating and allows for more experimentation, both in how I play my instruments and song structure.
Music Bugle – What is the biggest challenge in being a musical duo?
Josh Goldman – Figuring out which one of us is Garfunkel! Honestly, the challenging part is also the most interesting part. There are times when in the act of songwriting or recording, both of us have come up against our limitations as musicians and engineers, but the fact that there is only the two of us has served to push us both into finding creative new solutions towards songwriting, arranging and recording.
Justin Kehoe – Hmm… the biggest challenge is of being a duo is we’re not really a duo, not at this stage. The project started with just the two of us and we still write all the music together and for all intents and purposes, Constellation Myths is me and Josh, but neither Josh nor I can sing – though I do try here and there on a couple songs – and our songs are pretty dependent on vocals. That’s where Molly comes in. She writes the vocal melody line, co-writes the lyrics with me and sings, alongside handling our cover designs. She’s pretty integral to this iteration of the band. In the future, she may want to step away and whatever that version looks like, assuming it’s still me and Josh, it’ll be Constellation Myths, but neither duo nor trio are accurate descriptors.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your debut album?
Justin Kehoe – We could probably write 10 pages of information on this! This collection of songs wasn’t initially intended to be an “album.” Over the course of a couple years, we’d amassed 20 to 25 songs that were pretty much done and we got to this point where we had this core group of songs that really felt like they were the building blocks for an album, but as a brand new band with no social media presence, we knew we had to build up to that in some way. Our release plan kept mutating and evolving over time. The media environment, which for us right now, is largely social media, values the steady stream of content, which means releasing and promoting more singles, but Josh and I, and I think folks of our generation still value the album, so we landed on our current plan – release four two-song singles that would then be gathered up into an album-length collection alongside a few new songs. Josh and I have been a little wary of the “debut album” tag, because it’s a collection of songs that worked together in smaller groupings, but weren’t initially envisioned as an album. However, we love all these songs – all killer, no filler! – and I always think there’s something interesting in a band’s early albums where you can hear them still honing their sound. There’s a unique energy there, and that I think is present in our earliest songs. For the next album, we would definitely nail down a more concrete plan ahead of time. It’s been a learning experience, for sure.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Josh Goldman – While I don’t personally participate on social media much, I absolutely appreciate the democratizing effect that it has had in making music more accessible. The fact that one can record an album in your own home and release it to the world while promoting it from your own bedroom has enormous implications for cultural creation. You don’t need a huge budget or a record label who then owns your creative labor in order to be heard. Being able to control all facets of the process from the first artistic concept to wide broadcast essentially defangs the consolidating forces of capitalism. Decentralization has led to an explosion of artistic output. It may make it harder to be heard, but I think in the end, that more voices, more noise, more creation is a magnificent end unto itself.
Justin Kehoe – I’d agree with Josh here. Though, I’d say for two relatively unsavvy social media users such as us, it has definitely presented challenges. I struggle with the instantaneous nature of things. The need to be constantly putting new content out there and the difficulty that the current media landscape poses in terms of getting people’s time and attention. The likes and the clicks are nice, but I would rather deep engagement from a handful of people than a million cursory clicks or likes. However, posting to Instagram is a much less awkward way of letting your friends know about your band. I guess my answer would be that in an immediate, short-term sense, it absolutely helps. We’re not taping up fliers in Allston anymore, but I think with most – if not all – technological advances, there are long-term costs, that may not be immediately apparent. The logic of the attention economy has changed the way people listen to music. It all feels so much more temporary and fleeting. To me, that seems like a negative.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Josh Goldman – Justin and I had been working on Constellation Myths as a remote recording project for a little while before the pandemic hit. I feel very fortunate that we had discovered a way of making music before things shut down that allowed us to continue to create together. I found it personally valuable to have this as an outlet to focus on when everything else seemed to be falling apart.
Justin Kehoe – Again, totally agree with Josh. It has been a ton of work, but rewarding work. Purpose-giving work. Avocational fulfillment during a time when things otherwise felt – or actually were – pretty damn bleak. From a more practical standpoint, while this has by and large been a “home studio” project, Josh and I had been working on pulling together a live set with our friend Will – and my former bandmate in Boston shoegaze band Soccer Mom. It required a lot of rethinking and restructuring of the songs to make them work in a live setting. It was fun and an interesting challenge and the complete reverse of how Josh and I had always done things. This was early 2020 – can you see where this is going? We were at the practice space that night in March when the NBA suspended the season because of COVID-19. I’m sure everyone remembers that creeping dread and uncertainty from that time, but at that moment, it was like, “Well guys, this has been fun…” because I knew then this wasn’t a three or four-week situation and I had no idea when we’d be able to get back in the space together – or when playing shows would be a thing again, so here we are, 18 months later, Josh has moved to Western Mass., our old practice space building was sold off – and I think will be demolished – and we, for the foreseeable future, are firmly committed to this project as a recording or “studio” project, at least until circumstances change significantly.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Josh Goldman – Holy Motors’ latest album ‘Horse’ is a fantastic Lynchian take on 1960’s Nashville. I don’t know what their guitarist is using for tremolo, but it’s the sound of my dreams. Loma’s ‘Don’t Shy Away’ delivers a near-perfect quiet catharsis every time I hear it. I’m always up for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s ‘Deja Vu.’ Justin and I were huge fans of the 90 Day Men back in the day and I’ve followed Brian Case’s latest band FACS pretty closely. I adore their latest record ‘Present Tense.’ Finally, there’s nothing quite like the stark brilliance of Songs: Ohia’s ‘Ghost Tropics.’ That one is a constant in my life.
Justin Kehoe – I am totally obsessed with Mason Lindahl’s album ‘Kissing Rosy In The Rain.’ Beautiful instrumental album for solo guitar. Similarly, William Tyler’s mini-album from last year, ‘New Vanitas,’ is eerie, dreamy, fantastic. The latest album by North Americans and the last couple Chuck Johnson albums are gorgeously saturated in pedal steel, something I’ve been very interested in exploring lately with our own music – albeit played via keyboard using a plugin. A constant for me is the Swedish instrumental band Tape. It is earthy and organic, subtly complex and gently experimental. I’ve been getting into that UK band or “collective” Sault. In particular, I love their album ‘Untitled (Rise).’ It’s exciting to stumble on a new band that has a lot of high-quality material out there and seems to be very prolific.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Josh Goldman – “Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in,” by Leonard Cohen.
Justin Kehoe – I’m not one for motivational aphorisms, but in the same spirit as Josh’s quotation, there’s art that is inspiring and pushes me to want to add something to the conversation. Perhaps nothing more so than Gillian Welch’s “Everything is Free,” a song that for me captures something fundamental about our current era: “Someone hit the big score, They figured it out, That we’re gonna do it anyway, Even if it doesn’t pay,” from Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
*Photo Credit – Ben Stas*