Gold Star’s ‘Headlights U.S.A.’ EP is a dynamic and candid indie rock record: Intimate reflections and uncompromising vulnerability filter through an irresistible five-song set shining a light on the nuances and little moments that make up our lives.
Stream: “Headlights U.S.A.” – Gold Star
Headlights U.S.A.‘s cover art may, on the surface, appear to be a series of red stars on a black background, but it’s a thin veneer: Unfocus your eyes and step back, and that illusory red-and-black flag gives way to the stark image of a human skull staring back at us, lifeless yet full of words unspoken: A mirror unveiling, or rather revealing, the skeletons we house inside ourselves. It’s a powerful visual accompaniment to an unapologetic, hard hitting record full of passion and visceral feeling: One that delves into the unexplored edges of our psyche and emotional states, capturing the people we are, rather than the ones we pretend to be.
“Follow me through the city’s ripped back streets, then follow me a little farther.” A cathartic, existential release of pent-up feeling, Gold Star’s Headlights U.S.A. EP is a dynamic and candid indie rock record: Intimate reflections and uncompromising vulnerability filter through an irresistible five-song set shining a light on the nuances and little moments that make up our lives.
Open arms cover open veins
I am finally found, I am finally saved
On a Sunday morning reaching for better days
May my memory be a blessing
May my body carry on
Momentum couldn’t change me
Or slow me when I’m gone
It’s four in the morning, Jesus Christ come home
I heard mission bells ringing out
I saw myself replaced
I heard Mother Mary’s breaking down
And I saw Head Lights U.S.A.
– “Headlights U.S.A.,” Gold Star
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering Gold Star’s Headlights U.S.A., out September 3, 2021 via Sub Rosa Records. His first release since 2018’s third album Uppers & Downers, Headlights U.S.A. finds Gold Star’s Marlon Rabenreither reveling in some of his rawest, and in turn, most radiant work yet. The artist Phoebe Bridgers calls “one of her favorite bands” dwells in the complex depths of presence and being as he avidly relays to listeners his and others’ stories of reckoning and reflection: A sense of movement permeates these songs that strive to understand where we’re going, why we’re here, and what comes next.
Considering this subject matter, it may be a surprise to learn Headlights U.S.A. isn’t a solemn-sounding record; rather, it’s refreshingly uptempo, an exhilarating and energy-fueled uproar filled with charged beats and fuzzy, frenetic overdriven guitars. Gold Star gives his bigger topics and poignant observations an accessible, relatable frame of reference for all to enjoy and indulge.
Turn my eyes to the distance
A very violent flash of red
An hour out side of town
On a summer night we laid him down
Remembered every word he said
He said, “I’ve had more than I can handle.”
But I would do it all again
To see the world with open eyes just one more time
It was perfect in the end
Yeah, It was perfect in the end
Follow me, through the city’s ripped back streets
Then follow me a littler farther
Come with me, past the places you can see
Follow me a little farther
– “Ultraviolet,” Gold Star
“While writing songs for this record, I started to use a lot of drum machines and “in the box” tools like synths to get ideas down quickly,” Gold Star tells Atwood Magazine. “Initially these recordings were meant to be demos. We tried to re-track some of these songs in studios throughout Los Angeles, but as demos I felt the songs had more of an emotional resonance and a quaint kind of rawness. I do think that the vision for this release had changed a fair amount over time but an interest in collaboration was important throughout. This is the first release of mine to feature a co-writer, guitarist Jordan Odom; Headlights U.S.A. also utilizes drums by Nick Murray (White Fence, Cate Le Bon), pedal steel by Connor ‘Catfish’ Gallaher (Calexico, Black Lips), and keys by Mikey Whiteside. Additional engineering and producing was done by Ian Doerr, Samuel Shea, and Kyle Mullarky (Allah-Las).”
I think of my songs as these little moments in time, once they are out there in the world they are no longer ‘mine’ in a way; if anything they are yours… I can’t ever really listen to my music after it’s finished.
Honey don’t rest your head
There’s words we ain’t said yet
Honey don’t lose your cool
Keep walking honey walk right through
Keep ‘em talking like lovers do
And keep your head held high, keep me there with you
Come on when it’s Friday night
These hands are gonna hold you tight
Honey put your makeup on
No, these hands they wouldn’t do you wrong
You will feel it when you hear that song
Keep your head held high, keep me hanging on
Stare at the ceiling
I’m watching shooting stars
Its a beautiful feeling
But you seem so very far,
– “Isolation Blues,” Gold Star
Highlights abound throughout Headlights U.S.A.; while an EP of this nature is best listened to as a whole from start to finish, each of its five tracks are as catchy as they are emotive, with their own quirks that help Gold Star’s music continuously stand out. Opener “Surrender” sets the stage with a warm, hazy wall of sound, atop which Rabenreither’s searing, raw vocals make an instant mark on the ears. “I think the first few lines of ‘Surrender’ kind of stand out to me,” he says. “These are the first lyrics you hear: “I felt the blood rush out on a dance floor, I saw blue lights turning red, I spent 20 hours in a hotel room in Memphis dreaming about how it was when we were kids.”
Beyond this sterling introduction, Gold Star continues to dazzle through well timed highs and lows that feel as organic to the ears as they likely were to him at home, in the moment they were first made. Title track “Headlights U.S.A.” gives off a cinematic radiance, with its nod to Americana underscored by sweeping guitars and pulsing, looped percussion that push forever forward, onward, and with an innate sense of dire urgency. “On the outskirts of Baltimore there is a dive bar with old neon signs advertising Headlights USA,” Rabenreither recalls. “I don’t think anyone there really knew where it came from or exactly what it meant. The song began as a three-chord “Talkin’ Blues.” A folk song for the interstates and strip malls, the big-rigs & churches with billboards for drugstores, panic-attacks & salvation. Everything we saw passing by from a highway somewhere in America, set to arpeggios on an MS-20 and an MPC loop.”
Further into the EP, listeners are treated to the unrelenting fuzz and wondrous journey of self-discovery in “Ultraviolet,” the sonically sweet, bittersweet tale of self-destruction in “Heaven Motherfucker,” and the confessional, conclusive closure of “Isolation Blues.” “I think ‘Ultraviolet’ may be my favorite song,” the artist admits, “but there are lots of little moments that I find interesting, like the ending of ‘Heaven’ and the instrumental sections of ‘Headlights U.S.A.'”
Ultimately, you get out of this record what you put into it. If you’re looking for red stars on a black flag, you can submerge yourself in Gold Star’s groovy indie rock vibes. Likewise, if you’re more in the mood for feeling the full skull’s impact, there’s a wellspring of intimate emotions and life lessons to be gleaned from Gold Star’s art.
“I think that it has been really rewarding just to put this out and to start playing shows again,” Gold Star shares. “These past couple of years have been strange for everyone, but for musicians I think it’s been really odd. I feel like I learned a lot during this pandemic and in many ways, working on this has kind of re-inspired me. Working on these songs has put music back into focus for me in a good way. ” Experience the full record via our exclusive stream, and peek inside Gold Star’s Headlights U.S.A. EP with Atwood Magazine as Marlon Rabenreither goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his latest release!
Stream: ‘Headlights U.S.A.’ – Gold Star
:: Inside Headlights U.S.A. ::
I got heavily into Denis Johnson’s writing around the time I started working on this song. “Surrender” was loosely inspired by his 1983 novel “Angels.” Not unlike that book, “Surrender” is set on the interstate and follows a journey across the U.S. from bus stations to cheap hotels as the narrator reflects on different encounters and experiences along the way, as if they are passing memories glimpsed from the highway. We recorded the drums at County Line Studios in Malibu, the rest of it was recorded at home in a living room. The video was directed by photographer Cameron McCool.
On the outskirts of Baltimore there is a dive bar with old neon signs advertising “Headlights USA.” I don’t think anyone there really knew where it came from or exactly what it meant. The song began as a three-chord “Talkin’ Blues.” A folk song for the interstates and strip malls, the big-rigs & churches with billboards for drugstores, panic-attacks & salvation. Everything we saw passing by from a highway somewhere in America, set to arpeggios on an MS-20 and an MPC loop. ‘Headlights USA’ was recorded at Ultrasound Studios in the jewelry district of downtown Los Angeles in June 2020. I remember there being National Guard troops stationed outside and we were dodging cops and breaking curfew going to and from this session. The video was filmed by Roman Koval on one reel of 16mm film at night, driving through Koreatown on 6th Street in the back of his truck.
I started writing this song backstage at a festival in Dortmund, Germany. I rarely have dreams that I can remember but for whatever reason I was having pretty vivid dreams on this tour and I started to jot them down. On my flight home I remember attempting to discretely make a demo of this using GarageBand on my phone. I think I was worried the song would lose its connection to these dreams if I wasn’t able to capture it immediately. The video was made by my friend Clayton Hunt who shot this footage on Super 8 and edited it by hand splicing the film together. He then painted on the negatives with food dye and scratched out shapes and letters to create these effects.
“Heaven” is a study in auto-fiction. The song is loosely based on a friend of mine overdosing on Valentine’s Day, and the lyrics are conversational, almost collage-like. This one began life as a Leonard Cohen-esque folk song in 3/4, initially I wanted to take that idea and incorporate some drum loops and synths to get a heavier ‘trip hop’ kind of weightiness to it. Ultimately it ended up going somewhere else entirely, I really dig the doubled slide guitar melodies that Jordan Odom played and how it all falls apart at the end.
I started writing “Isolation Blues” at home, just messing around with open D tuning… I had an idea for a verse then transposed it onto keys and just started looping that and layering loads of drum loops. While using a plugin that chopped up and repeated my vocals in real time I just started ad libbing what I thought would be place-holder lyrics, just simple and repetitive, but it felt really honest to me, and a lot of it ended up remaining. Connor ‘Catfish’ Gallagher plays the wonderful pedal steel parts on this track.
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