“Cuddle Rock”: Loving’s ‘Any Light’ Is Existentially Uncertain, Yet Mysteriously Optimistic

Loving © Zoe Alma
Loving © Zoe Alma
Loving, the British Columbia-based duo of Jesse Henderson and David Perry, utilize free-flowing experimentation to explore love, depression, and uncertainty with their third record, ‘Any Light.’
Stream: ‘Any Light’ – Loving

I was kind of thinking of our music as cuddle rock, but like, solitary cuddling, like you’re completely alone and you’re just cuddling yourself. You’re alone in that dreadful, irrevocable way that existentialists talk about.

Often defined by their soft, quaint sounds and introspective, reminiscent lyrics, Loving create a listening experience that will more than likely leave you deep in pondering thought.

Whether those thoughts are wrapped up and bowtied with nostalgia, sadness, hope, or as lead singer Jesse Henderson puts it – “existential dread” – well, that’s up to you.

Let’s rewind – Loving’s 2020 sophomore record If I Am Only My Thoughts reckons with a bleak sadness stemming from an uncontrollable sense of self-exploration, a discovery of shortcoming and the wrestling with one’s undeniably intrusive thoughts. The record certainly hails in terms of its “existential uncertainty meets imminent sadness” level to its earlier counterpart, 2016 debut self-titled record Loving, and to be quite frank, I didn’t know whether or not a day would come in which Loving boasted optimism and light amongst their intricately written repertoire.

Any Light - Loving
Any Light – Loving

However, I am happy to report that a combination of “free-flowing experimentation and serendipitous inspiration” bring to us Loving’s third record Any Light, a “body of work that invites a similar sense of charmed receptivity, even as its songs examine such complex matters as romantic love, depression, existential uncertainty, and the psychic consequences of living in an increasingly digitized world.”

The British Columbia duo, composed of Vancouver natives Jesse Henderson and his longtime friend David Parry, seek simplistic authenticity through their musical style, consequently reflected in their decision to continue recording on tape, resulting in an unembellished, raw sound that radiates with warmth.

Loving © Glyn Manwaring-Jones
Loving © Glyn Manwaring-Jones

Any Light marks deepened maturity for the duo, both thematically and instrumentally, whose production features sonically complex additions from territories untouched for them, such as arrangements accenting the trumpet, timpani, vibraphone, strings, and organ.

“When I looked at all of these songs together, I realized that the concept of light was threaded throughout the album,” writes Henderson for the band’s album release. “For me light signifies awareness or insight, which ties into how many of these songs document a shift in perspective.”

Don’t fret; the staple Loving tone remains; faint vocals tracked over lo-fi guitar strums, steady bass lines and sleepy keyboard runs melt together to create their uniquely wistful tone – a tone so comforting you might find yourself under a spell of peace and tranquility, longing for something you never knew you even wanted. If you’re able to escape such hypnosis while listening to their meditative style encapsulated in Any Light, you might then find yourself deep in self-analyzing thought.

The 10-track album remains constant in classic Loving topics – self-introspection, longing for constancy in the unknown, and feeling uncomfortable with your own thoughts. There’s a growing flame, though, that is vibrant and tender; a representation of contentment, a reconciliation with the realities of life, or the innate comfort of finding peace with love, as Henderson beautifully sings in “No Mast:”

I’m beginning to see
What it means to be free in love
No longer dreaming of
No longer dreaming of
Green grass in the distance no resistance
Another mind to hide inside
A place to exist outside of time

Songs such as “No Mast” are less abstract and deal more with specific moments pertinent to the duo, such as a spontaneously composed poem, a forgotten voice memo, and casual reading that sparked situational discovery. For example, in the case of “No Mast,” a love song influenced by Henderson’s reading of James Hollis’ The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other, a personal study of the psychoanalysis on the development of relationships heavily influenced the production of the track (Henderson embarked upon a graduate degree in counseling psychology, but more on that later).

“The book made me reflect on the power or magic of very stereotypical ideas of romantic love and how they had shaped parts of my life,” says Henderson. “I found myself thinking and writing about love in a different way, more attuned to how relationships with self and others transform over time and go through a continual process of development.”

The few upbeat, vibrant instrumentals scattered throughout the record (making it an overtly optimistic work of art, if you’re familiar with Loving’s past work)  break into the band’s identifiable style of light and mysterious guitar harmonies, prefacing the beginning of a calming yet equivocal theme of post-modern despair.

More spirited and cheerful in comparison to “No Mast’s” psychoanalyzation is “Medicine,” a playful, somewhat whimsical story, or as Henderson reflects, “playfully based on our friend’s transcendental experience exploring plant medicine.”

Gift” serves as a beautiful tribute to the magic of creative discovery, featuring bits of slide guitar that tickle the mind.

“Most of our process involves being caught in a state of unknowing where we’re constantly asking, ‘Is this it?’ And then when we finish the song, it feels miraculous,” Henderson says.

I found myself thinking and writing about love in a different way, more attuned to how relationships with self and others transform over time and go through a continual process of development.

The entire record is magnificently drowned in grandeur; a product of the curious mind, the restless soul and and the introspective thinker. If you were already captivated by such entrancing melodies, the addition of equally mesmerizing lyrics might result in an overwhelming amount of relaxing disassociation.

Loving’s musical style isn’t flashy or intense; it’s peaceful, tranquil and intentional. The emotion produced from the faint, soothing instrumentals paired with concepts of uncertain introspection, wistful desires and constant curiosity create an experience that will leave you calm and sentimental, and if you’re like me, deep in thought with a hint of existential dread.

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:: stream/purchase Any Light here ::
:: connect with Loving here ::
Loving © Glyn Manwaring-Jones
Loving © Glyn Manwaring-Jones


Any Light - Loving

Atwood Magazine: It’s been several years since the release of new music, and I’m aware that’s in part due to your style of “free-flowing experimentation.” What do you mean by that?

Jesse Henderson: I remember talking about, like, experiments or something like that, just kind of approaching songs with this kind of experimental mind, it just seems to be how you would define the creative enterprise in general, or I would assume so. I think at that point in time, I have a close friend who has always said that this is kind of the best approach to all of life, to just treat it like an experiment. And I liked that as well. So I think that was a playfulness that we brought into this record, just not taking things so seriously.

But as to the unhurried part, I think it’s probably more a reflection of how we haven’t had the opportunity to make the project center stage. Dave has been really busy producing and recording other projects since the last record. And then I also started a graduate degree in counseling psychology. So that’s been really cool. And I kind of took that energy elsewhere. Obviously COVID reoriented a bunch of things in our lives, and I think the most impactful of that was that we ended up living in different places.

Like previously, for If I Am Only My Thoughts, I could just ride my bike over to the studio, which was in his house, and we could just kind of work on things without having to plan it. And so now for this record we were running to the studio and we kind of decamped there. And for that reason, the record just took us some time because there’d just be sessions that ended up taking place over a couple of years before we were happy with where we were at.

Does having prolonged periods of unhurriedness ever get frustrating? Or are the ideas and inspirations constantly flowing?

Jesse Henderson: Yeah, it can definitely get frustrating to be working so slow. I feel like it’s top of mind now to approach the next record in a more rapid way, for sure. It’s almost just the nature of the process. It’s like a beloved frustration. You just have to love having those problems and just working with the song until it feels good or until it doesn’t.

Loving © Glyn Manwaring-Jones
Loving © Glyn Manwaring-Jones

It’s almost just the nature of the process. It’s like a beloved frustration. You just have to love having those problems and just working with the song until it feels good or until it doesn’t.

Your music is incredibly personal as it does deal with introspection and self-discovery. Is that ever intimidating to share those types of moments with such a big audience?

Jesse Henderson: Thankfully, it doesn’t really occur to me during the creative process or anything when I’m making things, and I think that’s because there’s no way around it for me. I’m stuck. That’s just the kind of writing that happens when I sit down to write. It’s not thematically driven. It just ends up being the archive of whatever’s happening. I mean, not thematically driven is true but I can be drawing inspiration from something specifically, but it’s never like I sit down and I’m like, “this song is going to be about this.” So it’s definitely intimidating. But I would say that it’s only kind of during the prerelease before the album comes out, just not knowing how it’s going to be received or if people connect with it. Or in a conversation like this. But to be honest, I’ve never really done this before.

Really? Well, thank you for being willing to talk with Atwood!

Jesse Henderson: I think we’ve just really not done a lot of interviews. I guess it’s kind of like I tended to hide from it, you know? It’s just like recognizing that it’s very cool and that people want to know and that are curious, you know. And that’s a privilege in itself.

With the last record, that felt very vulnerable to me because it actually came out of the process of healing from a pretty severe concussion. And so it was kind of coming back from this state of existential dread. The record to me is like an archive of disorientation. And I think at the time I was just too eggshelly to talk about that. And we didn’t do any interviews anyway, so I didn’t talk about it. So it’s a new thing to kind of face in that aspect, I guess.

Well, we’re certainly glad to see you better and making music again; as well as dissecting it for your audience. Any Light certainly comes across as more optimistic in comparison to your previous record in which you’d label as an “archive of disorientation!”

Jesse Henderson: I think that’s true. I mean, an aspect of making things is that it tracks your development. You can see where you’re stuck and where you’re moving by virtue of what is made. The last record is definitely an archive of disorientation. And I think this new record, there’s a few songs that still focus on depression, like to turn or ask directions. Any Light is like this relationship to self but [the songs] are kind of more optimistic or there’s a little bit of hope in them. There’s a sense of progress.

In addition to a shift in theme, sonically, this record features more dynamic instrumentals and more intense melodies than past projects have. What inspired this switch?

Jesse Henderson: I think it’s probably just a natural process of growth and discovery. That’s probably the main aspect of it. Just like exploring new things sonically, listening and being influenced by different things. And then I think the other part that I would say is significant is that it definitely reflects Dave’s capacity as a producer and engineer and how much that’s evolved since the last record.

There’s just a lot more confidence there in exploration. It maybe just ties into what I said before around this kind of playfulness, of just like, “oh, let’s try this or let’s try using some vibraphone here, like a Timpani,” and just kind of going for it.

I’ll be honest, I had to look up what a timpani was…

Jesse Henderson: It’s like this super antiquated single timpani at the studio that serves as a table like 99% of the time. There’s just some cool things around there.

Loving © Zoe Alma
Loving © Zoe Alma

‘Any Light’ is like this relationship to self, but the songs are kind of more optimistic or there’s a little bit of hope in them. There’s a sense of progress.

What have you learned about yourselves and the style of your art through the creation of Any Light?

Jesse Henderson: I think this is such an interesting question, in a way. It just seems so hard to pin down, especially because we made it over such a long period of time. It changed and developed in many ways. Like before we got on this call, I just listened to the record again and I was thinking about that – it’s a weird thing because you try and inhabit the mental space that you’re in when you’re writing it, but that’s kind of an interpretive process too. And it becomes more and more an interpretive process as time goes on. But I think in terms of a direction, I’m not sure. I think honestly, the biggest direction is that we just want to keep moving in the direction of making things. Just to continue. I don’t think there’s any grand vision per se.

Yeah, exactly. I totally didn’t expect there to be a solid answer, it's hard to pinpoint that.

Jesse Henderson: I think the only expectations that we put on ourselves now moving forward is the process of being like, “yeah, this is what we’re doing fully now.” And I think when this project began, we were kind of doing many other things in our lives as well. And now it’s becoming the focus fully.

How would you describe your sound and style to a new Loving listener?

Jesse Henderson: It’s a funny thing; people always ask, “what’s the genre of music?” Maybe this is like a joke answer but for the last little while, I’ve just been calling it soft rock. And usually, it’s like a blank stare you get back when you say that. Very recently, I was on this little trip. We were staying in this place, and it had all these Kuschel Rock anthologies, which is German for cuddle rock.

And then I was kind of thinking of our music as cuddle rock, but like, solitary cuddling, like you’re completely alone and you’re just cuddling yourself. You’re alone in that dreadful, irrevocable way that existentialists talk about.

Solitary cuddling… I’m definitely going to be quoting you there.

Jesse Henderson: For the sound, I’m not really sure. I’m always so curious. People always are kind of making so many connections. And I think it’s such a personal thing, so I don’t really know how to label it.

Loving © Glyn Manwaring-Jones
Loving © Glyn Manwaring-Jones

I was kind of thinking of our music as cuddle rock, but like, solitary cuddling, like you’re completely alone and you’re just cuddling yourself. You’re alone in that dreadful, irrevocable way that existentialists talk about.

How was your experience touring with Alice Phoebe Lou in Europe?

Jesse Henderson: Yeah, it was really fantastic. Alice and her band, they’re just all incredible musicians, incredible people. So we had a lot of fun together. It was a long tour and quite exhausting and that can be hard on the body, but I think for us as a band, it definitely [in my mind] represents a new stage of development in our live performance. Some of the shows we played on that tour, to me felt better than ever for sure.

Did that energize you for your upcoming North America stint?

Jesse Henderson: Yeah, definitely. I’m just trying to rest and make sure that I enter with appropriate energy. I got really sick on that last tour, so I’m just really trying to make sure that doesn’t happen on this one.  I think it’ll be great. We’re looking forward it. It’s a headline tour, which we haven’t done in a while – we did this one with Alice and before that we did an opening tour with tennis, which was a really wonderful experience; playing rooms that are much bigger than we play when we’re doing our own tours. But yeah, it’s just such a different experience to be doing your own headlining.

Is there anything specifically that you're looking forward to or that you’re nervous about when it comes to now doing a headline tour?

Jesse Henderson: For some reason, it’s really just the snoring. Sharing rooms with people that snore.

Yeah. That's scary.

Jesse Henderson: I think there’s more nerves for sure. There’s an intensity to it for sure. But I’m feeling ready for it. I think I feel positive. The whole thing is just so wild, you know? So there’s many things to look forward to. There’s just always hilarious, fun little moments that happen throughout the process. And we’ve got a really good crew together as well. So it’ll be fun.

Loving © Zoe Alma
Loving © Zoe Alma

Who have you been listening to recently?

Jesse Henderson: I’ve just been listening to Lenker’s new song, “Sadness is a Gift.” I’ve been listening to that over and over again since it was released. Kind of an absurd number of times. For me, that’s the high bar of writing for sure. I think that’s an interesting example of what I was referring to – what you make and how you make things is such a reflection of where you are. So you can kind of use it as a way of coming into connection with yourself and witnessing yourself in that way. And her writing is just – I don’t even really know how to describe it. I feel that when I hear her music. That connection and that relationship to self. And that kind of awareness that’s just so deep. It’s such a well that she’s drawing from all the time.

I know that you alluded to the fact that you don't do many interviews. So if there's anything that I didn't ask that you want our readers to know, please take the floor!

Jesse Henderson: I think it’s so hard for me to think about that. I often kind of resisted just by virtue of my nature of being kind of shy or something. But then also, I do believe in the idea that music acquires its meaning in the world in context; you’re creating the meaning by virtue of you listening. Of course I have certain ideas and I am writing from certain experiences, but I think the life of a song is how it’s kind of held out in context. But yeah, because of that, I think it’s hard for me to go “I want people to know these certain things about the songs,”  because I think I’m just more curious to see people connect with them, however they might.

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:: stream/purchase Any Light here ::
:: connect with Loving here ::

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Any Light - Loving

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