Fame and celebrity are incredibly peculiar aspects of our society: The magnification of the human being into anything more than an everyday person seems so irrational. A successful musician, with normal human traits and a proportionate ratio of strengths and flaws, is transformed into a god under the guise of “celebrity.” Fans don’t just want to hear your music; they want to know your tea/coffee preference, your clothing style, even your favorite cheese.
“You’ve really made the grade,” sang David Bowie to the fictitious Major Tom on his 1969 song “Space Oddity,” “And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear.” Little could he have known the song in which he critiqued ‘stardom’ would be the one to give him his first taste of the spotlight. Such has been the twisted relationship between creators and “fame” for decades. It’s a never-ending cycle of rejection and praise, a with-or-without-you battle of forces: Everybody loves to hate it, and hates to love it – and that’s it, isn’t it?
Suppose it isn’t; that all of us can be more than that. Andrew Joslyn’s “Plastic Heaven” addresses the many sides to fame, fortune, and everything that goes with it.
We’re all living for that royal grace
That special place, that plastic heaven
We’re all dreaming of that social status,
Human madness obsessed with other love
Listen: “Plastic Heaven” (feat. Will Jordan) – Andrew Joslyn
Andrew Joslyn is a lot of things: Composer, orchestrator, violinist, producer, arranger, and performer. A longtime collaborator with fellow Washingtonians Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Joslyn has worked on everything from the duo’s The VS. EP to the chart-topping The Heist and 2016’s This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, as co-writer and world-touring orchestra leader. Joslyn also leads the acclaimed avant-garde, experimental neo-classical group Passenger String Quartet, touring with the likes of Judy Collins and David Bazan and performing with Kygo, Odezsa, Allen Stone, and more.
All of this is to emphasize the importance of Andrew Joslyn’s many (and varied) contributions, and to highlight the recognition and respect he’s earned from other movers and shakers in the music world. Andrew Joslyn is a lot of things, and 2016 will be the year he permanently adds artist to that long list.
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering “Plastic Heaven,” the lead single off Joslyn’s upcoming debut solo album, Awake at the Bottom of the Ocean. In the works for quite some time, Awake at the Bottom of the Ocean finds Joslyn writing, producing and arranging eleven tracks that seamlessly mold together pop, classical, hip-hop, rock and folk elements into a dizzying, dazzling display of musical ingenuity. Call it “orchestral pop” or whatever you want, but Andrew Joslyn is neither the last of a dying breed nor the first of a new artistic generation: Rather, he is a pioneer unto himself, a one-of-a-kind creator whose music truly speaks for itself.
“Plastic Heaven” opens with a repeated orchestral motif: A bassoon weaves a quaint four-note phrase, holding its last note as strings flutter gently in the distance and a lively flute descends a scale towards resolution. The bassoon then assumes a new role as it and fellow orchestral instruments find homes within the song’s greater frame. This is not Fatboy Slim: This is full-scale orchestration! “Plastic Heaven” establishes Joslyn’s world early on as the introduction melts into the first verse. Will Jordan sings:
Why are we tying a thousand knots
While sleeping, connecting all these dots?
Still wishing for that perfect moment
We are never happy
Those people on my television
Airbrushed and flawless renditions
So happy in a model moment
I don’t, I won’t ever know them
Joslyn opted out of singing on every song so listeners would critique it “on the merit of the songwriting and orchestration,” rather than on the merit of his singing, a gesture that reflect his areas of greatest concern. His voice shines through via the words, their deeper meaning, and every other aspect of the song; meanwhile, Jordan delivers those words with conviction and heart, offering an emotional performance that deepens the gravity of Joslyn’s words.
“Plastic Heaven” hits its mark in the chorus, where ‘celebritydom’ is essentially compared to false idol worship. “We’re all living for that royal grace / that special place, that plastic heaven,” notes the singer. Life on the other side is not what it appears to be; it is not glitz and glamour, abounding spoils and parties. That is a dream, and it is not reality. That “model moment” is a figment of our imagination, a pretend world that exists only in our imaginations.
It only makes sense that Joslyn would start his solo career with “Plastic Heaven.” He’s seen the effects of fame on those around him, whether it be his brother, actor and comedian Chris Kattan, or his friends/collaborators Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) and Ryan Lewis. He knows it’s not all that, and he doesn’t want it. Joslyn is content with who he is, and before anything should happen to him, he wants us to know that this is who he is, and nothing more. The grass isn’t greener.
Humans are humans; we live and we die, each of us taking a separate journey but all of us facing the same fate. Why, then, do we subject ourselves to feeling lesser than others, or feeling like we have to live our lives a certain way and be someone we are not? Why can we not just be true to ourselves – to our bodies, to our tastes, to our individuality?
Fame is called the ficklest of the foods
But we’d all feast if we could
Fall to our base emotions
We aren’t ever perfect
In his most biting verse, Joslyn accepts the duplicitous nature of the fame aggressor, acknowledging our instinctual desires; who among us can truthfully say they would not take the money and fame, if it were in front of them?
“Plastic Heaven” is a wonderful denial of consumer culture, a calling-out to the media who propagate fantasy worlds for their own gain. We know your secret, Joslyn shouts into the wind. Celebrity culture is unlikely to change its ways because of “Plastic Heaven,” but the song does provide a breeding ground for listeners to connect with Joslyn on a personal level. In doing so, it truly is an ideal introduction.
“I’m still struggling with relinquishing control of my art to other people’s opinions and interpretations,” wrote Joslyn in a quiet moment of overwhelming emotion during Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ European tour this June. “I’m scared to release my album, and I can’t pretend that hearing negativity about it will hurt me deeply. All artists are uniformly sensitive, and most of us are probably just really good at faking and hiding that humanity. I just don’t know if I’m ready to have my heart broken yet.”
Andrew Joslyn’s honest writing offers deeper reflection on the relationship between art and artist: Many meanings may lie behind the words and notes, and it is not necessarily our job to decode the music, so much as it is to enjoy it, embrace it, and reflect upon it. “Plastic Heaven” is poetic and profound, an emotional debut that resonates with musical ingenuity, passion, and humility. It is a call for normalcy – for the world to open its eyes, such that we may all lead our lives not in others’ footsteps, but in the shadows of our future selves.
Awake at the Bottom of the Ocean is out February 10, 2017. Until then, you can enjoy more of Andrew Joslyn’s work by exploring his SoundCloud or personal webpages.
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cover photo: Andrew Joslyn © 2016
Awake at the Bottom of the Ocean
by Andrew Joslyn