Indie folk singer/songwriter Gregory Ackerman dives into his beautifully raw, achingly honest, and stunningly mature sophomore album ‘Still Waiting Still,’ an unveiling of the self that sees the 28-year-old spilling his soul through candid, heart-wrenching lyrics and soothing, stirring sonics.
for fans of Wilco, Gregory Alan Isakov, Blind Pilot, Iron & Wine
Stream: “Full Grown” – Gregory Ackerman
Music was my only form of therapy at the time, and I feel like this record really helped to save my life.
Gregory Ackerman made his sophomore album thinking it would be his last.
“It was fall of 2019, and two of my college friends had just taken their own lives – one in February, and the other in August,” the Los Angeles singer/songwriter recalls. “On top of that, I was suffering from a serious gut infection that had left me extremely weak and hopeless. I had lived with those two friends in the same house our sophomore year at Santa Clara University, and I was certain that Death was on my trail – that I was next.”
What does one do when they think their time here on Earth is limited? They search for closure and seek out catharsis; they get their affairs in order, and look to make some sense out of their life. Desperate, broken, emotionally drained from the loss of his friends, and scared that his time would soon be up, Ackerman set out to leave his mark on the world via his first love and calling: Music.
“I needed to make a record with an all-encompassing sound that would be characteristic of all the music that I had written to that date,” he reflects.
“My vision for this record was to mix older songs that I had written in my college career with brand new songs that had just started to form in the past few years. In this way, I could create a sort of retrospective of my music.”
Could you be satisfied living your life on the road?
Cause I’m not one for quick replies
I never really did what I was told
And I’ll admit I’m that kind of tired
The kind that sleep won’t ever cure
So I think I’ll just pack up and retire
I can’t take this lovin’ anymore
Cause I’ve been lost and lonely
But all my friends are home
I’ll be your one and only
When I’m full grown
Independently released September 17, 2021, Still Waiting Still is Gregory Ackerman’s not-quite-swan song to the world: A beautifully raw, achingly honest, and stunningly mature folk record that sees the 28-year-old spilling his soul through candid, heart-wrenching lyrics and soothing, stirring sonics.
“[It’s] a last ditch effort to record my music in case the worst were to happen to me,” he admits.
It took Ackerman two years to fully complete and release this album, combining songs from his early twenties with fresh, new compositions into a seamless record that delves into the depths of human connection, mortality and transience, beginnings and endings, and finding meaning, joy, and beauty in our lives. It’s an album born from the artist’s innermost introspections; an impressively cohesive work that wears its heart unapologetically on its sleeve.
“I wanted my past self and current self to align again as one fluid artist,” Ackerman explains. “All of the songs on Still Waiting Still have an inherent grit or humor to them, and were written with a youthful ironic moodiness which I relate to once again as a 28-year-old. I wanted to bring back the states of mind that I used to feel.”
Still Waiting Still certainly carries with it an undeniably heavy weight, but it is not all doom and gloom.
In fact, despite the darkness surrounding its creation, Ackerman’s sophomore effort is refreshingly warm and welcoming. His buoyant melodies and tender, glistening sonics foster a sense of renewal that seeps into every song, no matter how melancholy. Ackerman attributes part of this to his producer Pierre de Reeder of Rilo Kiley, who added his own dreamy touch to album, and to the various musicians who helped give his songs the additional shape and contours they so longed for: Gabriel Wheaton, Grant Milliken, Eva B. Ross, Shelby Gogreve, and Theo and Mark Federonic.
“These are all great musicians that I met playing shows in Los Angeles,” he notes. “They [and more] helped Still Waiting Still become a lively collection.”
And that’s exactly what this album is: A lively collection. When Ackerman thought Death was at his doorstep, he leaned into life – writing a record of reverie that reflects on the people, places, and things that have mattered most to him these past nearly three decades. From the captivating charm of opening songs “Intro” and “Think Straight,” to the immersive wonder of “Full Grown,” the gentle radiance in “Peace of Mind,” the unfiltered innocence of “Good Song,” and the searing, aching emotional eruption of “Seasonal Living,” Still Waiting Still is a beacon of inspiring, hopeful, life-giving energy. There’s a lot to love about each of these songs such that, by the time the album hits its grand finale in the enchanting, subtle tempest “All This Thinking,” all that’s left to do is flip the proverbial record over and play it again.
Two and a half years after his whole album process began, Gregory Ackerman now finds himself in a much healthier mental space.
Hindsight and time’s distance have also given him the clarity to better understand this album, these songs, and their meaning for him.
“I think Still Waiting Still brought more emotion and vulnerability than I had been comfortable expressing at a younger age,” Ackerman shares. “I think I trusted and believed in myself more in this record, even at a time of such despair. I know I had to pour myself into this record in order to dig myself out of the dark hole that I had found myself in.”
He pauses before adding, “I hope listeners of Still Waiting Still will walk away with a sense of calm after listening to the record. I hope that they were able to take some time in their life to relax and just listen to the music. My favorite music has always been music with an introspective feel, music that you can spend long periods of time with, music that can be played in the background of deep conversations, music that can be easily listened to on a long road trip. That is all that I aspire for my music to be: Music that you want to have a long-lasting, meaningful relationship with.I hope people will be able to connect with the vulnerability and expressive emotion on the album, if they are going through their own dark times, and hopefully my music can give them some sense of peace, some flicker of light in the darkness.”
Stunningly candid, deeply vulnerable, and viscerally intimate, Still Waiting Still is its own heart-to-heart therapy session between Gregory Ackerman and whoever cares to listen. Dive into the depths of this expressive, arrestingly beautiful indie folk album in our interview below, and listen to Still Waiting Still wherever you get your music.
Stream: ‘Still Waiting Still’ – Gregory Ackerman
A CONVERSATION WITH GREGORY ACKERMAN
Atwood Magazine: Gregory, can you share a little about the story behind this record?
Gregory Ackerman: This record began out of desperation and brokenness. I felt as though this could possibly be my last record, and therefore I needed to make a record with an all-encompassing sound that would be characteristic of all the music that I had written to that date. I was in a dark place at the time we began recording this record. It was fall of 2019, and two of my college friends had just taken their own lives – one in February, and the other in August. On top of that, I was suffering from a serious gut infection that had left me extremely weak and hopeless.
I had lived with those two friends in the same house our sophomore year at Santa Clara University, and I was certain that Death was on my trail, that I was next. Thus, I set out to record this record, Still Waiting Still, as a last ditch effort to record my music in case the worst were to happen to me.
What was your vision going into this record? Did that change over the course of recording this?
Gregory Ackerman: My vision for this record was to mix older songs that I had written in my college career with brand new songs that had just started to form in the past few years. In this way, I could create a sort of retrospective of my music. This notion followed through the course of recording the record and even preparing it for marketing and publication. I felt like I could not really grapple with all the emotions I was feeling at that difficult time until I released this record into the world, which, staggeringly, was nearly two years later.
How do you feel Still Waiting Still compares to your debut album? Where do you hear the differences?
Gregory Ackerman: I think the main difference between Still Waiting Still and my first album, And Friends, was the personal emotion I brought into it. I think Still Waiting Still is a much deeper record that swims in a pool of confused emotion. Music was my only form of therapy at the time, and I feel like this record really helped to save my life. A few months after I recorded the record, I started to go to therapy and really begin dealing with emotions healthily, but I believe you can really hear the pain and longing, the torture, the anxiety, and the hope in this record that just wasn’t there on And Friends.
And Friends was such a fun record and was so great to record with some old pals, but I think Still Waiting Still brought more emotion and vulnerability than I had been comfortable expressing at a younger age. I think I trusted and believed in myself more in this record, even at a time of such despair. I know I had to pour myself into this record in order to dig myself out of the dark hole that I had found myself in.
Can you describe this record in three words?
Gregory Ackerman: “Pain,” “Hope,” and “Memoriam.”
“Pain” for the amount of pain and suffering I, and the families and friends of my lost buddies, went through that year. And “pain” for the amount of gut-wrenching despair I was in with my gut infection. And “pain” for the depression and anxiety that I could not seem to understand or get rid of.
“Hope” for the hope that music brought me at the time. “Hope” for the determination and drive to keep moving forward despite all the loss and sadness. And “memoriam” because I dedicated this record to my two buddies who are no longer on this earth. “Memoriam” so that people and ideas can live on forever through music.
Why the title “Still Waiting Still”?
Gregory Ackerman: The title Still Waiting Still seemed to come to me naturally. I seemed to always be waiting for something. For the music to be finished for release. To deal with the difficult emotions of losing friends.
On top of that, the pandemic broke out and it seemed everyone was required to literally “wait still” for what seemed like forever. In that regard, Still Waiting Still took on a new meaning for everyone. How long would we have to wait still? And what exactly were we, or was I, waiting for?
As a lyrically forward artist, do you have any favorite lyrics in these songs?
Gregory Ackerman: I have lots of favorite lyrics on this album, but one of my favorites is, “It’s a tall tree that we must climb everyday, a standing sea on a putting green all caught up in flames” on the track “Think Straight.” The track itself is about trying to get your head right through a serious episode of anxiety. I was so anxious every day when I wrote this song. I felt like shit every morning and felt like I was battling daily to get into some kind of stable mood, hence the “It’s a tall tree that we must climb every day.”
Every day I felt I needed to climb to the top of the tallest tree just to see above the brain fog of my anxiety. The next lines, “A standing sea on a putting green all caught up in flames,” I just absolutely loved. It sounded menacing yet nonsensical, like gibberish yet carried a sense of danger. How can you use a putting green that’s caught on fire, yet there’s a standing sea – which is nice –yet that’s also caught in flames? Is the sea made of oil, or some flammable liquid?
The next lines I actually love too: “All I wanna be, when I grow up is 17, days away… From the nearest person.” I love the idea of making listeners think that I just want to be 17-years-old when I grew up, then I add on the lines in the next stanza “days away… From the nearest person,” which really spoke to my anxiety at the time. I was so lost and confused about losing friends that I was scared to become close with anyone. I had a fear of abandonment because I thought I’d lose anyone I got too close with. If I could just run away from humanity, I would never be hurt again.
Do you have any definitive favorites or personal highlights off this record?
Gregory Ackerman: I absolutely love the song “All This Thinking,” which was also written at a time of increased anxiety and depression in my life. Most of the songs on this album are about anxiety or depression in some way or another. Again, this was a very therapeutic record for me. I absolutely love the line in “All this Thinking,” that goes, “And there’s a river all washed up and mean, but you’ll never sink, never sink ‘till after the big machine turns you off,” which is followed by a sudden cut-off in the music.
I love the surrealist notion of big machines controlling our bodies, minds, thoughts, etc. At the time, the thought came to me in a more sinister form because I literally felt out of control of my own life, my own destiny, and of all things happening around me. I thought there must be something controlling all of this, but it can’t be some merciful god, no… It has to be some twisted big machine, and one day, it just decides to turn us off, just like that.
But then, to add a dash of hope, I end the song with the repeated refrain to counter that cynicism with, “I will find a way back, through my mind, yes, a way back!” And I end the record with that sentiment of being able to go through all the dark twisted labyrinths of depression yet still be able to emerge on the other side with hope to spare. Humans are truly amazing in that sense. We can adapt even in the darkest of times.
At this point, it’s hard to say what the definitive favorites for me are on the album. I truly love the quirky little song “Mr. Moon,” just a straight up love song to the big guy in the sky. It’s so strange and was written as a tribute to Canned Heat’s “Poor Moon,” Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” and Blaze Foley’s “The Moonlight Song.” I have always deeply enjoyed keeping up with the cycles of the moon and love to go on long walks in the moonlight. There is something so mysterious, romantic, and grounding about the moon, and I thought it would be really fun to write a song for it.
I also really like the song “Good Song” in that sense too. It came out as a songwriting exercise when I was having a pretty bad case of writer’s block and feeling some healthy cynicism about the music industry: feeling like you have to write the perfect little good song to be able to make it on playlists, blogs, magazines, etc. I attacked that song with a more playful, carefree attitude about the idea of trying to write a good song, and I had a lot of fun with that one in a time of otherwise increased stress.
What do you hope listeners take away from Still Waiting Still? What have you taken away from creating it and now putting it out?
Gregory Ackerman: I hope listeners of Still Waiting Still will walk away with a sense of calm after listening to the record. I hope that they were able to take some time in their life to relax and just listen to the music. My favorite music has always been music with an introspective feel, music that you can spend long periods of time with, music that can be played in the background of deep conversations, music that can be easily listened to on a long road trip.
That is all that I aspire for my music to be: Music that you want to have a long-lasting, meaningful relationship with. Music that inspires other people to create, to pick up a guitar, to pick up their paintbrush, to tell a story, and to simply create for the sake of creation. After all, we are nothing if not creators and storytellers. If I could wish for listeners to walk away with one thing after listening to my album, I would wish that they were inspired enough to want to write their own music.
I am extremely proud of this album. This album exists as an extremely powerful therapeutic exercise for me, and I am so very grateful to be able to share it with the world. I hope people will be able to connect with the vulnerability and expressive emotion on the album, if they are going through their own dark times, and hopefully my music can give them some sense of peace, some flicker of light in the darkness.”
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