A powerfully three-dimensional breakup record, ‘Marine Life’ stuns as Okkervil River’s Will Graefe weaves a wondrous tapestry of heartache and solitude full of color, texture, movement, and musical beauty.
for fans of Gregory Alan Isakov, Leif Vollebekk, Angie McMahon
Stream: “Almost Morning” – Will Graefe
all the ways I said “I love you”
all the ways I tried to hear you
nothing in the world could stop you
let’s be honest
we shared this home for what felt like a weekend
new furniture and linens were deceiving
played the game, but always had a feeling
something’s wrong here…
let’s be honest
– “All the Ways,” Will Graefe
Marine Life was always going to be a sad record.
Written in the wake of a breakup and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Will Graefe’s sophomore LP is isolation and grief manifest – but for all the heavy, heartfelt feelings swimming through its ten smoldering songs, the album comes to life with breathtakingly beautiful melodies and a wistful warmth that inspires more charm and cheer than sorrow and hurt. A powerfully three-dimensional breakup record, Marine Life stuns as Graefe weaves a wondrous tapestry of heartache and solitude full of color, texture, movement, and musical beauty.
This kind of pain is never easy, but Graefe’s melancholy serenades are soft and spellbinding: Even while dwelling in the depths of his own darkness, he manages to become a beacon of light.
all these boys in passionate colors
they walk too fast
but you walk right past them
iron maximated woman
she walks too fast
and she wont turn back
everything I thought i could hold
now i want it to fade
just wash it away
everything i wanted to hold
just don’t look back now
it’s almost morning
– “Almost Morning,” Will Graefe
Released April 30, 2021 via 11A Records, Marine Life arrives a long four years after Okkervil River guitarist Will Graefe first introduced his solo artistry. Atwood Magazine described Graefe’s 2017 debut album North America as “a cocktail of folk intimacy and singer/songwriter individuality… a melodically deep and acoustically bright tapestry of sound, song, and texture,” going on to give the record an 8.3/10. “Growing from the low rumble of a bubbling stream, to the layered intensity of a glacial roar and back again, North America‘s sonically mesmerizing identity leaves listeners tranquil and satisfied, yet wanting.”
Wheres North America shined brightest in moments of natural bliss and scenic wonder, its successor captivates through emotional expression and intimate upheaval: Those same rich acoustic guitars that once whisked us away to luscious landscapes now take us deep into the caverns of the heart, where Graefe delicately explores the ties that bind us together and those that break us apart.
Clean sheets howling in the wind
a full minbar, to the catholic maid’s chagrin
no one but some God could change what you did
so let’s just do the thing we do so well
Meet me at the coral court motel
where’s your man of other life?
I know that you lie but tonight i got no fight
We’ll never get it back, the way it burned so bright
so let’s just do the thing and do it right
Meet me at the coral court tonight
just smile man, that’s what they always say
marine life, get your head out of the sand
and i say leave me be, with my sordid history
i just need a place to nurse this wound
I always stay in the same room
I told you I ain’t doing so well
just leave me at the coral court motel
– “Coral Court Motel,” Will Graefe
“Almost all of these songs were written and recorded at my parents’ house in the aftermath of a breakup and pandemic isolation. It’s not a concept album by any means, but I would say there’s a thread of loss and lack of redemption running through it all,” Will Graefe tells Atwood Magazine. “I wanted this record to be three dimensional and colorful and layered, but intimate. I tend to prefer drums as a flavor rather than a given. I was more exacting in the songwriting than I ever have been and tried to sink my teeth into what I was singing (trying to say) more than ever.”
The album takes its title from a lyric in the song “Coral Court Motel,” a break up song “about resignation, infidelity, insanity – it’s psychological,” per Graefe. Once on the National Register of Historic Places, The Coral Court Motel was a 1941 U.S. Route 66 motel in Marlborough, Missouri that was demolished in 1995 for a suburban housing development. The song uses this location as a pinpoint for the greater narration of loss and heartache, and in the third verse Graefe sings, “Just smile man, that’s what they always say, marine life, get your head out of the sand, and i say leave me be, with my sordid history, i just need a place to nurse this wound.”
“It’s a reference to the subterranean and submerged,” Graefe explains. “Feeling under. I also thought of it as a silly joke for the heartbroken (when a friend says “there are plenty of fish in the sea” and it does not even come close to emotionally computing).”
This record utilizes a swath of textures that are meaningful to me. I tried to keep the writing honest and raw and not too pristine. I wanted to create an atmosphere conducive to this kind of storytelling (if you will…)
From the poignant glow of “Almost Morning” and the utterly graceful chord progression in “All the Ways,” to the homely duet with Katie Von Schleicher “Honey Boy,” the tempered and mesmerizing instrumental “(Neowise Griever),” and the rich, stirring harmonies on album closer “Run to You,” Marine Life is a gripping portrayal of distance, separation, and longing through a deeply vulnerable lens.
Graefe presents grief in its most raw form, foregoing a more finished veneer for one that feels like it’s still in motion – unresolved; unfinished; incomplete; wanting.
The song “Dead Reckoner” – another duet with Katie Von Schleicher – lays out the artist’s innermost anguish for all to hear and feel.
Yes I’ll drink with you. I’ve been in there.
I know the room…
Howling a quiet sob, you had a hair, but lost your job
Two weeks gone to Windsor Locks
My friends joke with me
that your parents gave you everything…
Dead reckoner, what are you fixing for?
Where would your distant shore be?
Say it out loud, the bottle’s gone, the lights are out
What’s in it for anyone? Go set out and take care.
“The title refers to the practice of dead reckoning, which is a navigation technique that involves finding your way when you’ve lost your bearings by fixing some point based on the wind or the moon,” Graefe says. “My grandfather was a naval aviator during World War II, and he used to tell us a story of having to use dead reckoning to find his way back to his aircraft carrier when he went astray deep in the vast blackness of night over the pacific ocean. The person doing the reckoning in this song is even more lost than that.”
“I think of ‘Almost Morning,’ ‘Dead Reckoner,’ and ‘Coral Court Motel’ as three focal points of this record. In terms of songwriting, energy, and sonic variety, I think they encapsulate what I needed to communicate.”
Marine Life captures a kind of emotional and physical isolation the likes of wish one can only imagine.
As serene as it is turbulent, Will Graefe’s latest record blends and blurs the lines of tranquility and turmoil – creating in the same breath a majestic musical journey beaming with darkness and light, hope and hopelessness, love and heartbreak.
“I’m still stunned and in disbelief when anyone tells me they listened to any of my music on their own volition,” Graefe says. “All I can hope for is meaningful connection with a listener, in whatever form that takes.”
It would be hard to come away from Marine Life not feeling moved, but we digress. Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Will Graefe’s Marine Life with Atwood Magazine as the artist goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his sophomore LP!
Marine Life is out now on 11A Records.
Stream: ‘Marine Life’ – Will Graefe
:: Inside Marine Life ::
Sometimes we put people who hurt us on a pedestal. This guitar solo is sonically inspired by Brian Eno.
All the Ways
Communication is hard…Commitment is hard…Breaking up is hard…and trying hard isn’t always enough.
Green and Gold
“It’s everything and it’s nothing, the long divided grace of Autumn“. I always return to Autumn.
I wrote this with Will Sheff from Okkervil River. The title refers to the practice of dead reckoning, which is a navigation technique that involves finding your way when you’ve lost your bearings by fixing some point based on the wind or the moon.
Will and I started writing songs together for the last Okkervil River album In the Rainbow Rain, and we’ve done a lot of really rewarding writing together since then. There’s something so evocative and elemental about the music Will pulls out of the ether, and it tends to inspire and push me to places I don’t always go otherwise. We also bond a lot about the natural landscapes and the spooky ambience of New England, where we both grew up and which his music really calls to mind for me. I hear a lot of that in “Dead Reckoner,” which Will and I wrote remotely through a lot of conversation about the people and places that were running through Will’s head when he had the seed of the song. My grandfather was a naval aviator during World War II, and he used to tell us a story of having to use dead reckoning to find his way back to his aircraft carrier when he went astray deep in the vast blackness of night over the pacific ocean. The person doing the reckoning in this song is even more lost than that.
Coral Court Hotel
A defunct hotel in humid misery.
A wash from the filth of Coral Court Motel. A sweet water chapstick or an apricot palet cleanser.
The shortest and most urgent song I’ve ever written.
“The way you throw your hands up” is my friend’s favorite line. I took the title from the film but I’ve never seen it.
New England at night.
Run to You
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📸 © 2021
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