BJ Lillis ’12 says this is his break-up album. The break-up is between him and Wesleyan.
Fans of the Argus’ tragically defunct comics section (guys, remember “Feet People”?) and surreal Brian Wilson-obsessed psych-pop alike should be thrilled to learn that Orkinpods, the formerly anonymous bedroom pop project of comics editor emeritus B. J. Lillis ’12, has a new album online for the new year. It’s called The Loudest Sound, and it’s also Orkinpod’s finest, most confident work yet, which is definitely saying something, considering I loved 2011’s Boardwalking, Katy Perry cover and all. While Lillis’s previous work channeled the damaged surrealism of Smiley Smile-era Beach Boys, this one reminds me more of Sunflower or Surf’s Up. Gone are the synths and drum samples from the last record; in their place, Lillis employs rich arrangements involving upright piano, violins, ukelele, “harmonicas; audion electric chord organ; pots, pans, glasses; packing-tape drums; jar-of-pennies; laundry basket; maracas and shakers; backgammon pieces; pencils; [and] effects.” The songs are also longer and more fully fledged.
From the first notes of “The Scientists Say,” The Loudest Sound is lush, richly arranged pop music, with some of Lillis’s most gorgeous harmonies and intimate lyrics yet. Listen to it alone and try not to cry. Seriously, listen to the opening track:
My other favorite is probably “What We Bury At Night,” which finds Lillis crooning in a lower register over an almost a cappella backdrop of swirling harmonies, maracas, steel guitar whines, and god knows what else. This is heady, impressively arranged stuff:
From the album cover, a snowy shot of Church Street at night, you can reasonably assume Lillis had Wesleyan on the mind when he recorded this album in the weeks after graduation. “One way to look at it would be that this is a break-up album,” Lillis told me, “and the break-up was between me and Wesleyan University.” Lillis is now happily employed at a museum in New York, but is still wistful and nostalgic for Middletown. Read on for an interview with the one and only Orkinpods.
What inspired The Loudest Sound? Where did you write it?
Most of The Loudest Sound was written in the first few months after I graduated last summer, and really the whole album is about Wesleyan. Or more specifically, what it means to be in a place like Wesleyan and then have to leave it. The way I see it, it’s a little perverse, because human beings don’t usually do four-year communities—generally speaking, I think that humans build communities to last life times. One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s significant overlap between the set of people I knew at Wes who stuck around in Middletown for a while after graduation, and the set who were really radical in their approach to things. I think that the far left at Wes, the activists and the more political side of the queer community, are really very focused on this idea of community, and what it means socially and politically and individually to create the kinds of communities that let each of us live as full people.
How does that relate to your music?
I definitely feel that my time at Wesleyan was the first time in my life where I could really live as myself, to walk through each day as the person I truly am. And then to wake up one morning and lose all of that, and know that in the most literal sense you can never ever go back—which is what graduating from college means, really—it’s almost inhuman. It was very, very hard for me. That is what this record is about. The lyrics may not specifically speak to graduating from Wesleyan very often (“The Day that the Past Went Away” being the primary exception), but that’s the central feeling, or set of feelings, that I was trying to get into music in those first few months after graduation when I was composing the album. It’s no coincidence that I put a snowy night on Church Street on the cover.
You’ve also described The Loudest Sound as a break-up album of sorts…
I tend to see the hetero relationships in pop songs as metaphors for deeper emotions, and so one way to look at it would be that this is a break-up album, and the break-up was between me and Wesleyan University. That said, like any break-up, it was tough for a while, but I’m moving on with my life. I have a wonderful job at a museum in New York City, and I do in fact like living with my parents. Sleepy Hollow, New York is my home too, if not quite the community that Wesleyan is.
Beyond that, there’s a subset of songs I wrote at Wesleyan a few years ago, mostly in Well-Being House (“These Days…,” “There’s a City,” “Tired of the Night,” “Everything I Want”), which revolve around the combination of domestic happiness and late-night anxiety that I found in program housing. A lot of the other lyrics were written in Turkey, where I travelled after graduation for a couple weeks, so Turkey seeps in a little around the edges too, and the conflicting feelings of alienation and wonder that come with being a tourist anywhere.
Where was this album recorded? Any bathroom recording adventures this time?
I recorded the album in my bedroom; it was a very solitary kind of trip. I had lots of fun with the percussion, banging on pans and shaking things and building drums with tape. This, incidentally, is a very fun dorm-room project: take anything drum-shaped and use packing tape to make drumheads; it’s amazing how much like normal drums they sound, considering.
What does the title mean?
I tried to capture a single mood, a single complicated feeling across as much of the record as possible. The distortion, synths, and drum samples from the last Orkinpod record are more or less gone, which accounts for the title. The quietist music can be the loudest sound—just like the sound of the snow can be the loudest sound in the world if you’re kissing someone you like in the middle of the night, if that makes any sense outside my head.
Anything else you want to tell your fans?
You can download it for free—just click “Buy Now” and enter 0.00 dollars. Alternatively, you can pay any amount of money you want. But please, don’t hesitate to download it for free. Above all I want my music to be listened to and to be shared. I would like it very, very much if it were to turn out that my music meant something to other people. Money is not an important part of this equation. Also, the album is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA so please share, distribute, remix, cover, etc.