Interview and exclusive premiere: Art Schop on 'Death Waits I'
Art Schop

On Friday, Nov. 13, Art Schop will release his inventive new album Death Waits I: Music And Fine Arts. Throughout the album, Schop finds inspiration in talented musicians, artists and historical figures, and then crafts beautiful music that both pays tribute to their legacies and honors their own artistic visions.

The album's title track, a Jacques Brel-inspired piece, is a patient and thoughtful song that dives into the immortality of art. Check out the exclusive video premiere of “Death Waits I” above to get a sneak preview at this engaging new album.

AXS got a chance to catch up with Schop to dive deeper into this exciting new project with an exclusive Q&A:

Laurie Fanelli (AXS): Thanks for taking time out to answer some questions today. Where did the idea to pay homage to various musicians and historic figures on Death Waits I: Music And Fine Arts come from?

Art Schop: Thanks, Laurie! It’s my pleasure. I once read something that Paul Simon said about songwriting, that if you start with a factual statement like “they’ve got a wall in China a thousand miles long” you’ll get to something solid and real – it will ground you. When I began writing songs that weren’t about myself this insight proved very helpful – it encouraged me to explore current or historical events or people and follow my interests and instincts, letting them guide me.

I also like the tug of Jung’s concept that there are no coincidences, which I applied to songwriting as “allow for random inspiration.” I had begun trawling the science and arts pages in the newspaper for pieces that piqued my curiosity. I happened on a story about Alberto Giacometti, the sculptor. His statue Walking Man had sold for $90M or thereabouts, and I wanted to know more about him, whether he had been a successful artist in his day, what motivated his art and his technique. The subsequent exploration led to the song “Insubstantial Man.”

The more songs I wrote in this way, the more I found myself drawn to the lives of artists, composers, writers. These were the subjects that really spoke to me and intrigued me. There was a common sense of striving, of dealing with personal pain through the beauty of art.

LF: Who was your favorite person to encapsulate in song?

AS: That’s a really tough question. I think I’d have to say David Bowie, in part because he loomed so large for me in my formative years – I listened to his albums until the tapes wore out (I put them on cassette tapes so I wouldn’t wear out the vinyl) And also because I found it so difficult to write a song about him. I’d had many failed attempts, and “Back To Earth” took longer to write and was more complex than any other song I’d ever written. So when the song was finished and the arrangement came together it was such a great feeling. It also gave me a new appreciation for Bowie as an artist. When I took apart some of his songs to figure out how they worked, I just marveled at his inventiveness and skill as a songwriter and performer.

LF: Was any one track more difficult to develop than the rest on the album?

AS: The writing and recording process in some ways mirrored the kinds of struggles and reinventions that come up for the subjects of the songs themselves. Every song went through numerous rewrites or reincarnations, and the arrangements were painstakingly worked out with my producer, Jimi Zhivago — again, usually with several failed attempts before we were happy. “The Sun Deceives,” for instance, started out as a fairly straightforward piece about Stieg Larsson, and ended up as an epic reimagining of Richard Wagner’s opera “Tristan Und Isolde,” in which nothing remains of the original song.

Perhaps the most difficult to develop was the Jacques Brel song, the title track, “Death Waits I.” I didn’t want to try to reproduce Brel’s version, which is very typically Brelian, but the construct of the song created all kinds of problems for me when I was writing new chords and melodies. “La Mort,” Brel’s song, is repetitive in lyric and structure, and my attempts at new arrangements just sounded tedious. It wasn’t until I dropped the repeating lyrics, and modulated the chords so that they don’t repeat but sound like they repeat that it started to flow. I also needed to tie the song in thematically to the rest of the album, so I added a bridge that speaks to the immortality of art – “We’re plucked and we wither like buds for the vase. To crumble to nothing, alone in the maze. But Death hasn’t found you and Death never will, he waits for you now and he’ll wait for you still.”

LF: You are living in New York and I always think of Lou Reed as the quintessential New York musician. Did you go anywhere or do anything to really get in that Lou Reed headspace for “The Thistle And The Thorn.”

AS: Ironically, it was an experience far from New York that gave me a way into Lou Reed’s world. Like Bowie, Lou Reed has been someone I’ve listened to and loved since I was a kid. And like Bowie I’d tried and failed several times to write a song about him. A few years ago I went to a friend’s wedding in Sicily, the same friend who first introduced me to the music of Bowie and The Velvet Underground. After I’d returned to New York, my friend wrote to tell me that just after I left, Lou had checked into the hotel where the wedding party were staying. There he was in this little hillside town in Sicily.

For the album, I was re-listening to some of my favorite Lou Reed songs, trying to figure out the elements that made them so uniquely Lou, and so damned good. It occurred to me that he does such a great job of evoking a time and place, of setting a scene. And suddenly it clicked: I knew where Lou had been that time in Sicily. I’d walked through that lobby. I’d ridden the funicular down to the beach. That would be the time and place. And it seemed appropriate, or even necessary, to refer back to Lou’s song “Perfect Day,” from Transformer. Such a deceptively bitter-sweet and nuanced song. “I thought I was someone else, someone good,” he sings in “Perfect Day,” which is a line that still gives me chills no matter how many times I hear it. “The Thistle And The Thorn” became a kind of updating of “Perfect Day.” An older Lou, wiser, but still urgently seeking the unvarnished truth in himself and the world around him.

LF: The album is entitled Death Waits I does that mean that a second edition is in the works? If so, can you share some of the personalities that inspired you for that album?

AS: Yes! There is a Death Waits II. I had too much material for a single album, so I split up the songs by artistic discipline. The second album is dedicated to writers. It’s almost finished, and we have Joyce, Plath, Camus, Isaac Babel, Paul Fowles, Seamus Heaney, Emily Dickinson, Beckett, Dante, and an adaptation of a poem by Eino Leino.

LF: When does Death Waits I: Music And Fine Arts come out and where can people pick-up a copy?

AS: The digital release is scheduled for Friday, November 13 — a suitably auspicious date. People will be able to get digital copies from any of the regular online sites and from ArtSchop.com. But I should mention that the album illustrations by Eric Collins are phenomenal; he did a portrait of each artist, and the CD and vinyl will have booklets with full color illustrations, song notes, and lyrics. I know we’re living in a digital era, but I love the tangible aspect of an album, and I really want people to be able to experience the project in its entirety. The CD and vinyl will be available a little while after the digital release, again through all of the regular online outlets and at music stores and our site. If anyone wants to get the release notice for the CD and vinyl they can sign up to our mailing list. And, of course, you can always come to an Art Schop show and get a copy!

LF: Will you be touring in support of the release?

AS: We’re already booking dates in New York. The first will be Nov. 3 at Cameo. And although I don’t think we’ll be doing a traditional tour we’ll be looking to get out to some targeted venues. I’d like to get back to England to play, too.

LF: Is there anything else that you would like to share with AXS readers?

AS: Just to say what a privilege it was to be able to explore the lives and works of these artists. In some cases I incorporated the artist’s own work directly — with Sappho, for instance, I took one of her lyric fragments (“Sappho 31”) and reworked it, updated it, maintaining the Sapphic meter of the original. And with Michelangelo I used ideas and images from his letters and poems. But in all cases, as best I could, I tried to be faithful to some kind of truth in the artist’s life and work and communicate it for the listener.

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Hear the truth, art and inspiration come together on Death Waits I: Music And Fine Arts by Art Schop when it is released on Nov. 13. Click here for more information about the process behind Death Waits I and keep reading AXS for more music news, reviews and exclusive interviews.