From the Desk of Craig Finn
I just got off the phone with Jake Ewald. He says hello.
I called him to tell him I’ve been digging the new Slaughter Beach Dog album he’d sent me. I’d been playing it around the house a lot, and had a question about it. He picked up on the first ring and told me that it’s called Crying Laughing Waving Smiling and that it’s going to come out on September 22nd on Lame-O Records. That wasn’t really my question, but I guess it’s good to know.
I actually called to ask him if his van really got stolen. He mentions it in one of my favorite songs on the record, called “Engine”. I’ve been a fan of Slaughter Beach Dog for a little while now, and I know that Jake can tell a fantastic story, though I also know a great storyteller can stretch the truth. But Jake said his van really did get stolen in 2020, right at the top of the pandemic.
It’s also true that just a little while later he moved from Philadelphia, where he’d been living for a decade, to a house in the Poconos. Once there, he found he had less distraction and a calmer mind. He started going for walks and listening to music. He found some new appreciation for the “old guys”, as he said on the phone- Neil Young, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, those types. Personally, I’d call them the “classic guys”, but I’m a bit older so I’m probably somewhat defensive about age.
Anyways, to me it seems like some of this might have led to an old school approach to making a record. In July 2022, the whole Slaughter Beach, Dog band (Jake, Zach, Ian, Adam, Logan) gathered at their long time studio The Metal Shop back in Philly with a bunch of songs Jake had written over the past two years. Jake would show them a new song, singing and playing an acoustic guitar, and then the band would all play what they were hearing for the song. Classic, human, and not overthought.
They’d talked before entering the studio about this approach: emphasising the instinctual, not being afraid, listening to each other. The band caught fire. They captured fifteen songs in the first five days. The priority throughout was serving the song. I’ve been listening for days now. I can tell you these songs got served.
There’s beautiful space in everything. It’s patient and aware.
I’ve always admired Jake’s eye for detail, and it’s on full display here. It’s an album filled with gorgeous imagery and vivid worlds are built within each song. I see it all. He careens around the country (New Jersey, Baton Rouge, San Antonio, Florida, Georgia) and engages his tastebuds (spinach, cheddar, caviar, buttercream, margaritas). He’s tender in bars and funny in cars. And vice versa. Most impressively to me, he consistently finds the divine and sacred in the everyday: church pews in a diner, toast bearing the image of Christ.
It’s my opinion that every record is about growing up- we all have to get a little older before we make the next one. But Crying Laughing Waving Smiling examines a particular weightlessness that is part of spreading wings, putting down roots, trying to grab a hold of something. This is how it feels when you’re making the moves that you make while becoming the person that you’re going to be.
A few months back I watched Slaughter Beach Dog play a sold out club in Brooklyn. The band was awesome, and the audience sang every damn one of the words to their songs back to them. It was impressive. But I know it’s not effortless, and Jake Ewald has been persistent. Starting with Modern Baseball, he’s led two different bands over countless tours of this country. He’s gathered fans around the world. He’s dedicated his life to rock and roll. He told me that sounds dramatic. Probably, but it’s also true.
So as much as it speaks to our own modern age, my favorite part of this record is its timelessness. Before I got off the phone with Jake, I told him that this sounds like a record we’ll listen to in ten years, twenty years, beyond. It should get more and more people into Slaughter Beach Dog and the already deep catalog of music they’ve built. Next time I see the band, there will be even more people singing every word of every song. I’ll be in the back of the room, raising a toast to my pal Jake, congratulating him on the success of this fantastic record.
I just hope he’ll still take my calls.