Status: Active, Hiatus
Everything – Michael Lejeune
Guest Vocals – Jenn Barnett
Visit the Bandcamp Page to stream audio
Orphic Elegy is the name I gave to my folk, alt, and worldmusic style material. I’ve always had trouble classifying it, as for me it is sort of a catch-all for anything that is done with acoustic instruments and doesn’t fall into one of the other major categories I work in. That’s sort of how I have to do it: decide what it isn’t, rather than what it is.
As for a pole in the tent, I often cite Dead Can Dance as a major artistic influence. You can hear this influence directly on the Orphic Elegy album, particularly on Reeds. I hope that you’ll hear other things in there that hearken to some sounds you’ve loved.
This album was recorded in 2010, during an active period of my other folk project, Daybloom. Back then I had not yet taken up recording at a professional level, and was still just catching a reasonable clip here and there with whatever was available. I purchased a used handheld mp3 recorder (a Zoom H4) from the then-bassist of Son of Mourning for the purpose of capturing material during rehearsal of my various bands, and discovered it had a four-track recording/mixing function. That tapped into my need to record. I embarked on this record right away.
Using a handheld to record an album is a very painstaking process. Much patience is required. The lack of ability to edit, punch, or monitor anything is a pretty serious detractor. But I was motivated, and my acoustic composition was flowing too quickly for Daybloom to absorb it all.
For years I’d been collecting instruments of various types, from any source I could. I came up with the idea of making the songs of this album hinge off of different instruments, to give it a broad palette and a wider range of creative influences. Scratches came about based solely on a pair of mandolin riffs, some of the first I ever invented. Reeds was all about creating an Eastern sounding beat with a drone instrument and loud vocals. Picturesque featured the twelve-string guitar and the banjo. An accordion can be heard on The Regretful Man. Into the Underworld uses a real organ from the 1960s currently eating up much of my living room real estate, and the only electric guitar on the whole record. Blake’s Song was a chance for the hand drums I play on the rest of the record to shine without accompaniment. My dog Blake provided the bark track, his smile appears on the disk itself. I like to imagine him playing the drums on the song.
And the last song, the title track, is played on a small harp I picked up on eBay. I found the rain and froggy forest soundtracks online, and somehow they just fit together perfectly.
Despite how proud I was of the record, I knew even then that it wasn’t quite high enough quality to make available to the public, due to having done the whole thing on a handheld unit and having performed all the hand drums myself, in layered, unedited tracks.
Years later, I was wrapping up the Enantiodrome demo and the Nil Significant album, recording at a pro-ish level finally, and I decided to remix and remaster the Orphic Elegy album. In my naivete I believed it would be quick, an addendum to the larger projects coming to completion at the time. My mistake. The process was highly immersive. I spent more than a hundred hours total.
But in that process, I was able to do much to bring the songs to life in ways I’d only dreamed of before then. I broke apart those original recorded drums, and requantized them into perfect time. Many other things were improved, fixed, polished, expanded… So many advanced techniques were now available!
As always, the learning process in recording was just a bit more thrilling than frustrating, but only just a bit. Here’s an interesting aside: the handheld Zoom H4 is battery operated. When I recorded the songs, I did so while listening to a click track on headphones plugged into the Zoom. You can actually hear the click on the periodic fade outs in The Regretful Man. But anyway, the battery operated unit, though digital, did not play clicks at tempos exactly the speed they were set at. I would find, during remix when finding and setting a timebase for the project, that a tempo I’d set on the Zoom at 135 bpm would actually be 134.995 bpm. That may not sound like a lot, but by the end of a four minute song, it was huge.
Only two things were added in the 2015 work on this record: the bass guitar on Reeds, and the female vocals on Scratches. The vocals came from a session with Jenn Barnett, intended for the Nil Significant album. Thankfully, I’d had her read a few other pieces while in the booth, and found her performance of Scratches complimented the song well as a counterpoint to my voice on the last chorus.
I decided I needed to include the lyrics to these songs in liner notes that go with the CD. To that end, the package contains a few pages and a full set of lyrics for the album. I put together the artwork around the same time I did the same for the Enantiodrome demo and the Nil Significant album, with some newly acquired Photoshop skills. The scene with the dead birds is actually right outside my apartment. There is this migration of crows in Albany every fall, and sometimes the endless stream of birds goes right over my home. The fall of 2014 was such a year, and the dead littered my street and yard. Those that could not survive the rigor of long distance travel that year. One day after work, the scene with those two, lying dead right next to my building…it was too beautiful not to photograph.
The tray card is a picture of new concrete right in front of my building, where a maple leaf lay for some time, lost some of its color to the cement through the rain, and blew away. Sometimes the most beautiful things are right in front of you. You must be prepared to see them, or you simply won’t.
I have more material tucked away for Orphic Elegy than any other of my projects. Most of the music I composed growing up fits neatly into it. And more is always coming. There will be more Orphic Elegy.
Consider buying a copy of the album and checking it out. 100% of proceeds go to defray the cost of making more records at my home studio, Biscuit Bend. Stream the music, read lyrics, and purchase merch here.