New York, NY songwriter Josh Allen is set to release to release his new LP Scene to Scene in early May. Today, Allen has shared the video for the single “Yours / Mine.” From start to finish the single establishes itself with layers of cello and rich guitar along with emotionally deep vocals. “‘Yours / Mine’” is one of the songs on the record where the recording of it is basically about me singing the song,” Allen says in regards to the single. “It’s mostly just voice and a baritone ukulele, with some subtle cello accompaniment. That’s why Sara’s artwork for the video is so perfect, because it’s simply about watching her draw. Both are kind of fragile and personal things, happening in real time.”
You could call it a concept album, but Oblivion Orchestra’s writer, singer, arranger and only member Allen might bristle at the term. Less a concept and more an act of creative necessity, it is still the case that the only instrument played on the record beyond one guitar and voice is cello. Yet, that one instrument is broken fully out of preconceived notions of its sound. Each track on Scene to Scene features layers upon layers of the cello, sometimes up to twenty or more; strummed, screeched, run through reverbs, knocked on, bowed and manipulated, weaving their way around the stark core of each song.
While working as a film composer and sound designer, the cello first came to Allen through a documentary film. ‘I was asked to score a documentary, and when they sent me the temp music, it was all cello” he explains. “I couldn’t play cello, and, because of that, I developed this way of working where I layer different performances together, running the signal through an old guitar amp. Eventually it took on a sound all its own.”
Forcing himself to work with these self-imposed constraints proved an inspiration. The layering and listening required in sound design, the way that music and the different textures of ambient sound wrap around the dialogue in a film, has had a profound effect on Allen’s approach to his original music. “I did break the rules a couple of times, though” he admits. “There is an occasional tambourine, or a shaker. On one track two bottles clink together.” Allen recorded the songs quickly, while still brand new to him, sometimes while the ink was still drying on the last lyrics.
Written and recorded at his home in Manhattan, Allen began each track by framing out the core of what, arguably, are indie folk tunes. As the cello textures swirled into the mix, the songs began to swing and sway, the focus becoming deeply blurred at times, and then intensely sharpened, sometimes within a single line. Once the tracking was complete, Allen enlisted Alan Weatherhead (Mary Timony, Sparklehorse) to master the record.