Today we look at a track off of Settling House’s album Short Songs For Short Nights. Being under a minute and a half long, “Short Song About Our Future” keeps up the theme of the album. With such a short playtime, It doesn’t hesitate to pick up quickly with a flurry of synthetic piano sounds, supportive bass, and a variety of snappy percussion parts. Just as the music picks up, so do the words, coming forward in a stream of consciousness.
Tell me something beautiful
It’s hard to keep on thinking straight
I know the timing isn’t perfect
But I need the chance to talk
Grab on to my shaking hands
It’s trying to gain control again
I wanna live forever
And I hope you live forever too
I hope you live forever too
Despite the cheerful sound of the music, the lyrics themselves seem to be a stark contrast in mood, telling the story of a battle with some force. Be it a vice, terminal illness, or something of that nature, it sounds like a hopeful, but ultimately losing battle, poignantly trailing off with the desire to live forever. From here the song goes into an instrumental section with a slowly ascending then descending trail of bass and synth. This repeats one more time, now being joined in by an ever-descending crystal-like plinking of piano that reminds me even further of the previously mentioned battle.
Most of us are too afraid to keep our hands above the water
Misdirect your greatest fears the next step is the smallest one
I like the way they put the people who are unpleasant are always talking
Every place that isn’t here is dangerous and too expensive
It’s dangerous and too expensive
Yeah it’s dangerous and too expensive
This time the vocalist is more positive, pointing out that while sure, maybe we won’t live forever, we should at least try to enjoy it. Many of us get so caught up in fear that we go through great spans of life never really living. We make excuses about not doing things or try to avoid things solely out of the fear of the unknown, even if the unknown may be tremendously fun. The song then abruptly fades out, reminiscent of how many people’s lives fade suddenly before they could get their money’s worth out of life.
Overall, it’s a great reminder to live life to the fullest. So, get out there, put your hands above the water, and start living life. We talked to Settling Houses about the process of creating “Short Song About Our Future”.
What was the inspiration for your song “Short Song About Our Future”?
The first draft of this song was written while my wife and I were lying on the floor, next to unmarked boxes full of everything we owned. This has happened several times since and with each move and each step into uncertainty the song changed an ounce. Some iterations are more positive about the future than others. It sounds silly, but this is a song about being scared of the future. And this is a song about being excited about the future.
What was your favorite part of writing “Short Song About Our Future”?
This is a wonderful question. My favorite part of writing any song is when I’m with other people. For this song, I recorded the vocals in an attic in Chicago with my friends Alex and Stevie. They’re the ones who encouraged me to create that uncertain stuttering rhythm the song has. There is no greater joy than working with friends. There was undeserved euphoria when we listened back to the vocal rhythm the first time. We felt like we had parted the red sea or some other grand example. And much like Moses, we celebrated by eating some unleavened bread we had found in the backyard.
For “Short Song About Our Future” which came first, the lyrics or the music?
The words. The lyrics — and an unbearably throaty demo – had been sitting, unfinished, in a folder titled “Finished Songs” for about 2 years. The folder is full of unfinished songs.
Anyway, I couldn’t break it. No chorus felt right, other verses felt forced. It was only when this project trashed the need for a chorus that the song belonged in that impatiently-named folder.
What would you consider to be more important: the music, words, or neither?
You sly fox, I can see your sadistic game. It won’t work, no, no, no. I’ll say this: I’d marry words, have a business partnership with music and kill neither — don’t tell music I said this.
I noticed the song “Short Song About Our Future” Came from an album titled Short Songs For Short Nights which revolves around the idea of short songs. What was the inspiration for that album concept?
Necessity. When I first started writing and recording this album, I was working long hours at work and commuting an hour and a half by bus and train. The only way to write and record a new album was to find a way to create something in small amounts of time. It was a safety mechanism against depression, too. A way to feel accomplished and away from work. It was a way to find hope in between the short nights and long days. It’s a messy album because of that, but I hope it’s an honest mess.
What genre would you consider Settling Houses to be?
Very Skittish Indie Rock.
On your bandcamp, the band’s described as “Plain text music only, no html.” What do you mean by that?
I have to admit this caught me entirely by surprise. I had forgotten about writing that. Having an answer for an interview wasn’t first on my mind. So, here’s the truth: it’s just a reference to my old job where I coded websites. “Plain text only, no html” was a phrase that we had to insert into nearly every box for comment sections and the like — telling folks they can’t get fancy with Bold or italics to prove their points, which is also in BandCamp’s boxes.
But I do think it’s also parallel to my songwriting philosophy. Keep it simple and have fun with what is around you. Often our songs are written while covering an absence. Riffs created because a string was broken and there was nowhere to buy new strings within an hour’s drive. Short songs because there was no time for long songs, Etc. Get creative without HTML.
I apologize for this grotesquely boring story.
What was the inspiration for the name Settling Houses?
When I named the band, I hadn’t realized I was cursing myself. It was just meant as a pun on my wife’s maiden name, which is House. Plus, we were newly married and moving into our first apartment. It felt appropriate.
Now, though, we’ve lived in 8 apartments in 3 years, so if the Band Name Gods are done having fun with my naming choices, I’d absolutely appreciate a respite. And one day I’ll be able to say we didn’t name the band because we were endlessly settling houses.
For your music video for “Short Song About Our Future” and your other short songs, I noticed a minimalistic aesthetic of simple animations that play on loop like a gif. What was the reasoning behind this choice?
Most of the songs on the album don’t allow much time for contemplation. It’s:
Set Up #2 (optional)
I may be wrong, but I was worried pulsing through a second story — or even trying to match a film in time with the lyrical narrative — would have ended in a hyperkinetic pile. The hope was that a simpler animation would complement the album’s pace.
Did it work? No matter the answer, I think James did a stunning job on them. Thanks, James!
How did the band come together?
I don’t know! Settling Houses is often just me and whoever is around to hit an instrument. Nearly every album and every show has had different friends in different roles. I love it, though. I love my friends. I love their ideas. I love my brother, who added the piano waterfall to this song. I love my wife who you can hear singing occasionally in the background. Every single one of them is infinitely more talented than me and they all take the time out of their day to help me write songs about watermelon, bad religion, and nervous love.
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