Peer into the heart and the mind of guest writer Cameron Hood as we delve into 10 songs currently in his rotation! You can visit the Spotify version of this playlist by clicking this link.
When it’s time to sequence a Ryanhood album, I can never quite help ordering the songs in a narrative format, even if we didn’t have any narrative in mind when we wrote the songs. It seems my brain works best when I’m finding patterns and making up stories. So, I took a cue from my bandmate and built this playlist around one original song. In this case, it’s “Gardens and the Graves,” from our second album, Forward. It was something of an early mission statement for our band just starting out; a song about both seeing new places and learning to see with new eyes. I chose not to use the song itself in the list, but as a map for the whole playlist.
So, let’s see where we get to:
“The last horizons I can see/ Are filled with bars and factories/ And in them all we fight to stay awake/ I’ll drink enough of anything/ To make this world look new again/ Drunk, drunk, drunk in the gardens and the graves/”
Have you ever looked at your life and been unable to see anything beyond the cars, bars, and factories, beyond the mundane surface of things? The Gin Blossoms were my absolute favorite band in high school and none of my friends could understand why. “Try to like a real band, like Metallica,” my friend Robert suggested. But there was something in Robin Wilson’s clear voice, something about their upbeat melancholy that I connected with. Musically, the seeds of lots of their songs are embedded in the soil of this one. And I love the feel-good drum fill at 2:55. But in response to the lyrically heartbreaking lack of vision, I was eager to begin writing with Ryan, to see how we might see—and write—the world differently. And so, a folk duo with a mission was born.
“There’s glory in the dirt/ A universe within the sand/ Eternity within a man/”
Right off the bat, here’s the loyal opposition: The harmony of meaning in the mundane, spirit through matter. And though many of us have had our fill of larger than life drums and stadium choruses, once the synth starts to light up late in the song, it’s hard not to feel your heart rate rise a little bit, right?
“This is the sound/ From the discontented mouths/ Of a haunted nation/ We are the voice of breaking down/“
Switchfoot, channeling the words of civil rights activist John M. Perkins, names the problem: brokenness, desperation, and noise run beneath the streets of our modern soul. But there are glimpses here that that same desperation can be seen, used, and harnessed to build something better.
“Unpacking boxes/ Lighter things went on top/ Down at the bottom/ All the things I forgot/ My heavy heart/“
Why do we find it so hard to move into the lives we say we want? What keeps us from venturing out to live, to experience, to change, to love?
All the things down at the bottom of the box.
I saw Madi Diaz play this song live at Solar Culture one time and I wanted her to know how much this song means to me and how much I appreciate her. I’m fairly certain I creeped her out. Sorry Madi! Come back to Tucson!
“Are you living the life you chose/ Or you living the life that chose you?/”
Spread out notecards with the names of Jason Isbell songs on them, and drop your finger on one at random and you’re guaranteed to find something both insightful and tuneful. He writes with a realism, for sure. But I keep hearing hope peeking out the edges of even his darker tunes (like “Something More Than Free”). Here, he asks the question most of us really don’t want to answer truthfully.
“A thousand nights or more/ I traveled east and north”
In time, Jimmy Eat World surpassed the Gin Blossoms and even Calexico as my favorite Arizona band. If I could tell you about just one Jimmy Eat World song, it would be the song “Integrity Blues”, but if I had just one Jimmy Eat World song to tell the story this story—leaving home, getting lost, and looking for light—it would be this one, “Polaris.” Ryan can tell you, I have never listened to this song without singing harmony on the chorus.
“In the darkness/ Before the dawn/ Leave a light/ A light on/”
If each of us is lucky, there’s a moment we can’t get to where we want to go, can’t move forward, can’t come up with the answer, can’t seem to become who we want to be, or accomplish what we say we want to accomplish. It feels like the unluckiest thing in the world at the time, and I’ve hated it each time it’s happened to me. But don’t we know in our bones that those dark hours before dawn are when and where we are truly shaped? Don’t we become most of who we really are in the struggle, in the failure, when we’re “millions of miles from home”? May we each have at least one person in our lives who leaves the light on for us during those dark hours.
“I know/ I’m no doctor but I know/ You can’t live in the past/ But the only way to go/ Is to go back/”
Part of the meaning behind my contributions to the newest Ryanhood record, Yearbook, are about the recognition that it’s often necessary to uncover and make peace with the past before fully moving forward. We often seem to have to dig out the heavy things at the bottom of our boxes. Though as much as I think that applies to this playlist, I have to tell you, I would listen to Darlingside sing about anything all. Do a YouTube search for live versions of their songs and be amazed at how they accomplish everything you’re hearing here live, around one microphone.
“The night is long/ And I’m far from home/ Here in the dark/ I do not ask to see/ The path ahead/ One step enough for me/”
Have you ever felt like sometimes the darkest place in your life became the lightest? The grave became the garden? According to Joseph Campbell, bruised but wise heroes face the challenge of bringing their hard-earned wisdom back into their regular lives, and I think that’s when the homeward journey begins. Between Darlingside and Audrey Assad I could have populated this entire playlist. But I’ve kept myself under control (just think of the restraint!). Solo piano vocal, performed live. So. Good. If you’re looking for an artist to give voice to the contemplative parts of your life, Audrey Assad may be your woman. For me, her music is where I rest, where I’m most at home.
“Everything ain’t quite what it seems/ There’s more beneath the appearance of things/ Sometimes the only way to return/ Is to go/“
I love Josh Garrels’ ability to put together physical things and spiritual things in a way that feels comfortable and matter-of-fact. This song to me offers a new vision. At first, all I see is dirt and sun, “bars and factories,” and yet sometimes I get these glimpses of a light that shines through the “appearance of things.” And that’s enough to keep me writing and traveling, and—in the words of my Dad—”going away and coming back, going away and coming back.”
Thanks for taking the time to go on this little trip with me. I hope I keep learning to see the same world with new eyes, and I hope the same for you.
Words by: Cameron Hood