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Miracle on Meade Street: A Yuletide Interview with Tenement's Amos Pitsch

photo by: Matt Stranger

photo by: Matt Stranger

by: James Muschinski

If you reside in the American Midwest like Tenement frontman Amos Pitsch, then you're probably already getting up early in the morning to start your car and scrape off the ice that briskly built itself upon the windshield during the overnight frosting. The sacred season is soon to arrive, bearing substance both joyous and sometimes seemingly unbearable to even the most "decorated" winter veteran.

Having grown up in the Fox River Valley region of Wisconsin, Amos is certainly no stranger to the frigid temperatures and rural holiday traditions of the Midwest. It's the place he chose to reside, record, and draw inspiration from for his first solo album titled LAKE EFFECT, now available for pre-order via Forward Records

LAKE EFFECT is a delightful merry musing of the innocence, warmth, folklore, and occasional depressive moods associated with winter. It's a conceptual album that Pitsch said "paints like Norman Rockwell's great lost portrait of the frozen tundra."

I recently got a chance to ask Amos a few questions regarding the upcoming release and what he truly believes is "the most wonderful time of the year". 

James Muschinski: Although fairly common in the past, holiday albums seem to be a rarity these days, let alone something original and by someone who isn't a flannel suit crooner or Michael Bublé. What made you decide on doing a holiday album as your first solo release?

Amos Pitsch: I've always wanted to do a seasonal album; I'd actually been planning to self release one for years and just give all of the copies away to friends as gifts. That idea never panned out- I never have enough money all at once to do something like that on my own. Perhaps someday I'll revive it. Hell, maybe I'll just keep releasing Christmas albums instead of conventional solo albums. I really enjoyed placing a restriction on my songwriting in which I only allowed myself to finish a piece of music once it had somehow tied into the winter season. And the winter season has always been my favorite season- especially in the midwestern United States, which is always subject to snowstorms and subzero temperatures, I think it's really a pretty enchanting time of year. There's a silence to nature that's basically musical after the birds have migrated south and the leaves have fallen off the trees. People tend to light more fires, illuminate things in a myriad of colors, and gather together more often to combat darkness and cold. The beauty that people create in the face of brutality, on a human level, is what makes this season special. 

JM: What are some of your favorite holiday recordings and what kind of influence did they have on the writing and recording process of Lake Effect?

AP: Nat King Cole's 'Silent Night' is my favorite seasonal recording, and really one of my favorite recordings ever, period. There's a warmth to it that has little to do with tonal frequencies and a lot to do with delivery and arrangement. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. Marvin Gaye's 'Purple Snowflakes' is another favorite of mine due to its use of sounds to create visuals. Little arpeggiated piano licks imitating snowflakes. It's perfect. I think Donny Hathaway's 'This Christmas' was more of an inspiration for the title track of Lake Effect than anything else. Just something upbeat and grooving and slightly nostalgic. It's really nostalgia that plays the biggest part in successful seasonal tunes I think. Chet Atkins' Christmas album does this well, and so does Jackie Gleason's. They're just these total dreamscapes. Almost like a cough syrup trip in music form or something. Just so pleasant and comforting. Anything Motown plays to nostalgia and is pretty much flawless: The Miracles' 'Christmas Everyday', Stevie Wonder's 'What Christmas Means To Me', etc... The boys choirs on albums like 'Christmas With The Everly Brothers and The Boystown Choir' and Vince Guaraldi's 'Charlie Brown Christmas' most certainly had some kind of influence over the vocal arrangements on Lake Effect. But what I really wanted to capture most on Lake Effect were intimate, warm, imperfect performances. Like Willie Nelson's early demos or Jackson C. Frank's 'Tumble In The Wind'. I hope you can hear the scratched up floors and the frosted windows and the space heater and the candle light. 

JM: I heard that the Crutch Of Memory Collective is going to be releasing physical recordings under another moniker. Could you fill us in on any of the upcoming projects? 

AP: Crutch of Memory is the studio in Appleton, Wisconsin that Julia Blair (Dusk), Colin Wilde (Dusk, Black Thumb), and Matt Stranger (formerly Technicolor Teeth), and I operate. We record everything we do here. Julia, Colin, and I are in the beginning stages of incorporating a record label into the studio (under the studio name). Similar to Motown or Stax, or whatever... keeping everything in house. We invite soloists and singers to the studio to make a record, we write most of the music, we're the backing band, we arrange the material with the artist, we put together the artwork, and we get the records pressed and distributed. The first record we've been working on is for an artist from Oklahoma City named Tim Buchanan. That one's recorded completely already. He plays in a great band called Cherry Death. The next record that we're about to start is for Julia Blair from Dusk. Alternately, we've also started a subsidiary label called 'JAC World', in which we release our own individual projects and anything else that we want to release really; whether it was recorded in house or not. We've got a lot of ideas cooking in that department but the first release will be out this month: the vinyl release of Black Thumb's It Is Well With My Soul

JM: Do you plan on doing any solo sets in the future? 

AP: No plans as of yet, but who knows.

JM: What's your favorite Christmas or wintertime film? 

AP: I tend to have really unsophisticated taste in film if I'm being honest with myself: Elf, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, The Santa Clause, Scrooged, Trading Places, A Christmas Story; but for other reasons: Fargo. 

JM: Last and most important question, what's your fondest memory of Christmas?

AP: Strangely, I think my most enduring memories of Christmas are the dark car rides between visiting relatives and attending church services as a child. Looking out at the empty night whizzing by through the windows and anticipating the following morning with a sense of dreaming that I can hardly fathom now. I also have a really distinct frozen frame in my mind of being a child and climbing a staircase of red carpeting in a large church. Burning candles, red velvet, and feet in dress shoes shuffling around. I guess you could say that a childish sense of innocence about the world that I once had when I was young is my fondest memory.