Chicago bred, Nashville based Doug Hoekstra is a poet, songwriter, musician, published author and a father, who stepped away from it all to spend time raising his son, write, teach and work for a non-profit. With eight albums and three books earning Independent Publisher Award, Pushcart Prize, Nashville Music Award, and Independent Music Award nominations, he’s back with a new album and book. The Day Deserved is the kind of record that draws you back again and again, and with each listen comes a new discovery in the stories he sings. Songs like, “Gandy Dancer”, “Seaside Town” and “Higher Ground” could each be a Netflix or Hulu series. His fourth book, Ten Seconds In-Between is available now.
AnaLee: It’s been a decade or so since your last record, I think long-time fans would agree, The Day Deserved was worth the wait! Although I don’t think there’s a connection to your book title, Ten Seconds In-Between and the fact that it’s been about ten years in-between since your last release, it is all sort of about connection in the big picture. The stories in the songs are easy to get lost in and revisit time and again. With so many creative outlets, do you find that you write specifically for music or is it sort of an amalgamation of everything you’d been observing and writing about over these years?
Doug: Thanks for the kind words, and yes, the record is intentionally crafted to be something one can return to, with layers, musically and lyrically. I’m old school in that I really love albums that carry this idea, depth that a listener can rediscover over time. Really, this is also true of art, books, film, as well. Anyway, I stepped away from music altogether when my son was growing up, so I sort of turned that switch off during that period of time, but in general, ideas come and sometimes they suggest a musical background, sometimes not. It’s hard to say why, honestly. Sometimes, of course, melodies or musical ideas come with a fragment of a lyric. Sometimes I’ll try something in prose and it doesn’t quite work and I'll hammer it into a song. “Carry Me” and “Wintertime” were both from that vantage point, on the record, they both started as poems but were changed and improved, honestly, in song structure.
AnaLee: I hear different influences musically on the album, a little reggae and jazz blended with folk, but not your typical folk rock. I wanted to feature a couple of them today, tell us a little about the mystery in “Seaside Town” and the animated video that accompanies it.
Doug: Yeah, you know Duke Ellington said there are only two kinds of music – good music and bad music, right? Anyway, on this record, I wanted to experiment with making the songs stretch a bit, lyrically and musically, distinguishing them from my past work and from each other. So, I demoed everything at home, usually a couple times, trying out different arrangements, coming up with a lot of the counterpoint lines, stuff like that. I wanted to have a good mix of tunes before going into the studio with a band.
Seaside Town started as an Antonio Jobim type bossa nova, I love Brazilian music – Marcos Valle, Joao Gilberto, people like that. So, I play these diminished chords, up and down the neck, in the verses, and that’s where that came from. But a straight boss nova didn’t seem to work for the lyrics and so I tried revving it up and that’s where it wound up. This was also the first track I cut with the band that comprises most of the record; I’d worked with Paul Slivka (bass) before, but not Chris Benelli (drums) or Dave Coleman (guitar) and we were able to work quickly and with verve. The basic backing for most of the tunes went down in two or three takes, with overdubs added later. Kudos to David Henry for the gypsy fiddle, as well.
The lyrics began with crows and vultures, which came from Van Gogh’s later paintings, but then I got the notion of a person gone missing. When there’s a news report about somebody gone missing, there’s often the inference that something terrible has happened to them. But people go missing all the time in day to day life, invisible to others, not fitting in. Seemed like a lot of that was happening in different ways, the last few years. So, Seaside Town is the story of such a person, a woman in a little seaside town; an artist, she wants something more. She is missing in her environment, but then she goes missing on her own terms, which is a sort of, redemption and of course, the last line is from the Tao. This song also calls attention to the characters in the album, throughout.
Since I knew we’d be releasing this album in a pandemic, I did six videos for it, which was a bit much, maybe, but lots of fun and something different. One I handled on my own, but the other five, I farmed out to friends, and just said, “hey, here’s the basic idea, feel free to run with it.” So, my longtime pal Pat Meusel, who used to play guitar with me, and was one of the first people I met in Nashville way back in the day, worked on this song, with his friend Daniel Pennington. Pat lives in Pensacola now, so he shot it down there and honestly, they captured the song perfectly. I wanted the videos to be sort of literal and not literal, if that makes sense, and everyone who contributed did a great job with that
AnaLee: “Gandy Dancer” is another favorite for me, I love the groove and the vocals with Hannah Fairlight and Preacher Boy. Your uncle was a gandy dancer in Chicago, I didn’t realize that was an actual thing! Can you tell us about it and how this song formed?
Doug: This is a great story and I didn’t know what a gandy dancer was either! Before my parents passed, I recorded many hours of interviews with them, family questions, about their lives and the times they lived. So, around the time we started on the record, I was driving along listening to my Dad from the past coming to the present to tell me about his brother Herbie, who worked for a short time as a gandy dancer, on the railway in Chicago. Apparently, it was a terrible job, very hard, and he quit after a week. I didn’t remember this particular family tale and I wasn’t even sure what a gandy dancer was, so I looked it up. Herbie is not Eddie, the rest of this story is simply a noir tale I made up, but I thank my Dad for giving me the idea from then to now, as if he was just waiting to lay it on me, from the great beyond.
This was the last song we finished for the record; I felt like the bass/drums were solid, but that it didn’t have enough layers and that it was probably a song that needed to deviate more from the original path. When the pandemic hit, however, necessity became the mother of invention as we went back to the drawing board, flying in overdubs, with Wurlitzer (me), guitars (Dave Coleman), congas (Chris Beneli), and sax (Jimmy Bowlands) from our homes, getting added to the mix and creating a whole new stew.
Next up, I’d had this idea of doing round robin vocals, like something you’d hear from the Band or the Staple Singers or Prince (1999). I just had a one-take scratch vocals in place, but we flew the backing over to Hannah Fairlight to sing all the way through and did the same, for an old friend of mine, stellar bluesman Preacher Boy. Then Dave and I listened through and picked parts and put them together and it made sense. So, this track really has a nice evolution, from my Uncle Herbie to my folk’s recordings to the studio to the “community” created during the pandemic.
Grant Claire, at Goodnicethanks in Nashville, did the video and I love what he came up with as well, this sort of concoction of found footage and animation. All I said to Grant was “Saul Bass” and other than that, it was all him. I love Bass’ graphics on things like Vertigo and North by Northwest and his work was also a touchstone for the cover of the new book, Ten Seconds In-Between
AnaLee: Ten Seconds In-Between is your new collection of short stories. What inspired the title and can you give us a little hint of what to expect?
Doug: The stories in the book were written over the past few years and many were published in journals, here and there, though two were done expressly for the book (The Client Experience and Identity Field). I think Identity Field is a good example of something that might be better suited to word than song, trying to get at this sort of magic realist sci-fi combo. Anyway, I wound up placing it at Better than Starbucks press and they were a great sounding board in terms of helping me shape it, particularly the way the book is sequenced into four key sections – Out of Time, Pieces of Time, Time Found, and Time Lost. There are flash pieces and extended pieces, and hopefully the sections work as a “choose your own adventure” exercise.
But as I say in the foreword, ultimately, Ten Seconds In-Between is a collection about connection. There’s something elusive yet immediate about the characters in the tales, or as a line in “Performance Arts” goes: “You remember reading somewhere that psychologists say when people meet, they decide within 7 and 17 seconds whether or not they will like each other. You wonder about the 10 seconds in-between.” The pieces range from flash to extended, mirroring ephemeral transactions and relationships; as with life, the hope is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Shout-out to my friend Chad Johnson, for the cover – once again, Saul Bass was the inspiration, but Chad taking it further and matching the notion of the book perfectly.
Doug Hoekstra, “Gandy Dancer”