Katie here again, and this time I can’t wait to share the music of another Underwater Sunshine Festival artist and family member, Boy Bjorn. Brian Holl— who was half of Foreign Fields, a band many of you have probably seen at the Outlaw Roadshow— is putting out music now under the name Boy Bjorn. It’s dreamy, gauzy pop, absurdly well-written, and perhaps best of all, announces Holl’s brave new start in music.
All of the producers here at Underwater Sunshine have some sort of creative hobbies or professions, so we all share and understand that a lot of art— and especially performing said art— is born out of a sense of anxiety or existentialism. Art is a way to assert, as Stephen Crane’s man says to the universe, “Sir, I exist!” The problem, however, with announcing that, is often— as Crane’s universe responds— “the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.” Despite (and maybe because of) Foreign Fields reaching critical— and fan base— acclaim, Holl began to wrestle with the panic and anxiety that most people his age are working through on a much smaller scale, in private. Simply put, he walked away.
I know that when I started having panic attacks before going onstage, I stopped going onstage. It was that simple. I’d be acting for long enough to know that even though I’d get a high once I could feel the stage lights, I was going to be so anxious before and after that it wouldn’t be worth it. Instead of turning away, Holl faced those moments and recorded them in sparkling new singles. “Alone at The Severance,” for example, is, in Holl’s own words, “born from conversations about society and existentialism. The mid-20s pursuit of truth. All the long, inebriated talks I’ve had with friends that get compressed to a silent agreement that ‘we’re believing a lie, but it’s all right’…I wanted to set that thought against a light, ethereal backdrop to shed some of its weight. The more important part of this story is that it’s all right.”
It is extraordinary to be able to relive the moments in which you are staring down the demons of your own anxiety, stare them in the face, and back them down: in songs like “Anchorage,” Holl lets the listeners get to know him in a completely different way. My recommendation is that you pull the song up on YouTube and watch the accompanying video: there is something about anyone’s old home movies that is special, but Holl leads you through his whole family, labeling people and their voices, showing you what Christmas looked like, before starting the song, singing softly,
We all have our dreams
And mine was childhood
It was grandma speaking, and we talked like we never talked
Laying on her carpet
Opened her heart up
And then I combed my hair and re-did the part that she had started
While the song certainly appeals to moments of nostalgia, it’s not easy to break it down into simple emotions. It is almost as though he misses being able to remember the past as vividly as he felt it while he was living it, not like he legitimately wishes to time travel back. There is a beautiful idea carried forth that history is important, but there’s something cyclical in families, and no matter how many beautiful moments you share with each other, it’s hard to know when you’re missing an opportunity. Against the backdrop of so many home movies, it’s especially poignant.
Perhaps that is what people reacted best to in Foreign Fields— the tension between folk and electronic music, the pull between great storytelling and honing in on the emotional toll of a moment. With Boy Bjorn, Brian Holl is absolutely adhering to those high standards, but he seems to be finding tension by creating layered emotional scenarios and underscoring it with sparse, effective music that leaves room to breathe. If “Anchorage” is the story of remembering childhood but wanting to see it more vividly, it could just as well be accomplished by viewing the tapes. But there are other moments— a desire to see his grandmother and talk with her, a desire to know his own history in a way that it points towards the future— that show a trademark depth in Holl’s writing and thinking. So often, lyrics are used to fill in the space between music. When listening to Boy Bjorn, the music is a lovely, slow conduit, meant to relax and lull you while Holl’s writing plays upon the more complex and meaningful ways in which we are human.