Simon Petty: The Road to The Sad Carousel
Things had taken a dark turn in the fall of 2013, and I needed to get out of town, to rejuvenate. My old brother-in-arms, maverick producer Darrin Tehrani, threw a lifeline into the chaos and darkness and suggested that we build a studio in the desert and make a record.
We rented The Rockhouse in Joshua Tree for a month, sight unseen, based purely on an online picture of a beaten up Steinway Grand piano in the front room. Despite its name, it turned out that The Rockhouse was not a studio in any sense, it was a just house made of rocks. DT spent a week tricking it out with vintage microphones, using the idiosyncrasies of the layout to make a kind of open plan recording arena, and I sat under the beautiful tree outside, pictured on the album cover, writing songs in the gin-soaked twilight. John Prine once said, “I didn’t much enjoy my second divorce, but someone parked the songwriting bus outside my house.” The relief of finally having somewhere to write and something actually to write for meant that this elusive mode of transport made a brief visit to the high desert too.
I thought I had nothing left to lose only a month before, but, to my everlasting relief and unending gratitude, wave upon wave of incredibly talented musician friends came up from LA to play for a weekend here or a night there. Orchestrated by DT, sessions were often late at night and somewhat haphazard, fueled by chicken from the smoker and cheap Mexican beer. In the pursuit of old school authenticity, we implemented a vague rule of no click tracks and no auto-tune, and suddenly, instead of being an album full of sadness and introspection, ‘The Sad Carousel’ took on a spirit of defiance and camaraderie. It’s still a break up record, but hopefully it’s one that wears its desperation with a glint in its eye.
By definition, a record is the commemoration of a time and a place. The fall of 2013 was as dark as it has ever been for me, but I hope that the album that it spawned also possesses the life-affirming sense of hope and solidarity, the gift to me of true friendship, captured in perpetuity under a canopy of stars.
A friendship forged in the baptism of fire that occurs when touring in a van across America, Seth Rothschild and Simon Petty have been playing music together for fifteen years. Gigging endlessly with their erstwhile bands, Gingersol and Minibar, and then cutting the Rothschild-produced album ‘The Sea, The Sea’ as Solomon’s Seal in Texas and Brooklyn, over the years the pair have honed their songwriting chops on the sharp edge of the music industry.
This EP is their latest collaboration. Recorded as a Christmas present to themselves in Bedford-Stuyvesant in December 2014, it features three songs from each, produced by Rothschild in a manner reminiscent of artists as diverse as The Flaming Lips and The Velvet Underground. “A Little Bit of Ink” is just that: a lyrical footnote to the musical road less travelled. Voices, once weary, of the toil, are shot through with a newfound love of life, and the joy found in the sheer craft of making music is on full display.
One of them once met Paul Westerberg, the other Elliott Smith. Together they almost make a complete person.
“The Sea, The Sea”is Petty’s first solo album, made partially in Denton, Texas and partially in Brooklyn with former Gingersol production guru Seth Rothschild. It is a contemplative work, echoing the melodic introspection of Seventies English folk icons such as Nick Drake and John Martyn.
‘A Murder of Crows’ juxtaposes the poetry of collective nouns with the plaintive chorus refrain of, “I spend all day just trying to feel OK”.
In ‘State of the Union Address’, he is offering a lover consolation whilst admitting that “I know it hurts like cigarette burns”.
Beneath the soporific beat of windshield wipers in ‘Sleeping in the Car’, Petty’s voice is distant and dreamlike before snapping into sharp focus for “…we just want to be loved more than understood”. Themes of redemption and consolation run throughout the record, as if he is almost battle-weary and in need to feel “clean and warm and whole”, as he puts it in ‘I Built a Fire’.
The overall effect is a mood of warmth and melancholy, flattered by Rothschild’s textured yet beautifully sparse production.
On October 4th, 2010, ‘I Built A Fire’ was featured in the hit Showtime series ‘The Big C’ (Season 1, episode 7 ‘One For The Road’). The programme stars Laura Linney, who is coping with her terminal cancer diagnosis in an unusual way. A slightly less highbrow reality series, ‘The Blonde Charity Mafia’, was shown in the fall of 2009 on MTV UK, and featured many snippets of ‘The Sea, The Sea’.
A feature film, ‘Fifty Pills’, features ‘A Trick of the Light’, and stars John Hensley, who has the dubious honour of being on-screen during another Petty composition, self-circumcising himself to ‘Fragile’ in an episode of ‘Nip/Tuck. 2007’s straight to video classic, ‘Heavy Petting’, contained Minibar’s ‘Snowglobes’ and Solomon’s Seal version of ‘In The Strings’.
“Solomon’s Seal, “The Sea, the Sea” (self-released) – Simon Petty has been in L.A. a decade now from his native London, winning fans fronting the criminally overlooked Minibar and making friends as a sideman for the likes of Pete Yorn. His solo project, named for a variety of lily with supposed medicinal qualities, soothes like a pot of herbal tea. His finger-picked ballads, stirred gently with tinkling piano and subtle atmospherics, reveal a songwriter in command of all his senses, including the good sense to practice restraint. Petty’s genteel melodies and billowy narration connect nature and the nature of emotions quite nicely, thank you; I’ll have another cup. Recommended.” — Kevin Bronson, Buzzbands.la
“U.S. based British band Minibar has been a fixture on the Los Angeles indie pop scene for the last decade, but yet Minibar has managed to stay under most everyone’s radar. Those who know the band know the slightly smoky and brooding vocals of front man Simon Petty, who is also one heck of a songwriter, and now he gets to prove that point with his debut solo effort, The Sea, The Sea under the moniker Solomon’s Seal. Petty’s obsession with the Smiths is documented in the press materials, and he’s also said to be influenced by the late, great Nick Drake. One thing going for Petty right off the bat is that he doesn’t feel compelled to fake a British accent like other alt-popsters. His vocals bring the songs effortlessly to life – and the songs themselves, with their beautifully sparse production and arrangements, are simply wonderful. The haunting instrumental “Solomon’s Suite” is an odd opener, but then right from the soothing piano and smooth vocals of “A Trick of the Light,” Petty’s artistry just shines. Other standouts are “Sleeping in the Car,” which sounds like a Glen Phillips-Joseph Arthur hybrid, the pretty guitar/vocal of “I Built a Fire,” and the romping, Peter Gabriel-esque “A Part of the River.”” (Unshackled 2009) — Mike Farley, ESDmusic.com