··· About the Album ···
How does someone decide when to step out on his or her own? Andrew Joslyn can’t answer that for anyone else, nor would he pretend to. The 33-year-old classically trained violinist and genre bender’s personal journey toward self-realization has wended through myriad detours and thickets, as has anyone else’s. And it’s still in progress. But after decades of insulating himself under the auspices of various peers and collaborators—from his own Passenger String Quartet and backing of indie-folk auteur David Bazan to accompanying friend and fellow Seattle denizen Macklemore on world tours and awards-show appearances—Joslyn has arrived at an instinct to lay himself, and his music, more transparently bare.
The result of that revelation is his debut solo album, Awake at the Bottom of the Ocean. All 11 compositions are written, arranged and produced by Joslyn, who’s looking to turn the paradigm of pop records featuring occasional string flourishes on its head and allow those elements to build on an unapologetically orchestral bedrock. While buoyed by guest vocals from fellow Pacific Northwesterners including ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan and hip-hop/R&B wunderkind Will Jordan (who co-wrote Nicki Minaj and Rihanna’s hit, “Fly”), in addition to allowing for rock instrumentation and trip-hop-inspired low end, Awake at the Bottom of the Ocean ultimately sinks or swims on Joslyn’s name alone.
“I’m feeling really vulnerable,” he admits. “I don’t have that sense of risk when I work another artist. I look at it as a job. I contribute my part, and if it fails or succeeds, it’s more their doing and not a reflection on me. But this is the first time my music has to sit on its own merits.”
Fortunately, Awake does anything but sit idly. The track “Coal Miner,” a swelling symphonic prologue simmers down and cedes the spotlight to soulstress Adra Boo, whose vocal is slowly stalked and echoed by a thumping beat. As articulated by Boo, Joslyn’s lyrics sift through the emotional wreckage incurred when his apartment burned down in early 2015. The experience is later revisited on “Enchanted Life of a One Year Old Kitten,” a funereal ode of sorts to his cat, Mendelssohn (indeed, named for the legendary German Romantic composer).
In between and elsewhere, Awake rouses Joslyn’s reflections on the sycophantic nature of celebrity (“Plastic Heaven,” featuring Will Jordan); the lessons instilled from his parents’ devotion to Zen Buddhism (“Desiderata,” a video for which stars his brother, Saturday Night Live alum Chris Kattan); and elusive romance (“I Should Have Said Goodbye Before I Met You,” featuring guest vocals from ex-girlfriend Susy Sun, though the song is about another past love, thereby touching on what Joslyn says are “too many meta levels for me”).
Though the album’s crescendo is arguably its penultimate track, the matter-of-factly titled “Mantra for a Struggling Artist,” a transcendent headphone anthem that rides Augustines singer Billy McCarthy’s bent-but-not-broken stride across Joslyn’s deftly woven, aspirational strings. It’s also a defining testament to Andrew’s leap of faith that the best way to communicate his hopefulness and heartache was by first submitting his words to a more powerful chorus of voices.
“A lot of people heard my demos and they were like, ‘Why don’t you sing all the parts?’” he says, reasoning, “I want people critiquing it on the merit of the songwriting and orchestration, but not on the merits of me singing. That almost seems too personal, too much of an emotional investment. If I made it so much about myself, I think at that point it almost stars skirting a vanity project. The art of collaboration begins with not having an ego.”
Joslyn’s tendency toward humility took root during his aforementioned upbringing, which leaned on the mantras and meditativeness of Eastern philosophy. “The spirituality and life lessons I got from my parents permeate so much that I do,” he concedes, citing his Buddhist mandala tattoo as present-day evidence. He was equally affected by coming of age in a relatively insular community—Washington’s Bainbridge Island, a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle—while his brother experienced the surreal arc of stardom as part of SNL’s late-’90s ensemble.
“He got hugely famous when I was in eighth grade, and all through college, everyone knew me as Kattan’s brother,” he recalls with more nostalgia than ill will. “I was never angry at him, but I learned how to live humbly in the shadows.” After witnessing Chris endure Hollywood’s volatile ups and downs, Joslyn observes, “I was already pre-conditioned to live humbly.”
It also seemed destined that he would be a performer. Joslyn’s mother enrolled him in theater, dance and music instruction by the time he started elementary school. And his father’s parents were both touring cellists. The die, in effect, was cast. “There was a very strong classical lineage kind of forced on me from an early age,” he shares, adding that, “Thankfully, because my parents are much more even-keel, being Buddhists, they’ve always emphasized balance.”
And balance—whether it’s between modes of music or amid private mood swings—is what Joslyn’s been striving for since. Awake at the Bottom of the Ocean is both an embodiment and expression of that ethos, the sound of someone plumbing creative and spiritual depths in order to surface with an album that moves its listeners and, in turn, inspires them to move.
“Art is torture,” he laughs knowingly. “To put out something of worth you want to stand behind, you’ve got to tear yourself apart.” It may, in fact, be the only way to feel whole. Or as Joslyn concludes while looking considering what happens next, “It gave me clarity on who I want to be and the direction I want to go.”
-Kenny Herzog (Rolling Stone)