Certain connotations arrive with the phrase “bedroom recording.” Such albums are typical lo-fi affairs, sparse and simple and stripped-down, a voice and a laptop plus one instrument (if that) and maybe some reverb.
The Giant Peach’s debut album Pulling Teeth is technically a bedroom recording – frontman Harrison Wood Hsiang recorded every song but one in his college dorm room. But it is anything but stripped-down. What other bedroom recording features trumpet, sax, violin, and slide guitar? There are three credited drummers here, and eight vocalists. It’s a long way from Bruce Springsteen hollering Nebraska into a four-track or Justin Vernon holed up alone in a remote cabin crooning “Skinny Love.”
You can hear echoes of Talking Heads and Iron and Wine in the Giant Peach’s ambitious songs, but Hsiang says the album’s biggest influence actually became a mentor: Canadian singer-songwriter Jasper Sloan Yip. When you hear Yip’s music, the connection makes total sense; after all, his last album has not one but two Wurlitzer players. On the Giant Peach album, Yip is one of those eight vocalists. Hsiang explains how he went from fan to collaborator:
I’d been a fan of Jasper’s music all through high school, but he didn’t have any awareness of me until I covered his song “Horseshoe” from his second record, Foxtrot. Foxtrot is the most important album in the world to me – it taught me a lot about songwriting, but also a lot about being a person, and when I was a junior at Middlebury College I set out to write a paper about Foxtrot, treating it sort of like a literary analysis. Foxtrot is a really amazing album, filled with musical and lyrical motifs that develop over the course of the album with its message; it’s also so complete in what it wants to say. The songs all work together to deliver a larger rumination on the nature of love and of art. I tried to bring that understanding to Pulling Teeth.
It was through that process that I got to know Jasper a bit; he was very generous and answered my many questions and over the course of it all he became something of a mentor to me. At some point, far before The Giant Peach existed as such, we played a show with Jasper, and we’ve been friends from there on. I went out to visit him in Vancouver BC after my graduation and finally worked up the guts to ask him if he’d like to play a part on Pulling Teeth. It’s overwhelming to have his collaboration on this project — no one has influenced my music more.
Pulling Teeth gets its title because that’s how creating the album felt to Hsiang. And the tension didn’t just stem from Hsiang’s grand sonic ambitions pushing up against his limited recording capacities. The writing itself was brutal, inspired by a collapsing relationship.
“The songs themselves were often born out of moments of distress, a late-night outlet for when that unshakable insomnia has set in,” he says. “‘Used’ is maybe the most obvious example. I’d spent the half the night furrowing my brow into my pillow and traveling deeper and deeper into my own madness while my at-the-time partner lay placidly uninterested beside me. It was in a sort of helpless fury that I eventually grabbed my notebook from the windowsill and scribbled down the seminal lines of the song: ‘Take what you want and give when you have to. I kind of like the way we tear apart.'”
The Giant Peach’s Pulling Teeth is out now. Stream the album below and download it at Bandcamp.