When I saw Vermont-based guitar wizard Tom Pearo deliver a masterful album-release show recently, he made a comment about how I Am A Mountain soundtracked a movie playing in his head. Something in the way he said it made me think he had more in mind than a band’s standard promo line about how cinematic their new album is. Sure enough, Pearo has a very specific story in mind. Think a coming-of-age road journey as told by J.R.R. Tolkien (which I realize basically describes Lord of the Rings, but most of the battles in Pearo’s movie are internal).
Pearo’s minute-by-minute guide to the imagined film offers a way into the 39-minute instrumental guitar piece that comprises the bulk of the album – which, to be clear, is plenty inviting on its own, but one must acknowledge that the phrase “39-minute instrumental guitar piece” will send many running for the exits without a little hand-holding.
If this were a real script, it might start with a quick synopsis, so here’s Tom’s:
The film starts with the protagonist at home, in a comfortable setting but feeling depressed, bored and defeated. Fed up with feeling so low, they decide to take the difficult first steps to do something positive. Suddenly, they have a vision of a mountain, a mountain filled with light, and decide to leave right away and go in search of this. They start out their front door on a year-long journey that takes patience, determination, and perseverance. This journey to a mountain really represents an inner journey away from depression, anxiety and addiction toward a life full of meaning, joy, compassion and love.
Like in any movie, there’s a cast, in this case made up of the instruments (very Peter and the Wolf). The Earth is portrayed by the bass (Luke Awtry), The Wind by the strings (Shay Gestal, Danielle Hill, Eli Goldman), and The Rock by Dwayne Johnson – sorry, I mean by the drums (Dave DeCristo). Finally, the album’s Gandalf figure, The Path, is portrayed by Pearo’s guitar. The protagonist, The Traveler, is portrayed by you, the listener.
Hit play and follow the journey below with notes I’ve adapted from a lengthy email Pearo sent me. This album works wonderfully to just sit back and let wash over you, but reveals even more with engaged listening.
• 0:55 – The start of the journey, the big push to take that first step out of darkness, is represented by the major hook in the song, heard right in the first few minutes of the tune. It’s a heavy feeling and has a lot of emotion wrapped up in it. This melody really dominates the first 8-9 minutes of the song and really represents how difficult it can be at the beginning to choose to better yourself, the struggle that you go through with depression and addiction.
• 9:00 – The guitar gets very heavy where the protagonist almost turns back, bloodied by bramble bushes in the dense springtime forest, but then doubles down on their commitment and pushes forward with new determination. You can hear the dynamics of the tune drop after this point, and it’s almost as if the song starts to draw you in a little bit, and stops pushing so much. Now feelings of despair and depression are turning into feelings of determination and power.
• 11:50 – The strings take over and, instead of pushing against the listener, start to reveal their true secrets and mystery, and start to actually tell the listener where to go. At every drum break the traveler is placed at a fork in the road, unsure of which direction to take. The guitar and strings always tell him where to go.
• 13:00 – There’s a shift in tone for a moment. Musically, I start to dive into another modality that is more loving, less bluesy and aggressive. As if to say, there’s hope, keep going, you’re on the right path. This kind of climaxes at around…
• 17:00 – This beautiful slide part that just lifts you up, toward the light. This leads the listener out of the forest, through beautiful summer fields of flowers, into a desert, where they experience a powerful mirage.
• 18:00 – You can hear this mirage, everything gets washy, psychedelic and magical. Can you see it?
• Shortly thereafter – The traveler finds himself staring at the mountain for the first time physically, in the distance he can finally see it. He is lead by the wind toward a stone staircase, and start to climb. He enters the mountain thru a small cave, and it starts out dark but one by one, candles in the walls start to be seen. Looking at the candles reveals hundreds of years of wax, so much so that it almost creates the walls of the cave. By now, the music is fully sucking you into the mountain, deeper and deeper, and is promising secrets so grand that your entire body is vibrating with energy and light.
• 22:00 – The cave into the mountain gets brighter and brighter as more candles start to emerge and you can almost hear the gently vibration light rays in the music. I apply tremolo to the loop layer to give the music this feeling, this little bit of wobble that makes it sound like shimmering light. Notice here also the guitar is very faint and in the textural background, the physical path being now less important as now the traveler is fully being drawn into the heart of the mountain.
• 25:40 – Eventually, the traveler is brought to a grand opening, where the narrow, rocky, candle filled tunnel opens up into a huge, grand cavern. Inside the cavern are thousands of people, dressed in white, holding candles. They are hooded, and the traveler is drawn to them, with a feeling of “here it is, I’ve reached the end.” As he gets closer to them they start to reach for him, and he notices their hands are almost skeletal, and their eyes are sunken in and glossed over. He starts to push through the crowd but they all close in and all are grabbing at him from every direction.
• 26:00 – The intensity builds until a crack in the rock that makes up the ceiling of the cave shines a powerful ray of light down, illuminating the traveler and giving him the power to cast out the crowd of robed wearing “zombies” in an epic battle. My guitar solo plays this part and I imagined it as with every note I am playing a giant ball of light gets bigger that just disintegrates everything in it’s path. This part really is a commentary on various religions of the world with their promises of salvation and eternal life…and the idea of reaching an “end”, where the journey of a full life is really one that is endless, as our traveler will come to see.
• 28:10 – After the traveler defeats this crowd, the light from the heart of the mountain now starts to take over. The path in front of him is now becoming lost in the sheer amount of golden, glowing light that is coming from all around. As he moves forward, forward becomes harder and harder to establish, until it seems as if he is merely floating in a sea of light.
• 36:30 – The traveler realizes that there is no longer a need for a path, and the mountain is but an illusion, and at that moment, ceases to move forward, and starts to move upward, to ascend, and to really move outward, expanding beyond the earth and stretching out into the solar system and beyond.