Honest songs that tackle alcoholism and isolation, but veer from spacey sounds to psych-folk, alt-rock and even grunge
Based in Portland, Oregon, musician/engineer/producer Steve Drizos is the drummer for Jerry Joseph and The Jackmormons. He has his own studio, The Panther, and he’s worked with artists including Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), Chris Funk (The Decemberists), and Scott McCaughey (R.E.M., Minus 5, The Young Fresh Fellows).
‘Axiom’ is Drizos’s debut solo album – it was written, recorded, produced and mixed by him, at The Panther. He set out to play as many instruments as he could on the record, but ended up using some guest musicians, including his wife, Jenny Conlee-Drizos of The Decemberists, and local session player Kyleen King for string and vocal arrangements. Drizos says that making the album took him out of his comfort zone – he’s suffered from depression and anxiety and fought a battle with booze, but started working on the record once he’d got sober. Some of the songs have been kicking around for years, but his new-found sobriety gave him the motivation to finally record them.
If you’re expecting downbeat country rock, think again. The title track and album opener is a spacey and trance-like instrumental, with female vocal samples, electric piano and soaring strings, which builds to an epic climax, while ‘Juggling Fire’ – the first song he wrote after quitting alcohol, and one of the highlights, is a shimmering, psych-folk ballad with a hint of blues. Drizos doesn’t shy away from tackling the issues he’s had to deal with though – on ‘Juggling Fire’ he sings: “When you’re all alone, begging for night.”
On his first record, he isn’t easy to pin down – ‘You Don’t See That Now’ is a reflective, keyboard-driven ballad with strings, and ‘Softer, Please’ brings to mind soulful grungers The Afghan Whigs. Similarly, the moody ‘90s-style alt-rock of ‘Static’ has crunching guitars, a driving bassline and some seriously powerful drumming, but throws in a proggy synth solo that sounds like it was found nestling under one of Rick Wakeman’s old capes.
Drizos says that having achieved his biggest goal for the album – to finish it – his next ambition is to have people hear it and relate to it: “If someone can find something relatable in the lyrics, especially someone who might be struggling with some of the things I sing about on the record, and not feel so alone and isolated, that’s the biggest goal.”
Any record that can help us feel not so alone and isolated in these dark and challenging times we’re living in has got to be a good thing. ‘Axiom’ is a diverting and often surprising listen – the sound of a man coming to terms with himself and capturing it in an honest and strong collection of songs.