The reason why Jon Arthur Schmidt’s new single is named ‘Blue Tarps’ is immediately apparent when you watch the accompanying video and see the homeless camp near where he was recording, the tents billowing in the wind and offering little protection against the snowy conditions. The song is stripped back to its essential elements: his delicate finger-picking and heartfelt vocal. This is feels entirely in keeping with the raw emotion and earnest declarations found in the lyrics, beginning with the utterly direct line: “I’m truly thankful for this roof above my head.” Schmidt has poured his feeling into these words and this sombre performance and it is impossible not to be moved by the plight of the people living and surviving in such circumstances. It’s thought-provoking subject matter handled sensitively and with sincerity: “Some smoke is rising from a fire burned out // And a life that was never lived.”
Schmidt shared his thoughts about the song with AUK: “Working on my latest record ‘From The Marrow’ was filled with ups and downs, as well as some very memorable experiences. Many of the songs were being written as the project was unfolding and becoming a part of the process. At one point a large homeless encampment formed near the studio I was working out of in Minneapolis, MN. Producer Matt Patrick had made mention of it, but I hadn’t seen it because of where I was parking each day. On Feb. 12th 2021, after finishing a string session for the song ‘Daylight’ Matt and I broke for coffee, and I happened upon the encampment just as I was leaving. It was a very jarring sight. It was the coldest stretch of the entire winter, and here people were camped out on wooden pallets underneath all these blue tarps. That night the temperature dropped to -20° Fahrenheit, and I was overcome with emotion thinking about it, and I experienced deep conviction over the things we so easily take for granted – like a roof above our heads. This story and song began to spill out of me and take shape, and I finished it late that night. The very next morning I woke up and recorded it in my dining room. I titled it ‘Blue Tarps’, and then sent the demo off to Matt, and suggested the idea of keeping the raw take. Matt had to pass this encampment almost daily, and I had no idea the song would impact him so strongly that he later decided to begin filming it and creating a video for the song. The next time Matt and I got together he showed me some of the moving footage he’d taken, and asked me on the spot if I would collaborate on a video for ‘Blue Tarps’. It wasn’t really a planned thing, but just sort of happened in a very natural but inspired way, much like the song, which I love.”
Schmidt is the sort of multi-instrumentalist who can do it all. On his new album, he delivers lead and backing vocals, acoustic, slide electric and bass guitar, drums, piano, keys and synths. All this talent is applied to his traditional folk-roots influences, creating distinctive, intimate melodic songs that capture the emotions and experiences of his personal life. Schmidt’s new album, ‘From the Marrow’, was recorded with producer Matt Patrick at The Library in Minneapolis’s Arts District. Schmidt says: “I was taken by the warm, eclectic space and inviting atmosphere at The Library. I felt from the outset that Matt understood the direction I wanted to go, and his production style allowed the songs to breathe in their most natural form. My songs found a home there.”
The album is out now; its affecting, thought-provoking songs show that Jon Arthur Schmidt is a gently contemplative storyteller. Take a listen.