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Jeffrey Silverstein interview: “I wanted to focus on giving the songs more movement”

The Portland-based songwriter opens up about his latest release, ‘Torii Gates’.

Jeffrey Silverstein has been around for a while now.

Previously a part of Brooklyn-based duo, Nassau, and Baltimore collective, Secret Mountains, Silverstein decamped west to Portland where he has since thrived.

A full-time school teacher, Silverstein finds pockets of time away from his daily vocation to create music that’s like a multi-coloured patchwork inspired by scattered dreams.

Silverstein takes the idea of country music and splices it together with ethereal psychedelia and post-rock.

While the likes of Suss create a world for their listeners to choose their own adventure, Silverstein creates a bedding of sound to tell his stories, which are like hippified poetry. Look no further than his debut LP, You’ve Become A Mountain; a release that was most certainly a sleeper of 2020.

Earlier this year, Silverstein followed-up with the EP, Torii Gates; a release that isn’t so much a radical departure from last year’s You’ve Become A Mountain, and more like an extension of it, solidifying the foundations already laid.

Speaking of Torii Gates and Silverstein suggests it’s a “celebration of the unknown”. Really, there’s no better way to describe it. Torii Gates is the sound of escapism; a cold-beer-hot-day concern as much as a lovely companion to lounge around the house to on a Sunday morning, dovetailing nicely with the likes of Cassandra JenkinsAn Overview on Phenomenal Nature.

Last month, we were lucky enough to catch up with Silverstein who kindly answered our questions.

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Sun 13: You’ve been writing music for over a decade now. Who were your inspirations growing up and what guided you towards making music?

Jeffrey Silverstein: “My parents always had music on in our house – Poco, Crosby Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Grateful Dead, etc. It’s strange to imagine what my childhood would have been without it. I was curious – how are the sounds I’m hearing being made? How does a song become a song? That curiosity stuck in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. Even before I started to write/record my own material, music became an outlet to begin to have a sense of self and others. It is still very much that way today.

“I was drawn towards a lot of the emo/punk/hardcore happening around the northeast in the early 2000’s. My earliest inspirations were friends and local bands I got to see play in churches, VFW halls, and high schools. Seeing people my own age come together to form bands, put on shows, etc. was life changing. Being able to visualise what having a band of my own might look/sound like gave me that early boost of confidence. I’ve spent the majority of my life in close proximity to music ever since.”

S13: Was Torii Gates written during the same sessions as You Become the Mountain?

JS: “The initial sketches for Torii Gates were written the summer after You Become the Mountain came out. Summer tends to be a productive writing time for me – I’m off from work as a teacher and have longer stretches of undisturbed time to expand on demos or half-there song ideas that have been floating around. I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate how my schedule can help dictate clear timelines for recording and touring.”

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S13: It feels like the two releases have a similar lineage; that ambient country feeling. Aesthetically, was this something you set out to do, or did the songs guide you into this sonic world?

JS: “With You Become the Mountain, I felt like I was on to something. A sound I could call my own. My experience working with Barry [Walker Jr. – pedal steel], Alex [Chapman – bass], and Ryan [Oxford – producer] was a dream so I knew I wanted to have the same team for Torii Gates. In general, I wanted to focus on giving the songs more movement, incorporating less ‘pretty’ guitar textures, and continue to develop my voice as a singer.”

S13: I get a sense that you are very much influenced by nature and the environment. Would that be a fair assessment?

JS: “Yes – that influence became even more clear since moving to the Pacific Northwest and grows stronger with each year living here.”

Jeffrey Silverstein - Torii Gates

S13: Caught Behind the Hours is an interesting one to start with, given there’s the voiceover which talks about the out of body experience. It actually symbolises what you’re going for, I think. Was that the intention?

JS: “I think I found that audio clip after the fact, but felt it fit well with the general theme of transition that runs through the EP. There have been moments in my life where I’m able to access a ‘second self’ that allows me to view my current self in a more genuine, authentic, and kind way. An ‘out of body’ experience of sorts.”

S13: Soft Lens really underpins the EP. How did this song come about?

JS: “I think I had the lyrics ‘stuck outside the torii gates/tired of hearing you’ll have to wait’ first. Chord progression came next and I just ran with it. Usually it’s the other way around for me. I’m still in the process of considering myself a ‘singer’ but this song allowed me to find a comfortable vocal range quickly which let me relax while recording it.”

S13: With reference to your debut album, You Become the Mountain, the title is an interesting one. It’s almost like your saying, “Forget about everything and just focus on the simple things in life.” Like the best things in life are for free. Was that the thinking behind it?

JS: “More or less. Making that record was an expression of gratitude. To my surroundings, to others, and to myself. I tried to capture, as close as I could, the idea of being in a flow state. It was a giant step in me getting out of my own way in regards to music and also the beginning of friendships /creative partnerships with people who I really admire.”

Jeffrey Silverstein (photo credit: Shade Standard)

S13: Prior to Portland, you’ve lived in Brooklyn and Baltimore and have been a part of projects in each city. Do you feel like you need to keep moving in order to gain new life experiences?

JS: “No. I think you have to stay curious, pay attention, and enter new experiences with ‘beginner’s mind’ whenever possible.”

S13: How long have you lived in Portland for now and do you see yourself settling there for a while?

JS: “We’re coming up on four years! Hard to believe. This is absolutely home now.” 

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S13: Judging by your output, you seemed to have been quite creative in the lockdown period. Have you written anything else?

JS: “Another record! That I plan to record in the fall. Plus I curated and contributed to a compilation honouring the life and music of one of my all time favourite songwriters, Ted Lucas.”

S13: What’s the plan for the rest of the year?

JS: “Remember how to play live shows, DJ sets, get back in the studio and get to work on some more collaborative projects.”

Torii Gates is out now via Arrowhawk Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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