Earlier in the year, we wrote about Good Night & Good Morning’s 2012 landmark LP, Narrowing Type.
In summary, Narrowing Type is one of the great lost albums of our times. Not only an album cloaked in desolation and mystique, the story which has unfolded in the years since its release has been something enigmatic and obscure where the band members of Good Night & Good Morning are concerned.
Weeks after the publication of our Narrowing Type review, Good Night & Good Morning’s singer/ guitarist, Ryan Brewer, got in touch. Not that we intended for our words to be some sort of bait to lure anybody in, but the scenario further exemplified just how small the world of independent and underground music is.
After several email exchanges with Brewer, we decided to talk about the band and their elusive debut LP.
Without revealing too much of Narrowing Type in the forthcoming passages, for some background, Good Night & Good Morning started out in the mid-noughties in Champaign-Urbana with Ryan Brewer and Pat Elifritz, who released their self-titled debut EP in 2009. Shortly after its release, Milwaukee native, Sahan Jayasuriya, joined the pair on drums. The trio unveiled Narrowing Type three years later.
Capturing the emotional intensity of ’90s touchstones, Low and Bedhead, Good Night & Good Morning created the kind brooding atmospheres that stay with you forever.
“We didn’t know any other bands that were making slow atmospheric ambient, sad music at the time. When you’re 22 it’s a weird thing to do, I think,” says Brewer during our discussion over Zoom, which took place over the Easter weekend. At the time, Brewer was visiting friends in São Paulo, Brazil.
“We didn’t play a lot of shows with the line-up that we had on Narrowing Type. Me and Pat, our first tour was in 2008. I think we only played five shows with Sahan on drums, because we were focused on school and we played some experimental shows and some loft shows around Chicago at the time, but we always felt like the odd band out. We really did some good shows, but we never played any big audiences by any means. We got to open for a Low one time (in 2009) and it was the highlight of our lives up to that point.”
Since the release of Narrowing Type, there has been a lot of speculation about the band members and their respective endeavours. Brewer has moved around, and is now based in Austin, Texas. Contrary to popular belief, he hasn’t stopped playing music since the days of Good Night & Good Morning.
“Since I’ve moved to Texas. I’ve just been listening to an embarrassing amount of country music. I’ve been on a strange musical journey for the last several years. After Narrowing Type came out, I was ready to be done with slow sad music for a little while. It put me in such a headspace that I forgot how to talk to people and be social. We split up with the intention of changing our name and starting to write upbeat music, or ‘Let’s not wallow in the kind of sad headspace that we are in’. We intended to make happier stuff.”
“When I got back from China, I moved to Milwaukee because that’s where Sahan was. We were going to start writing music together, and Pat was going to come up and practice with us on the weekends. But as it turned out, I just didn’t enjoy living in Milwaukee very much, and we ended up not practising as much as we probably should have. Then I ended up moving back to Champaign, so our idea of changing the band just died on the vine. I decided to go the polar opposite way and play guitar in a math rock band, just to see if I could try playing some really upbeat, fast, weird time signatures and technical stuff rather than atmospheric playing, because I just needed to go the other way for a while.”
An affable personality, Brewer continues to part with stories of the past surrounding Good Night & Good Morning.
“We just came about at the wrong time, I think,” he says towards the end of our conversation. “There wasn’t like a scene of slowcore bands around us that like everybody was hyped about, we were kind of out there doing it on our own. Just time wasn’t right back then.”
Unlike now, which makes it apt that Narrowing Type is set for reissue via the Californian label, Energy Crow Records.
“This label in California specialises in re-issues of rare records. The owner of the label is woman named Jen. She reached out to us at the exact time that me, Pat and Sahan were on a group chat talking to each other being like, ‘Hey, would y’all ever want to throw down some money? Let’s just make a little investment and see if we can get these records made?’
“At that exact time, within the week that we were all talking about it pretty seriously, Jen reached out to us and asked, ‘Hey, would you ever have any interest in reissuing Narrowing Type? And we were like, ‘Yeah, actually, we were going to do it anyway’. Jen has been super helpful and very well organised.”
So with the exciting news surrounding the reissue of Narrowing Type, Brewer answers some of our questions about the creative process of the album, while also revealing exactly what the members of Good Night & Good Morning have been up to in the last 10 years.
Sun 13: What have you guys been doing since Good Night & Good Morning disbanded?
Ryan Brewer: “Well, I think it’s funny. I re-read your review a minute ago and it seemed like myself, Pat and Sahan hadn’t gone on to do any other music since then. I think that might have been one of the reasons I reached out to you when you wrote a review of our record, because it seemed like nobody realised that we continued making music, even though we did.
“Pat’s not doing a lot of music, but he’s more focused on the visual art world. He’s actually a curator at a museum in Detroit (Pat was always creating the visual aesthetic for the band. In addition to playing the vibraphone and keyboards, he filmed and created beautiful footage that was projected onto us and the stage during live shows).
“Sahan has gone on to play with a few bands, but he’s doing a lot more music producing (he also has a great project producing beat mixtapes under the moniker Cold Lunch). He lives in Milwaukee, and he’s producing albums for some cool bands that are coming out of Milwaukee right now, kind of like shoegaze and post-punk bands. He’s been writing a book about the Milwaukee band from the ’80s called Die Kreuzen. He’s been working hard on that book for a few years now. He’s been back and forth between San Diego, he was in San Diego for a while, and now he’s back in Milwaukee.
“After Good Night & Good Morning broke up, I moved back to my hometown in Champaign, Illinois, and I joined a math rock band, playing guitar. The band was called Hank. Then I played bass in another math rock band called Capys. Then I fronted a psychedelic rock band called ZXO. I’ve been really active in the music scene, but in 2019, I moved to Austin, and I moved there without really knowing anybody. I had one friend who invited me to stay at his place for a while, and after two months I ended up joining a band called Calliope Musicals on bass. We’re finishing up our third record right now, and we tour pretty consistently.
“So I’ve been active in the music scene, and Sahan has been pretty active in the Milwaukee music scene, but more on the production end of things.”
RB: “Calliope Musicals is totally different than Good Night & Good Morning. We made that Good Night & Good Morning record when we were all pretty young.”
S13: What are your memories of recording Narrowing Type?
RB: “I generally think it was a dark time for all of us. Me and Pat had been living in Chicago for a couple of years, and it’s just a bit of a dark city. I don’t really remember the sun ever shining when I was there. So me and Pat lived together in this tiny apartment in a really hip neighbourhood of Chicago called Wicker Park. We magically had like the most cheap rundown apartment. So we were just living in this shitty apartment and we were always just practising in our living room. We had Pat’s vibraphone and my guitar amp set-up – it took up the entire living room.
“While we were working on that album, we met Sahan for the first time. He was living in Milwaukee and he came down to see us play. We were part of this small record collective called the Orchid Collective. Our friend Joey ran it. He was putting out albums for his friends bands. He put out our 2010 EP (technically our third EP), so Sahan came to see us play an Orchid Collective show, and we just made instant friends with him. When we met him, he had listened to our EP and he really liked the five song EP that we had put out and he thought we were in our 40s! He thought we were much older than we were. A few months later, I asked him to come play drums for us because we were working on this new record.
“We got halfway done with the record while we were living in this tiny apartment. At the time, I just happened to not have a job, I was in my junior year of college, so when I wasn’t in school working on homework, I was always at home playing guitar, messing around with different sounds and always trying out different pedals and really experimenting with stuff using a cassette tape recorder and recording guitar parts onto a cassette recorder with a really shitty microphone, always testing out different sounds. At the time, we were tapped into a really interesting music scene in Chicago.
“Chicago has a really bizarre scene of people playing in rundown, very dingy apartments or industrial spaces; people would just set up shows in these industrial spaces, very experimental shows. It was really cool. We played a small handful of shows when we were living in Chicago, but we mostly spent our time just writing and recording. So that scene was really inspirational to us at the time.
“About halfway through recording that album, I moved into this big abandoned storefront space. That’s where most of the mixing for the record happened. I lived with this girl named Marissa, she was one of my best friends, and it was like this big open storefront warehouse space. It was called The Bootyhole because someone had spray-painted that on a wall during a party. There was a full-size trampoline inside the apartment. We had these wooden lofts that Marissa’s room was on top of at one end and my room was on the other end. It was in an industrial part of Chicago underneath the green train line. It’s kind of a cold, dark place, and I just holed up in this space. I set up some monitors down in the basement of the building and finished mixing the record down there.
“I think I finished mixing the record a week before my school in Chicago sent me to China. The record came out while I was in China, so we never did any album release show or any festivities around [it]. We never performed the album in its entirety or anything like that. We finished the record and sent it over to the label in Luxemburg.”
S13: There is a real abstract nature to your lyrics. Did you write them in the recording process or had you held onto them for years prior?
RB: “Well, I guess I didn’t realise it at the time. But as I’ve gone back and revisited the album a lot within the last year, because we’ve been talking about doing a 10 year reissue for the album, I didn’t even realise that there’s only three songs that have words to them. I know with Philadelphia,thatall came out in one day, like words and the guitar part at least. The vibraphone parts and all that came later. But words and music all came at the same time for Philadelphia. Key Studies was a song that I spent hours work shopping in the basement.
“Key Studies was just like a long process. And the album version ended up a lot different than the version that we first demoed. That song had been a song for like two years before we recorded it for the album. I think words and music came pretty simultaneously for that one, but I do distinctly remember recording the vocals for Median II in the basement of Pat’s parents house. I think I wrote a lot of those words on the spot. The music was there, but I think I wrote a lot of the lines from that song just in front of the microphone, just hammering out vocal parts in the basement.”
S13: I’m always drawn to songs that have a real cutting opening line, like on Median II. With this, Philadelphia and Key Studies, there seemed to be a real focus on emotional intensity. Was that something you were thinking about?
RB: “Yeah, it was definitely an emotionally intense time for all three of us.
“For one thing, I don’t think any of us were taking very good care of ourselves. We weren’t getting a lot of sunshine, we were drinking a lot, or at least I was. I was definitely going through a period of pretty intense loneliness. Chicago was just a very lonely place for me. I know Pat was going through a difficult time, too. Whereas I was probably drinking too much and getting this stuff out through song, Pat was working insanely hard. He was going to the University of Chicago. I was going to Columbia College in downtown Chicago, and he was just working like crazy all the time, so it was difficult to make our schedules meet up.
“I had just gotten out of a relationship right before moving to Chicago, and a lot of the record, honestly, is about that relationship ending and feeling very separated and isolated and cold, because Chicago was just freezing all the time. There was just a real feeling of isolation. I was just spending hours on the train every day alone. Are you familiar with Grouper?”
S13: Yeah. I feel that what you’re describing there, the Ruins record might have been something that you were grasping to. Or that may have been released after, actually…
RB: “Actually the album that really drove it home for me was Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. That album is perfection. I was just spending a lot of my time walking around Chicago. I would spend two hours a day on the train going from our house to school downtown just with headphones on always listening to music and feeling…. My life felt very cinematic at that time, and somebody gave me a copy of Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill and it didn’t make any sense to me at first.
“And then one day I was on the train with headphones on and I fell asleep and I woke up, and the shuffle had landed on a Grouper song off of Dragging a Dead Deer. The atmosphere just hit me in a really intense way, and that’s the kind of thing that we were trying to evoke on Narrowing Type. It kind of became an obsession where every time I would finish a song, a demo, a mix, I would just go walk around the neighbourhood after dark just trying to feel like I was in this alternate reality. You know what I mean?”
RB: “Yeah. Albums like Dragging a Dead Deer up the Hill were incredibly influential on it. There was a band called Spokane?”
S13: They’re great.
RB: “Yeah, Spokane was really influential on me and Pat, for sure. And on the lighter side of things, we were really into this band called The American Analogue Set. They’re from Austin, Texas, and they kind of do these very low key repetitive grooves with a vibraphone. It’s kind of like Stereolab or something. We were trying to make something that had this kind of beautiful groove to it, but had this melancholic atmosphere that we were all feeling at the time.
“We’re considering doing a visual piece that might go along with the album rerelease, and what I would really like to see happen is a visual representation of that world that I felt like the three of us were living in when we recorded that album, because I was just trying to create a soundscape that that matched how I felt and what I was seeing as I was just living this isolated life wandering around Chicago.”
S13: The tracklisting is really fascinating to me. Do you remember that being a conscience decision?
RB: “I guess we just wanted it to feel evenly weighted. [To] not have all instrumentals on one side, then all songs with lyrics on the other side. We just wanted to have an ebb and flow and a rising crescendo and then this slow burn finish, I guess.
“The songs with lyrics just kind of ended up where they were, but on the digital version, the tracklisting that we always wanted was Jill, Philadelphia, Key Studies, Median I, Median II, Japanese Thread and Abroad & Neutral, but we couldn’t fit that on a record, so we had to put Median I and Median II on side A of the record. So it’s like Jill, Philadelphia, Median I and Median II. And we felt like that worked. It’s fine, but it’s not exactly what we wanted, because Median II, I think, is supposed to be the epic kind of heart-wrenching core of the record. And having it too early on in the record threw off the balance a little bit, but not enough to kill it for us.
“I remember Jill was made entirely by accident one night. People always… have you heard that song and heard the piano that’s playing in the background?”
RB: “People have commented on that and been like, ‘There’s just aimless piano wandering’. If you listen to it, it’s actually a recording of these two little kids playing. I think it’s Old King Wenceslaus. (They were also singing “Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill…” which felt appropriate as an opening line because the record is about an ending relationship.)
“I bought this cassette tape at a thrift store down the street from our apartment in Chicago. It was an old home recording cassette tape, and these kids were obviously just playing around with a cassette recorder. And I had taken the sound that’s at the beginning of Philadelphia, which was just a guitar wash that I recorded onto a cassette tape. Then I sped the tape up, so that’s why it pitches up. I doubled the speed, and then it just happened to be in the same pitch as this cassette tape recording of these little kids that I had found. So it surprised me that nobody has recognised that tune.
“I think late one night, I smoked some weed and just started messing around with the cassette tape. I remember the next day showing Sahan, like, ‘Check this out I made it into a song’. And he was like, ‘That’s got to be the first song on the record’. It just takes you to this weird place. I had like doubled the speed of the tape, and then took the pitch wheel and then bent it back down, so that it settles into the tone of Philadelphia. Just [a] total accident of messing around with cassette tapes for a while. So that’s great. I don’t know if that exactly answers your question about album pacing, but little moments like that made the difference on the record, I think.”
S13: It’s an interesting timing for a reissue, because I think it really has a place in the world right now. The pandemic has obviously been a time for solitude, and I think Narrowing Type lends itself to that environment. Have you thought about what sort of impact it could have on the current landscape of things?
RB: “I have no idea what kind of impact it might have. The reissue for us was really born out of the fact that the three of us have casually stayed in touch over the last few years, and we always look back on that time as the creative achievement that I think all three of us are the most proud of in our lives. Not that I’m not that I’m not proud of what I’ve been working on since then, or Sahan isn’t proud of what he’s done or Pat similarly. It’s just that that album really captured a moment in time for us, and it seems to have had an impact on some people and ’ve been seeing that more and more over the last few years.
“More people have been reaching out to us, and we’ve noticed that people online were searching for copies of the record. We haven’t had copies of the record in years! It just seemed like people were looking for it and couldn’t find it anywhere, and over the last couple of years we’ve just noticed that Spotify numbers have been going up. That’s a terrible metric to gauge the success of your band, but when it’s the only thing you have, it’s hard not to notice that the numbers have gone up a lot. Especially since COVID. People seem to be listening to it and latching onto it, and more people have been reaching out to us just wondering if there’s ever going to be a reissue. As the pandemic eases, if it fully eases, I don’t know if it will continue to have an effect, or if people will continue to vibe with it. I hope so.
“For a while I was working at a record label called Polyvinyl records. The band I was going to mention was American Football. It was interesting while I was working at Polyvinyl to see from the inside, like, American Football, that one album that they did, they recorded it while they were in college, and then they all just split up and went their separate ways. That album took on a life of its own and became standard. Not that we’re anywhere close to the calibre of that, or that our record has any sort of reach as big as that, but I think watching that happen, from the inside, has given us a sense of like, who knows what could happen?
“You never know what’s going to resonate with people, you never know what people are going to latch on to. And I know for sure that those guys never had any idea that that album would make the impact that it did, but it just took time.
“I hope people continue to resonate with [the album], and continue to find it and hopefully this reissue helps get the record into people’s hands that have been searching for it.”
Narrowing Type is being reissued via Energy Crow Records. Pre-order from Energy Crow Records.