Sin City Spotlight: Greater Pacific
A Turnstyled Junkpiled Interview by Gerry Gomez, Staff Writer
A cousin on-line publication has taken to calling what TJ’s Terry Paul Roland termed the Insurgent Country Movement and calls it Concrete Country. Interestingly, rather than box in the “alternative” country sound, Concrete Country seems to throw in all other comers who’s circle of influence overlaps country, seemingly, those artists who take their country rooted music to the streets.
Somewhere in-between the Insurgent County and Concrete Country mantles, lay the country vibey, folky, independent amalgamation that is Greater Pacific. Pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitars, piano and the lead vocals of Kyle Kersten and accompanying vocals of Gretchen Lieberum create the ghostly atmospheric, yet warm, immersive sound that is Greater Pacific. Incandescent is their recently released full-length gem.
The core Greater Pacific team of Kersten and John Phinney has been working together for four years, having first come together in the band, Travel By Sea, who had several albums come out on the Autumn Tone label. The two found they were looking for a different sound than what the full band provided and began collaborating, often times from different locations. Phinney being a producer and multi-instrumentalist would take the songs tracked by Kersten with guitar and vocal and start to shape songs around them. The two released an EP, Rainfall, as Greater Pacific with Yer Bird records from Canada before following that up with Incandescent.
The 12 songs on Incandescent take the baton from Rainfall, and moves the Greater Pacific sound from that of early Son Volt where somewhat magically, an emotionally heavy soundscape emerges into a more focused package – somewhat genre bending, but wholly consuming. Incandescent runs the risk of landing on some reviewer’s best of the year lists, it’s that good.
Kersten’s lyrics are at times heavy, longing and very affecting leaving one feeling like they’ve just experienced a former lover’s break-up letter put to music. He is among a class of balladeers and singer/songwriters that relish the small, quiet, weighty, cinematic moments in life. He savors them as Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne, Gordon Lightfoot or Ryan Adams among others do.
But in the songwriter sense, Kersten’s writing is simply country. There’s truth, struggle, beauty, pain and lament. All elements that inhabit the songs of classic country. Faded memories and hope that springs eternal.
“Writers I’ve always liked are guys that leave a lot to interpretation. I don’t want to write a song where you know exactly what I’m talking about,” says Kersten talking about what he thinks about when writing. “I want the song to mean different things to different people. I like the person to feel something.”
A song like “With the Bridges Burned” gives you the sense of where Kersten’s writing mind takes him, and perhaps offers him a release from day to day realities:
Two years ago, Arizona
The fault line shifted and changed
I guess I’m still running in circles
It’s all the same
And I feel lost, last time around
With the bridges burned, we fall down
It’s all a game
I just wanted to change
I can be all that you need
I can be there for you
Rivers current pulls us along
to the mouth of the open sea
Last you know, the open sky
Hope feels better on the road
Sometimes you change
Sometimes you’re stuck the same
Another song, “Close Your Eyes” drips with a steaminess of two lovers soaking in a slow moment of realization that this is one of those precious moments to savor, when finding each other and realizing it takes your breath away:
We burned all the sunrise
it filled your eyes
East to West, North to South
Trouble on the bound
Just close your eyes and hold on tight
Restless nights seem shorter now, now that you’re gone
“Obviously, I write songs that aren’t happy,” confesses Kersten, but then laughingly adds, “I don’t know, I’m not a sad person.” One can escape in Kersten’s honey sweet vocals. Yet lyrics and vocals are half the story. The other half is the beauty of the arrangements and production.
Credit Phinney for painstakingly demanding perfection in his production efforts. One of his best tools is his use of space. The sparseness that makes the vocal carry weight. From the start, the two targeted a sound a bit like Jeffery Foucault with pedal steel and female accompanying vocals. As a springboard, it was an effective place to start, but with lots of instruments at his command, Phinney put his stamp on Incandescent.
“I’ll get a song from Kyle and I’ll go in. I don’t really have a set style. It’s whatever instrument works for it,” says Phinney. “I’ll try some pedal steel. If that’s not working, I’ll try some piano or I’ll pick up electric guitar. I may break out the ukele.” Phinney is a studio rat, who worked fiendishly hard to find the unique “sound” of Greater Pacific.
Another aspect critical to the finished sound are complimentary female vocals. Originally those of Angela Cora, on Incandescent, Gretchen Lieberum does the parts. Phinney was reminded of the singer through a friend from college. Phinney knew Lieberum from Santa Cruz where he attended school. What she adds is a happy balance, or a fresh note of delicacy to the heaviness of Kersten’s sentiments. The effect is even truer feelings of loss or hope in the relevant song.
“I’m happy with the way it turned out,” a relieved Phinney states, “I hope the music is really good.”
Having lived with the production of the album for over a year, Greater Pacific is playing around town and get out of town now and again. They hope to reach as many people as possible and plan to take Incandescent to it’s full potential. It’s ironic that when Kersten’s musical path began, the first song he ever sent to a label got him signed right off. This time, their sound is pretty defined, but the path wide open.
“I don’t know where it will go from here,” says Kersten. Hopefully it goes everywhere.
For more information on Greater Pacific including upcoming shows, visit: http://www.facebook.com/GreaterPacific
Greater Pacific “And You All Remain With Me”