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David Vassalotti built “Guitar Dream” from solitude and vulnerability

When you stop and really think about it, we spend far more time alone than we may account for. We are alone as we navigate through crowded streets of unfamiliar faces, as we brush our teeth while gazing at our own reflection through bleary eyes in the morning, and as we lie awake at night scrolling, watching, reading, or channel flicking while the world sleeps – indulging our whirring minds that spurred the insomnia in the first place. For as many aspects of our daily lives that are spent doing, working, making, and collaborating, it is balanced out with the many moments we are left alone with our own minds as our sole companions.

For better or for worse, these moments can cause us to take stock of the white noise that buzzes in the background of our minds. The friend we had a falling out with will make their first mental appearance in ages, as will the first person who broke our hearts. Yet, these quiet moments also pave way to revel in lightness. We’ll smile as we ponder what exactly it was that made last Tuesday so special, or upon receiving a message from a loved one. These moments of public and private solitude are intimate and revealing to no one but ourselves, and as frightening as that can be, a delicate power lies within.

David Vassalotti’s latest solo record, Guitar Dream, poetically celebrates these moments of solitude and the fractured sense of beauty that they’re often tinged with. Hallmarked by lyrical vulnerability and (as indicated by the album title) plentiful acoustic guitar, Guitar Dream offers a listening experience as cathartic as coming back to a quiet house or apartment at the end of a long day. Here, Vassalotti discusses the role his own solitude played in crafting the record, its multi-narrator approach, as well as his own predictions for what the future of guitar music entails.

The description for the album on Bandcamp states that guitar music “is as good as dead, exiled into irrelevance after decades of debasement.” With that in mind, which decade would you say was the last to exemplify strong guitar music, and did that decade influence Guitar Dream in any way?

That statement was a bit tongue-in-cheek. I don’t like to get too hung-up on eras. True music, regardless of instrumentation, has always found a way to be born (whether or not it’s accepted by the general public). In the world of guitars, every decade in the 20th century contributed in its own important way, from 1920’s Delta Blues all the way through 90’s death metal (we won’t even sidestep and hit upon the centuries-old realm of lutes, ouds, sitars, and other stringed siblings). I think the 50’s were probably most important in setting the stage for ‘guitar music’ as we know it today – Les Paul, Bo Diddly, Link Wray, etc.

Lyrically, Guitar Dream feels vulnerable and raw – like late-night musings exchanged between old friends. Was creating this level of closeness a primary objective when bringing the album to fruition? 

I try to be fairly direct when it comes to songwriting. I want to avoid pretension as much as I can. I’m not much of a talker in real life so writing lyrics has always been an attempt to communicate, whether it be to a stranger halfway across the world or just a conversation between me and myself. I generally only get inspired to write when I’m in a vulnerable state. It’s a way of organizing thoughts, a striving for clarity amidst the mud, looking for a nod in a sea of disinterested faces.

In each track, the music and the lyrics alike each pull equal weight in bringing Guitar Dream’s strong storytelling element to fruition. How would you describe the interplay between the music and lyrics as a whole, as well as how that interplay contributes to the narrative of Guitar Dream overall? 

I spend an almost equal amount of time in my daily routine listening to records and reading books. Music is something that comes naturally to me, words not so much. I spend much more time agonizing over lyrics. These songs were written over the course of a long period of time (parts of it even date back a decade), but they’ve gone through a lot of editing and refining to get to where I wanted them. The different characters singing these songs fit in the realm of folk-singing and balladry to me, even if its in a skewed modern take on it, so that’s why it’s all acoustic guitar-based. I make tons of different sounding music (collage-based electronic music, minimalism, hardcore punk) but none of that would sound convincing when paired with these voices.

The album description also says “this music is best experienced alone” before listing locations that most people tend to visit every day – their beds and whichever transportation mode they use during their morning commute. What is it about solitude – and these locations specifically – that would best make the music come alive? 

Music is traditionally a communal endeavor, so I feel like a bastard emphasizing solitude, but I can’t imagine listening to these songs in a room full of people. It’s loner music. It only really makes sense on a direct level to me, one person reaching out to another. I daydream while walking around town, while taking the bus, while laying listlessly in bed… it’s where the seeds of these songs germinate from and where I hear them most sincerely.

In relation to the previous question, did you spend a lot of time alone when crafting the album? If so, how did or didn’t that impact your creative process and the final product alike? 

Time spent alone – absolutely (haha), at least for the writing and demoing of it. I can only write alone. The album itself was recorded with my creative brother Carson Cox in his basement in Maryland. All of my prior solo releases were recorded and produced by myself, so this was a good opportunity to add some outside expertise and guidance to the process. We’ve worked on countless records together in the past and he’s always been a tireless supporter of my work, so if I were going to collaborate with anyone, it had to be him. We hear things in a similar way. His touch definitely impacted the overall sound of the album. My records tend to be raw, dirty and full of imperfections (which I like) and while, some of that is still present on Guitar Dream, his work helped bring a much greater sense of clarity to the songs.

Trends – whether they be in history, clothing, or sound – tend to operate on a cyclical nature. With that being said, do you personally foresee guitar music’s popularity transitioning from a “dream” into reality?

Haha absolutely not, at least not any time in the foreseeable future. It doesn’t matter. A good song is more important than the instrument it’s played upon. Good music will still come, with or without guitars. Change is necessary. There is still interesting guitar music being made, people like Mary Halvorson, Bill Orcutt, Mdou Moctar, Richard Bishop, William Tyler, etc., but the days of the Guitar as a cultural institution (which had a very long reign) are definitely behind us. It’s fine. I love the accessibility, the relative ease and the undeniable earthiness of guitars, I will always love them, but a tonnnn of lazy music has been made on these things. What sounded interesting 30 years ago doesn’t necessarily sound interesting today. Commercial culture and tired tropes have bled the guitar to death for the past few decades. It really became corny. If I were coming of age today, who knows if I’d pick even one up? Computers are easier to lug around than amps…

Guitar Dream is out this Friday January 25th on Wharf Cat Records. Pre-order here.

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