Yowler’s Tumultuous New Album Is One of 2018’s Best Indie Rock Records

There is a tempestuousness in Maryn Jones’s music that rings true. Life takes turns. Joy is often intertwined with mourning—love with pain. Grief and angst lurk around even the most unthreatening of corners. It is depressing, maybe, this multitudinous of existence, the sort of worldview that can leave you always waiting for the other shoe to drop in celebratory moments. But it’s also hopeful, a sense that in the darkness there’s a possibility for love and light too—the Ecclesiastical promise that there’s a season for everything.

There’s a sense of that from the music Jones makes, at the center of the currently on-hiatus punk band All Dogs, as a member of the amoebic folk ensemble Saintseneca, and especially in her stormy solo work as Yowler, which can move from an eerie whisper to a distorted wave in a moment.

This Friday, October 12, Jones will release Black Dog In My Path, Yowler’s second proper full-length (streaming here in full), which furthers the breadth, both emotionally and sonically that the project can cover. It’s a tumultuous record, documenting what she calls a period of “great personal change”—a time wherein Jones essentially felt like interpersonally and otherwise, her life fell apart—Jones crafted 12 songs that run the whole emotional gamut of those experiences.

There’s quietly strummed ghost stories like “Sorrow,” but there’s also lumbering, feedback-laden document of existential distress like “Where Is My Light,” which shares as much in common with doom metal and slowcore as it does with the traditions of solemn indie rock songwriting with which Jones is most often associated. Those two tracks follow one another, and are soon succeeded by rumbling post-punk (“WTFK”) and a “straight up love song” (“Petals”). This might sound disjointed, but it speaks to Jones’s view of the world, the ways in which all these feelings are intertwined, and the gravity that comes when they butt up against one another. It’s heavy, but that’s cause life is.

“I get self-conscious sometimes about being melodramatic,” Jones says via email. “I’ve literally heard a story in which someone (who I respect a lot musically) jokingly said, in reference to my music: ‘is she ok??’ On this record I decided to not worry about shit like that and just make the songs I wanted to make.”

Consequently Black Dog In My Path is a record of crushing twists and turns, falling in line with the Pacific Northwest’s indie rock tradition. It reminds me a lot of the Microphone’s The Glow Pt. 2 in a lot of ways. It’s there a little bit in its sound, in the way that Jones and producer Kyle Gilbride make avalanches out of minimal instrumentation, but I hear it more in the way it sounds like the stifled gasp someone suddenly struck by the fullness of existence, all the pain and joy that’s yet to come.

Noisey: The record opens with the words “Amazing Grace” on a song called “Angel,” what place does the sacred have in your life and in your songs?
Maryn Jones: I grew up in a very religious household as a member of the [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], and although it definitely was a huge part of my life for about 18 years, it’s been over ten years since I left. So a lot of time has passed, and I’ve been non-religious long enough to establish a very separate identity from it. I think that when there is religious imagery or references I’m either referencing that huge change in my life (it was an enormous and life-altering decision to leave) or it might just be because it did have such a large place in my life, and maybe in some ways I’m exploring how kind of strange that is.

I think one of the things that I’m most drawn to is the sort of cosmic scale of these songs. Do you give thought to that in any way? Do you want the mundane to feel grand/profound?
I think when I wrote this record, I wanted to allow to let myself express my feelings in any way or form I wanted to. I think in a way it makes sense to me. When you’re feeling something bad or hard, it is huge to you. It can be completely crippling, and I think a lot of the songs on the record are about really hard things, whether it’s easy to tell or not. The end of “Holy Fire” is also super intense, and I think that’s because that’s just how those things felt when they were happening. I felt like a fucking demon who no one would ever want to love or be with ever again. I felt insane and broken and evil. I think and I hope that maybe comes across.

The arrangements and production on this record feel really heavy in comparison to the last Yowler record. Did you give a lot of thought to the peaks and valleys?
I really kind of wanted to make my dream record, which included recording songs in a way that covered a lot of genres and styles. I’ve always wanted to record super heavy music, but I also believe that quiet songs can be just as if not more powerful, so I wanted a full range. The way I sequenced the record was definitely thought out; I wanted those breaths in between the crazy loud moments.

It’s sort of reminiscent of the human experience, I think, especially when you’re dealing with distress and mental illness. There are these huge, awful, painful experiences that feel like the end of everything, and then there are these soft, sweet experiences that can ground you again. There is a straight up love song on this record, “Petals”, which is not a norm for me in my songwriting anymore. I wanted there to be a moment of niceness, of gentle thoughts. As a reminder that there are still good things, and it’s nice to let them in and celebrate and honor them when they occur, if you can.

What can you tell me about the “Black Dog” in the title? Is it a bad omen? Were you feeling, in the making of these songs, like there was some sort of bad omen lingering over you?
There’s a bit of a backstory to this. The image of the black dog is actually from some research I had done when I was writing this record. I got really interested in my heritage as a way to explore ancient spirituality and also just what kind of culture existed in my family before me. I think that stuff is really interesting, because some of my ancestors come from this really small island off the coast of England called the Isle of Man, and they have their own nationality, called Manx. I was looking up some of the local lore and came across a couple stories about a black dog that had been seen around the island.

In some stories, it’s definitely a bad omen; a sign of death or doom. In one story though, it’s a helpful warning sign. A sailor is about to get on his boat, and as he walking on the docks he sees a black dog standing in his way. For some reason he feels like he shouldn’t go out. That night there’s a really huge, devastating storm, in which he surely would have died. I think when I read that it felt meaningful to me. Sometimes I wish that I could listen to my own intuition and think more about the consequences of my actions and how they might affect me and the people I love and care about. I struggle with that; I have a tendency to live too much in the moment and not look ahead. So it’s kind of a symbol of coming to a crossroads with the choices you make, and what’s beyond if you should choose to ignore the warning.

The press materials mention that this material comes from a period of “great personal change.” I was wondering if you could explain that period.

The period of great personal change is a reference to a time in my life where things felt like they kind of all fell apart at once. And previous to that time, I had come to some personal realizations about myself in regards to desire and my struggle with being in monogamous relationships, which had taken part in the somewhat simultaneous collapse of a few things in my life.

I was in the process of going through a very significant break-up, I was moving from Columbus, Ohio to Philadelphia after having lived there for eight years, my other band All Dogs suddenly decided to go on indefinite hiatus, and there was some intense interpersonal contention between me and another person who was friends with a lot of my friends in Philadelphia. It was pretty chaotic. I had to face a new city, a complete void in the touring and playing music department which had previously been booming, and I felt let down by a lot of people and more intensely, myself. I felt unlikable, impossible, and very isolated.

How do you realize when you’ve gone through a period of growth? Is it something that’s only clear in retrospect? How does that play out in the songs?

It was hard to even write music because of how listless and hopeless I felt. I kind of fell into a state of stasis. Which only added to my problems, because in order to do the things I wanted to do the most—make art, go on tour, support myself financially—I needed to be creative and get to work on making things happen for myself. There is a lot of that in the songs. Disappointment in myself, in my faults, and a lot of regret for how things had played out, and feeling like I was largely to blame. Resentment towards people I really cared about, and isolation from a lot of people who I wanted to be close to. I don’t know if I necessarily “grew” during that time; I believe the growth came after.

I also think when I finally started writing again, the songs sort of wrote themselves and the themes played out without me forcing them to. That’s one of my favorite parts about writing songs. Sometimes you just write random lyrics or just let the feelings flow out, and only later do you realize that either a lot of the songs are connected lyrically to your life and what you’re experiencing, or that what came out of your brain was exactly what you needed to communicate to others, or even hear from yourself. I think finally being able to express myself helped me start growing again and moving forward.

Yowler tour dates:
October 11 – Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA ^
November 12 – Kingston, NY @ BSP Lounge
November 13 – Brooklyn, NY @ Park Church Co-Op
November 14 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Roboto Project
November 15 – Lakewood, OH @ Mahall’s
November 16 – Columbus, OH @ Big Room Bar
November 17 – Lansing, MI @ Mac’s Bar
November 18 – Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle
November 19 – Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop

^ Black Dog In My Path Record Release Show

Yowler‘s Black Dog In My Path is out October 12 on Double Double Whammy. It’s available to stream above and it’s available for pre-order now.

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