New Release: Nelson Kempf – Family Dollar

Photo Credit: Andy Schaafsma

Nelson Kempf today shares the title track from his debut album Family Dollar, out 24 July. The track is about something many have likely faced at one time or another: money troubles. What starts as tranquil marimba begins to rumble and build; the deafening, all consuming noise that the weight of money troubles brings slowly taking over while the vitality and beauty of life continues to shine through. All the while Kempf’s vivid, intimate lyricism is more powerful than ever.

Speaking of the track Kempf says: “This song is a moment to moment meditation in an attempt to stay mentally and physically afloat under the crushing weight of credit delinquency, pre-foreclosure, etc.”

Written through illness, death, mental breakdowns, parenthood and financial turmoil thematically Family Dollar may initially sound like a dark record at times. But in it’s warmth it’s clear that what Kempf found when attempting to translate these feelings was something else. That there is also beauty in darkness – the shimmering evening light, the buzzing grit and gristle of life and the irrational ecstasy when a moment of calm pierces through.

“I’m parked up at the Family Dollar
cold callers in the crushing heat
the kettle spits and panics like a fighting dog
I fill a cup with coffee and step out to walk
violet, flesh and fur are strung out on the street
laundry on the line swinging in the breeze
fresh flowers woven in the hats of a line of Sunday ladies”

Having spent his late teens making and performing music, in 2011 Kempf’s first son was born and everything changed. He stopped making music and began working as a welder in the Arctic tundra. During this time he and his family relocated to the lush rolling hills of Tennessee and every three weeks Kempf would leave behind the symphony of crickets, cicadas, sirens and traffic to fly twenty hours north and replace those sounds with the -80 degree wind ripping off the Arctic ocean.

“Over my years of separation from music, I grew increasingly disillusioned with my old creative processes” Kempf says, “the folky song writing of my early twenties didn’t seem to accommodate the illness, death, mental breakdowns, social alienation, and poverty that had pervaded my immediate experience”. What emerged was a new process of simple and honest beauty – one that involved improv games that attempted to create a seismograph translating the movement of natural phenomena into sound. These were then fleshed out into the songs that make up Family Dollar.

Thematically Family Dollar may initially sound like a dark record. “The emotional experience of poverty is largely overlooked” Kempf says, “the intense pressure that inflates every moment; the exhausting physicality of stress; the impossibly stacked odds against sound decision making”. But right from the soft light and delicate harp strums that open the album it’s clear that what Kempf found when attempting to translate these feelings was something else. That there is also beauty in darkness. As he describes it he found, “a deep, connection to the buzzing grit and gristle of life; the salves of shimmering evening light, cheap alcohol and children’s laughter; the overwhelming, irrational ecstasy when a moment of calm pierces through”.

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