HYMNAL~relEASED on 10/14/02
Jeremy Squires' previous album, Unravel (Blackbird Record Label, 2021), was created in part as a farewell to his late grandmother who raised him. Fearlessly intimate, with songs about grief and mental turmoil swept in soothing layers of synths and guitars, Americana UK gave the album a 7 out of 10, calling it “dreamy melodic poetry for dark times,” while Indie Band Guru referred to it as “everything that honest songwriting should be about.”
Now, Squires is releasing his eleventh full-length album, Hymnal. Centered around a dissolving marriage, the music here is much more scaled back, featuring the delicate interplay between two musicians: Squires on vocal, guitar and ukulele, and Autumn Rose Brand on violin and harmony vocals. “The songs are true stories that I wanted to tell without any clutter,” Squires says. “I didn’t add any overdubs of instruments. I recorded my parts here at my house live, and then sent the album to Autumn. She is a fantastic violinist and singer who lives here in North Carolina. She played and sang her parts, and sent them back to me.”
Writing and recording Hymnal was a magical, but also bittersweet experience for Squires. “Most of the songs are about my marriage falling apart,” he says. “The opening song, ‘Don't You Cry,’ is like a letter to my wife. I was feeling vulnerable and helpless, but trying to be strong. I also delved deeper into writing about mental illness, and the song ‘Moon Coin’ is about a childhood friend of mine who was brutally murdered. It was a way for me to acknowledge what happened, process it and still question why these things happen.”
Hymnal is an album with a tender and life-affirming quality, where Squires' warm singing voice, shimmery guitars, sparkling ukulele voicings, and Brand's vocal harmonies and heartfelt violin melodies stand out just as much as the poignant lyrics. Squires handled almost all the aspects of the album's making, including the recording of his vocals and string instrument parts, production and mixing.
“I use vintage acoustic guitars to record,” he says. “In particular I like to use old 60's parlor guitars to get that shimmery sound. I recorded Hymnal with a 50's Silvertone archtop acoustic, two Harmony Stella’s in different tunings, a 60's Gibson B25, and a newer Fender ukulele. I like to use one mic about two feet away from me to create an airy sound.”
As a guitar player, Squiers is self-taught. “I started playing when I was ten or eleven,” he says. ”My Mom bought me an acoustic guitar from an antique shop, then my Granny bought me an electric guitar when I was 12. I was really into Smashing Pumpkins, Archers of Loaf, and punk bands too. So I taught myself by ear just playing along to my favorite albums at the time.”
“I like to play with my thumb and index finger. I don’t use picks. That’s how I get a balance that’s right for me. I use the tuning EBFFBD for a lot of the songs on Hymnal, Unravel and Many Moons. I also use a D tuning that's tweaked a little for me.”
Having released eleven full-length albums and two EPs since 2013, being prolific is a very natural thing for Squires. “I have always been this way,” he says. “I have to write. I am inspired by life circumstances, experiences, dreams, movies, and scenery. My brain goes a million miles a minute and things just happen. Maybe it was childhood trauma, or a gift from a higher power? I don't know, but I have always been this way since I was a small child. Always creating in some form.”
Squires also shoots, directs, and edits his own music videos, including the ones for his upcoming singles, “Into the Fog” (out 8/26) and “Hymnal” (out 10/14).
“I have been doing photography for about 25 years,” he says. “I see things like I’m looking through a lens all the time. I started making my own music videos because it’s really expensive to hire people for that, and a lot of times my friends are too busy and I’m on a schedule or time frame, so it was just easier for me to shoot them myself.
I don’t like the whole approach of repeat themes and the same scenes in music videos. I like the rise and fall of a song, and the video should reflect that. It should be beautiful and make you think at the same time. It doesn’t have to mimic the lyrics. I feel like there is a whole world untapped when you shoot a video for a song. You can literally make anything. I love what I did with the video for ‘Hymnal.’ I’m very proud of it, and my mind was like a rollercoaster when I was making it.”
Squires' recent three albums, including Hymnal, feature the cover art of Kelley Wills from Brain Flower Designs.
“I have been a fan of her art for a while,” Squires says. “She’s done quite a few of my friends' merch and album covers, so we were bound to work together at some point. I give her ideas and send her the songs. Then she takes my ideas into consideration, listens to the lyrics, picks things from them that stick out, and puts them into the album artwork.” As artists are touring again and Hymnal is about to come out, Squires hopes that it will reach a wider audience:
“I really poured my heart, soul and every cell of my body into it,” he says.
"only in my dreams" video premiere
"fade" video premiere
The bluegrass situation
"BURST" video premiere
"DIMINISH" video premiere
DIGITAL NOISE MAGAZINE
Flooded with song ideas and facing the loss of the grandmother who raised him, Jeremy Squires takes an experimental and emotional approach to Unravel, his eleventh album.
The New Bern, North Carolina musician recorded two of the songs in his late grandmother’s home as a way of saying goodbye. Other tracks were built with friends as a way to stay connected during the pandemic. Although Squires pulled from disparate influences and instruments, somehow Unravel feels effortlessly woven together into a cohesive statement.
“My granny was the foundation of our family, and because my mom, my dad, and my grandparents have all passed away, she was the last thing I had really. So when she passed away, I felt like things were unraveling,” Squires says. “But, unraveling isn’t just a negative thing. It could be something unraveling into something beautiful, like a different story is about to start, or another chapter. For me I felt like things were going to fall apart, and then everything was OK in the end.”
Unravel opens with “My Last Song,” the first time Squires has written a song on bass. He sent a demo, heavy on the low end with just a hint of vocals and synth, to drummer Erin Tate (formerly of Minus the Bear). Tate returned the track with percussion, which inspired Squires to then surround the song with light, airy guitar. Dreamy and melodic, but with a tinge of desperation and imminent danger, it introduces Unravel as one of Squire’s most compelling and creative albums across a career spanning 15 years.
Music and family has been central to Squire’s story from the start. When he was 11, his grandmother bought him an acoustic guitar in an antique store. He played and toured with punk bands as a young adult, until his son was born in 2001. His songwriting began to blossom, as heard on his first two albums – A Place to Hide and In the Dark – which he remastered and released during the pandemic. Despite the time that had passed, Squires remained connected to the work.
“It was weird to see just how much I have changed since then. And how much musically I’ve changed,” he says. “It was pretty rad though. I was afraid to dig into it, but I liked how lo-fi the recordings were. It seemed like a drastic difference in sounds compared to what I have now. Back before the pandemic, I would always play some of those songs live because I thought they were really good songs but I never listened to the recordings. I was actually scared when I was going to go back and listen to them, like, ‘Man… this is going to sound really bad!’ But I didn’t hate it!”
Some songs on Unravel such as “Fade,” with an acoustic guitar prominent in the arrangement, may serve as bridges between Squires’ older work and his new material. Others, like “Only in My Dreams,” are very much of-the-moment, where the cinematic opening lines put a listener immediately into the narrative. Squire’s gift for vivid description comes through repeatedly on the album.
“When I listened back to this album, it seems like you can really see and feel what I was talking about, or singing about. It’s like a story,” he says. “Lyrically it seems more in-depth. There’s something about this album that is more dreamy. I can see where it’s definitely different than anything that I’ve released.”
With the downtime during the pandemic, Squires embraced the opportunity to write in unexpected ways. For “Aurora,” he started with a drum beat, then worked around it with synth and vocals, not adding bass until its final stages. His friend Cody Ray played drums and bass and sang backups on “Unravel.” He wrote “Dream Walking” as a last-minute addition to the album, then recorded it at his granny’s house after her unexpected death in August 2020. The song “Burst,” one of the album’s moodiest tracks, was also recorded there.
In that song, he asks, “Am I deranged?” and admits it was written during a time with a lot of ups and downs. It could be about his marriage, or it could be about struggling with faith. Others may think it’s about his history with mental illness, a theme that runs through his albums.
“I always try to write about it, and even when I don’t try, it will find its way in,” he says. “And it’s in a way that I feel can help the listener, and anybody that struggles with anxiety. I try to put a piece of myself in there that somebody could relate to. Sometimes when I’m writing, at first it’s fun, and then at the end of it, I feel like I went through a battle. And sometimes I feel better, like, ‘Wow, that helped me.’”
As Unravel winds down, “Crosses” stands out for its layered bass and intriguing vocal fade-out, while “Diminish” has a vibe that fits well with its music video, which Squires filmed in abandoned houses. “Borderline” provides a poignant conclusion to the collection.
“I think that song’s about getting close to a tipping point,” he explains. “I tried to make it beautiful but it’s really a sad song. I was going through something when I wrote that one. I wanted it to be at the end because the whole album seemed to build, and to rise and fall, and I felt like that song was a good closer. I feel like leaving the album with that fit perfectly.”
Hearing the album now, Squires says, “I feel relief, I feel release, when I listen to it. I feel good. I feel like it’s something that I can be proud of. With a lot of things, I’m a perfectionist, but with this one, I’m happy with everything. It tells what I wanted it to tell, from what I was going through during the pandemic, everything I lost. It’s about finding a healthy balance and finding beauty in dark times.”
UNRAVEL Track Listing:
1. My Last Song
3. Only in My Dreams
6. Dream Walking
"CAST Spells" video premiere
The Bluegrass situation
"HAZY" premiere + album interview
American Songwriter Magazine
Many Moons Album Review
“It's almost like Squires isn't quite touching the Earth.”
- Wide Open Country