Immanuel Kant wrote about the manifestation of god, in all rationality, sketching a very real being as a way to comprehensively determine every thing and to dismantle speculative thinking. The German philosopher, who remains a central figure in modern philosophy, explored this delicate balance, of human experience and reason, in his famous work, Critique of Pure Reason. “If the senses represent to us something merely as it appears, this something must also in itself be a thing, and an object of a non-sensible intuition, that is, of the understanding,” he theorized. “In other words, a [kind of] knowledge must be possible, in which there is no sensibility, and which alone has reality that is absolutely objective. Through it, objects will be represented as they are, whereas in the empirical employment of our understanding things will be known only as they appear.”
Reality versus perception.
Musician and songwriting Patrick Keenan plays with these ideas, deliberately and cautiously, on his band’s upcoming album. Maximum Reality, based specifically on Kant’s “conception of god (ens realissimum) being all realities, including actuality, in perfection, the ‘most real’ being,'” is welded with a “broad emotional spectrum of the last four years” and a crude stylistic adventure. Lead single “Heartbeats” is fused with metallic horn blasts, a finitely-polished hook and a florescent but cinematic undertow. Meanwhile, Keenan tip-toes dexterously between indie-rock and alt-pop, his bawling lower register glueing it all together, throughout the rest of the record. The Winter Sounds, as they’re called, also comprised of Paul McKenna, Corey Dibiase, Joe Reilly and Jake Haggard, carry with them a magnificent resolve to examine other imperative philosophical themes, literally living and breathing around them.
There is a disquieting and urgent propulsion to the throbbing drums and waterfall of harmonies on “Heartbeats,” enriched by the expansive countryside of Estonia, where Keenan now resides. “The song was always about investing in nature. A lot of the lyrics were inspired by this eco-linguist named Aldo Leopold,” he tells B-Sides and Badlands, fleshing out the song’s magical, anthemic aura. “He used his writing to inspire people to be more proactive in protecting the environment. Getting outside and shooting [the video] seemed to fit naturally with everything.”
“Heartbeats” serve as an accessible primer, anchoring the record with roots going back three or four years. “The songs are all over the place. There are some uptempo, more indie-rock, maybe Get Up Kids-sounding stuff. Then, there are chill, atmospheric songs with a lot of synthesizers,” he explains of the skillful shades of musical color. “It’s very new wave. On the other side of it, there’s some really powerful anthems. In my head, the one we’ll be doing next as a single is real slow, a brooding song. It’s more melancholic.”
Keenan is noticeably worried about the older songs, which heighten the album’s scattered membrane. “The songs appear incrementally over this time period. If there were a big gap in there, in terms of writing and recording, it might seem a bit weird. The newest songs are so different from the ones that were finished a couple years ago, but because it’s an album of 12 songs, there is everything in between,” he says, connecting the dots between the unease of recording such older material and the fresher, stickier narratives. “It’s come full circle for me and makes sense as an album. It’s such a large chunk of emotional time.”
The band last released a body of work with 2012’s Runner, which “was all done really quickly and at the same time,” he says. “I like recording an album that’s a certain style, and then, I like recording an album that’s just songs. I’m not really sure how the next album is gonna go. If anything, the last album was very much a certain style. I was completely immersed in one sound. All the songs on ‘Maximum Reality’ are different, however, and there are so many mores styles at play.”
Below, Keenan explains why it took so long for the follow-up, what life is like in Estonia and his favorite moment on the Pinky Doodle Poodle tour.
It’s been five years since your last record, 2012’s Runner. Was that intentional? Or did life just get in the way?
It just kind of happened. A lot of the songs on the new album were finished almost three or four years ago. To get to a complete album, we did it totally independently. So, it took a while to afford to record everything. [laughs] Then, there were some other things that happened. I moved to another country. I went back to school. But I knew it was always going to take a really long time because each time I’ve released an album, I’ve tried to up the game and find new ways to release the music.
With the last album, I did a Kickstarter, and it was cool and worked out. It was something that I never wanted to do again. It was going to be either we sent this album out and some new label came along or it just gets slowly chipped away to get it to the quality level I wanted it to be. It ended up being a little bit of both. I put the album together and started sending it out and got in touch with Colin from Logic Sonica. Now, the album is finished, and we have this label that is helping us release it properly. My experience with music, you really need to have a team, and to assemble that team takes a long time.
What was your personal journey through writing and recording the past few years?
There was a lot of change in my life. There was a temptation to scrap a song or two. There were a couple that I had finished and then redid. Then, there were ideas, musically, that I wrote a long time ago, and I thought they would be a part of the album. I ended up not recording and moving on. There was a filtering process. One of the songs that was finished awhile ago, I think I recorded it three times. I don’t even really know if I’m happy with the final version, but I like that it has that story to it. It’s the oldest, and it became the newest, and it became old again. You change so much with the stuff you listen to along the way. It’s impossible to carry a song through that whole process. Some of them had to be let go. I had to let go of the idea of recording them. I’m doing this on my own budget and time, so if I try to bring every song up to the standard I have for the present, I would be perpetually re-recording songs.
What do you hope the listeners learn from this album?
I want them to enjoy it. I really think if people give it a chance, if they give it a couple listens, it’ll be a big part of their life. It is all over the place, so I’m not sure how they’ll react to each song together. Sometimes, when I get into music, I find myself getting into one style. That’s all I’ll wanna hear for months and months. So, I’m afraid my music isn’t going to really fall into any other category, even though individual songs might feel that way. If people sit with it, they’ll treat it on its own merits and not as part of any other sound or style. Then, the lyrics will start to come out. I’ve never had a ton of range in my voice. I don’t sing very high. It’ll take a while for the melody to really click. Lower register melodies don’t cut through the same way, but they’re there.
What are the most important songs for you on the album?
Well, my favorite right now is the one we’re about to do the video for. It’s called “Earth After a Thunderstorm.” I got caught on this idea of a song being a loop, like one particular moment in time. In that song, there’s a really distant memory. If you search the contents of your mind, you’ll find you have this image or memory that’s so old you really don’t even know where it was or what it was about. I took this scene I had and put some music to it. Then, it wasn’t really a story or anything, and it came with a feeling. So, I tried to capture that feeling. What was really cool is I actually recorded it in New Orleans with the guitarist. He has a studio there. There was a version we were sticking with and sent it to a different producer, this guy name Jason Kingsland, out of Atlanta. He redid it and took out the guitar and some of the drums and started putting some synths in. It changed it a lot. So, I got to experience that song almost as a remix, and it brought out more of those feelings I was going for in the beginning.
What do you have planned for the music video concept?
It’s kind of a struggle. Where I live now, it’s a little more difficult to realize ideas. One of the hardest parts of coming up with a concept is figuring out how to make a video without having actors and sets and elaborate shots. With the last video, I was nervous about it, but when we went into it, there wasn’t any plan. It was just about shooting and letting a story be created from moving to each scene. Now, I’m actually invested in that idea. I don’t have any plan. Other songs might get videos, but there are ideas that are really elaborate. I wrote treatments for different songs, and they were going to be more complex. We were going to do more of a production with actors and dancers. Then, after hearing this song, it seemed natural to let the scenes flow. I’m going to be going into the country and start shooting, much like we did the last time. What’ll be delivered this time is knowing in advance what scene is leading into the next. Whatever ideas that’ll come from the first shot will tell the story on how the next shot is going to go. At the end, there will be a narrative, but it’ll be something that could never have been written in advance. It’ll be more true to the nature of the song, because the song will be influencing where we go.
You’ve spoken on being influenced by works from prolific philosophers, like Immanuel Kant and Aldo Leopold. Do you often draw from other works for inspiration?
Not that often. Sometimes, something I’ll read will inspire me, generally, and it might show up in a verse, or it’ll be a general idea. This particular thing I read [Leopold’s ‘Sand County Almanac’] was probably the best prose writing I had encountered in my life. I had always wanted to use it in a song in some way. There is a guy in Nashville named Stone Jack Jones, and he came into the studio and recorded a sample of Aldo Leopold. We used it in the song, but it just didn’t get into the version in the video. In the album cut, there is a voice over of him speaking through the end of the song where he reads from the piece. It turned out really good. He’s got this really natural, earthy voice and felt like it was pulled from some field recording from 100 years ago.
What are some books which have inspired you?
One of my favorite books is probably ‘Crime and Punishment’ by [Fyodor] Dostoyevsky. I’ve read a few other things of his that I’ve really liked. I’ve just started ‘Brothers Karamazov.’ Some nonfiction stuff, I’ve read a lot of Sam Harris, and I read a lot of philosophy books from authors like Daniel Dennett and Margaret Bowman, who writes about artificial intelligence and consciousness.
How long have you been in Estonia? What is life like?
I’ve been here for just over a year. It’s been weird. What I’ve been getting used to is being a student at this level. I’m doing a Masters in Philosophy. I feel like I’m basically in a library all day. I read all day. I’m at seminars, too. That has almost been a buffer to the experience of being in this other place. When we first got here, everything was really new, and it was very exciting. Once school settled in, it became routine to get up and go to school. The hardest part is just the weather. It’s cold and dark, always. Now, it’s really sinking in. You have to actually take vitamin D to get your supplements and not get too depressed. The sun will have set by about 4 pm, and it won’t come up the next day until about 9 or 10 am. Then, even when it’s up, the sun is not out. It’s just light out. That part was new for me. Of course, it’s always snowing. As far as the culture goes, a lot of people speak English here in the city. It’s not been too difficult. I’m learning a lot about personalities and some cultural things about Estonians, in general.
How was the Pinky Doodle Poodle tour?
It was amazing. It’d been awhile since I played some of those cities. It’d been a couple of years. On tour, you get to just go see a city. It was the least likely tour pairing that I might have thought of, but it just worked so perfectly. Both bands ended up caring about each other a lot. That made it fun. Coming back, everything was such a whirlwind. I kind of haven’t gotten a chance to reflect much on the tour. I haven’t gone back and looked through the photos or thought about it too much. I’ve been trying to catch up on studies and plan for the next thing. We talked about touring with them again in December. For them, it’s the same thing. It’s a ton of effort. They went back to Japan, and they have to come back to the U.S. It’s definitely in the cards for the future. We will reconnect with them, hopefully, on the road.
What was your favorite moment on tour?
That’s actually pretty easy for me to answer. It’s the last show at a festival we played in Buffalo. We went on at 8 or 9, so the sun was just setting. It was beautiful. There were hundreds of people. The way they had the stage setup was really weird. We shared the stage. There was Stage A and Stage B, but it was part of a really huge stage. So, while the previous band was finishing their set, we were actually on the other side next to them setting up. As soon as they were done, there was an intro, and we started. As we were playing our set, Pinky Doodle Poodle was setting up, and they were ready to go. They were basically standing on stage jumping and singing along to our songs. It was magical and felt really cool. We knew it would be the last time we played with them or saw them play for who knows how long. We were definitely trying to live in that moment and appreciate it.