Bringing hope through struggle: Valley bands Spouse and Opal Canyon have new albums

  • Indie rockers Spouse — from left, José Ayerve, J.J. O’Connell, and Marc Seedorf — have a new album out, “Feel Good Everywhere,” that they put together while working remotely. CONTRIBUTED/SPOUSE

  • The new digital album by Spouse is “Feel Good Everywhere.” From Spouse Bandcamp page

  • José Ayerve, lead singer and songwriter for Spouse, recorded his parts of the band’s new album while waiting out much of the pandemic in Ecuador. Gazette file photo

  • Opal Canyon’s new album, due out in April, is “Tomorow to the Sea.” Image from facebook

  • The Valley-based Americana band Opal Canyon features the songwriting and lead singing of Debra DeMuth. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 1/27/2022 12:37:39 PM
Modified: 1/27/2022 12:36:22 PM

The pandemic has run roughshod over musicians for almost two years, forcing some to find other sources of income or retool their performances for online audiences. But some players have also tried to use the time to create new music — and through the wonder of digital pathways, find ways to record songs remotely.

The chaos, confusion and uncertainty — and the isolation — created by COVID-19 has also become a theme in some of that new music. At the same time, artists have used these hard times to try and focus on what gives meaning to their lives.

The latest album by Valley indie rockers Spouse offers some of that mix. There are any number of downbeat songs lyrically, particularly about love going wrong. But the album’s title, “Feel Good Everywhere,” also speaks to the determination of songwriter and lead singer José Ayerve to find something positive about life — and the music itself presents plenty of upbeat rock to make that point.

“[T]he songs on this record are definitely meant to celebrate life, but part of life is feeling and experiencing some pretty scary, dark, and unnerving things. Some of which are captured here,” Ayerve writes in notes about this new digital release.

Spouse traces its origins back to the mid-1990s, and a number of well-known Valley players — Ken Maiuri, Mark Schwaber and others — have been part of the lineup at times. Ayerve, a native of Colombia, has also lived outside the Valley for different stretches, most recently in Ecuador, so there have been significant periods when the band has not played live.

The group’s current lineup — Ayerve on lead vocals and guitar, J.J. O’Connell on drums, Marc Seedorf on bass and Peyton Pinkerton on guitar — had played some shows in Northampton in February 2020, after which Ayerve returned to Ecuador. Then he and his mates all found themselves in lockdown a month later.

In April 2020, Ayerve says, the band began working remotely, sharing ideas and digital tracks for new songs and building off some demos they’d recorded at O’Connell’s home studio in 2015. Over the next year and a half, the songs on “Feel Good Everywhere” firmed up, after which Mark Alan Miller at Sonelab Studios in Easthampton mastered the album.

“Feel Good Everywhere” offers a number of textures, with bits of grungy as opposed to bright-sounding guitar, flat-out rockers as well as slower songs, and some tunes that come to a sudden halt or a hush following a loud mix of guitar, bass and drums.

Lyrically, Ayerve explores the ups and downs of love in tunes like “Acrobat,” which begins with just strummed guitar and little else, then seques into a catchy chorus with drums and full-throttle guitar riffs. “I am an acrobat,” Ayerve sings, “And you are my highwire act / And when I let go / I know I won’t see you below.”

“15 Seconds,” built around a minor chord progression, rocks as hard as anything on the album, with Ayerve singing “I’m putty in your hands” but lamenting where the relationship is going: “15 seconds of you taunting me / As the Clash plays Straight to Hell … You keep saying that I’m just like you / But I’m nothing like you.”

There’s also “Show on the Road,” a churning rocker that speaks to all the lost gigs that bands and musicians have dealt with since March 2020: “We feel a little different / We feel a little sick / We can’t afford our records / We can’t afford our rent / And how are we gonna take / The show on the road?”

The slower-paced “Camera,” though, which begins on a downbeat note, ends with the hopeful line that forms the album’s title: “You can take me anywhere / ‘Cause I feel good everywhere.”

Yet, switching gears again, the record’s final cut, “Yo no voy a sobrevivir el fin del mundo” (I Will Not Survive the End of the World) — one of two titles Ayerve sings in Spanish — includes lines that can speak both to a broken heart as well as the sense of dislocation the pandemic has engendered:

“Cuando todo esto acabe / ¿dónde estaré? / ¿será a tu lado o será a tus pies?” (When this is over / where will I be? / Will it be by your side or at your feet?)

Ayerve says he’s been dealing with a good bit of anxiety during the pandemic, a reflection both of the uncertainty of these times and getting older. But, he adds, “As bad as we’ve had it, we know we will recover … Right now, putting out this record is the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Spouse actually played some gigs last fall when they opened for Valley songwriter Eric McKeown, who was touring her latest album, “Kiss Off Kiss,” and the band also backed McKeown for a number of those shows. The group hopes to tour this spring. More information on the band is available at spouse.bandcamp.com/music.

Opal Canyon releases single from coming album

Based around the husband and wife team of Debra DeMuth and Dave Houghton, Opal Canyon grew out of the previous band the couple fronted, And the Neighbors, specifically to give DeMuth’s songwriting and singing a fuller sound and forum.

Opal Canton’s debut album, the Americana-flavored “Beauty and Loss,” released in 2019, featured Houghton (the frontman for the indie rock band Fancy Trash) on guitar and backing vocals, as well as Valley music veterans Bob Hennessy on guitar, Ray Mason on bass, and Jason Smith on drums.

The eight songs on the disc ranged from “Lost Boy,” an old-time blues built around acoustic slide guitar, to the roots rocker “Sunday Driving.” There was also a hint of the 1970s Southern California sound on the piano-based “Forgive the Giving.”

The band debuts its newest album, “Tomorrow to the Sea,” in April, and they’ve offered a taste of it with the just-released single “Come Ashore,” a piano-based ballad augmented with understated lap steel guitar and gentle percussion. To that soundtrack, DeMuth brings lyrics of hope and endurance, trying to find a way through struggle:

“Hope lives out on the ocean / Sometimes it comes to shore / Like the spotlight on the singer / And a lover through the door / Let me be the light, let me be the oar / Let me be the calm, in the storm.”

The album features a range of other sounds, with twangy country guitar licks, swirling organ, acoustic guitar, even bursts of trumpet on the groove-based “Moon Song Swing.” There’s plenty of nice harmony singing, too.

“Tomorrow to the Sea” has been produced by Jon Evans, whose resume includes work with Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Ben Folds and others. Evans also played several instruments on the record, including bass, piano, organ and lap steel. J.J. O’Connell of Spouse also contributed percussion.

Two additional singles from the album, “Worried Bird” and “The Invisible,” will be released in February and March, respectively. More about Opal Canyon can be found at opalcanyon.net.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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