If succeeding in life is entwined with finding the best ways to navigate the complex intersections between personal goalposts and emotional desires, not to mention the many minefields strewn across our daily societal challenges, then discovering the yin to one’s yang can certainly make the journey that much more pleasurable. Achieving a certain level of intuitive, zen-like balance is a rare find indeed, and it’s something that also describes the synergistic working dynamic between China and Seth Kent, the powerhouse husband-and-wife songwriting team who drive the Denver-based alt-folk collective known as Alright Alright.
Alright Alright are pleased to share the universality of their interconnectivity via the words and sounds that comprise their seductively atmospheric full-length debut album Nearby, which was produced by the duo with Eric Dawson Tate and Ben Wysoki, mixed by Eric Dawson Tate, and mastered by Alan Douches of West West Side Music and is set for release on October 5, 2018 by Hooves And Sugar Record Co. From the strings-and-choir-driven wishing-well aspirations of “Be Kind” to the slow-building smoky-twangy revelations of “By the Bed” to the zeitgeist temperature-taking of “Luckiest Girl in America” to the harmonic bent-truth yearnings of “The Liar,” Nearby deftly carries the listener through each gripping, successive chapter of the ever-growing, ever-evolving Alright Alright saga.
“Every song on Nearby is a combination of who produced it and who recorded it,” observes China. “And the challenge,” adds her partner Seth, “was in making it all into something cohesive.” Nearby also serves as a companion piece to Alright Alright’s 2016 Faraway EP, the titles of which China gleaned after reading Rebecca Solnit’s insightful 2013 essay collection, The Faraway Nearby. “What I realized is we have this body of work that could easily be separated into two categories,” notes China. “All of the songs on Faraway are about dealing with distance, and they even feel sonically distant from any given genre. But then we started writing these straight-up Americana folk-type songs that were a lot more about self, and that’s the stuff Seth and I write when we write together. When I write alone, I write more funky-quirky songs with 7/8 time signatures, where I really like to push the boundaries of my musical training.” Points out Seth, “Our songwriting has become more and more personal. Each song on Nearby was more directly, yet sometimes obtusely, about us. The writing mode we’re now in fuses material about place with material about the personal.”
As you can already tell, each Kent channels an impressive C.V. into Alright Alright’s musical DNA. China attended Vanderbilt University and is a classically trained pianist, while Seth has spent time on record and on tour as a guitar tech with the super-successful Denver-bred alt-rockers The Fray (“Over My Head (Cable Car),” “How to Save a Life”). Together, the Kents have also helped compose the scores for a number of fine independent films including Brick, Blue State, The Brothers Bloom, and Jam. The sonic scope of these scores, well, underscore just how adept the married duo are when it comes to bringing such cinematic sensibilities into their own work.
Both China and Seth grew up in self-described “musically conservative” households before eventually finding common ground in their mutual love of U2’s 1991 game-changing and genre-challenging Achtung Baby. “Hearing that album on endless repeat opened up the idea that you could make a simple song say something really powerful,” Seth reports. Concurs China, “It was a total shift, especially for someone classically trained like me. I forced myself to listen to Achtung Baby over and over again because it sounded so dissonant to me, but I had to make my ears comply with what I was hearing.”
There was a brief period of time the Kents contemplated throwing in the towel altogether as they raised their kids, but something inside just wouldn’t give. “The creative pull was ultimately too strong,” admits China. “For me, it was really like a lightning bolt of ownership. It was, ‘I’m going to do this. I don’t care.’ It was in slow motion for so long, these two forces slowly coming together. But it was an epiphany to realize this was what I have to bring to the world.”
Seth had his own creative epiphany following the end of a different outside gig. “Why go through the pain and agony of reinventing myself when I could do music with someone who I like?” he muses. “Musically speaking, we come from very different backgrounds, but we make it work. I’m not sure if it was a lightning bolt for me, but it did occur to us about three years ago that we had reached a point of real security and stability in our own selves. I only write from this deep, electrical place inside, and I had to give myself permission to write songs again and to value my musical ability.”
Perhaps there’s no better indication of Alright Alright being on the exact right path than the live audience response they’ve been getting to the recast version of “Luckiest Girl in America,” a onetime Song of the Month entry from 2016 that has since taken up a rightful position on Nearby. “We put that song back in the setlist a few months ago, and that was the one that brought total silence to the room,” marvels China. “People need that song right now. I mean, I could talk about America for so long. America is less a place and more an idea. We are right in the middle of this huge Venn diagram of what we believe about America, and what we think it should be.” Seth agrees, then adds, “We’re also saying to people that it’s okay to have that emotion — it’s okay to feel and care about this place we live in, and someone else doesn’t get to choose that we don’t.”
Concludes China, “I feel like the music on Nearby is our way of reclaiming these ideals by saying, ‘Nope — I live here too, and this is my way of doing things.’ And that’s the magic of music, isn’t it? It’s why I also love playing house shows and in small community listening rooms. We’re all experiencing this musical moment together. We sing these songs that pierce the heart. I mean, there are many, many tears at our shows sometimes, but it’s all part of this experience we have together that you can’t get outside of music.”
It’s a level of commitment and joy that speaks to the overall good vibes and deeply personal nature of Alright Alright’s music on Nearby — which is about as close as you can get to the heart of the matter. As Seth observes, “Every day, one of us will look at the other and say, ‘I’m so glad I’m doing this with you.’” Even though Alright Alright once wrestled with ending their story entirely, Nearby delivers on the promise of many exciting new chapters to come.
By Mike Mettler, aka, The Sound Bard