As the founder of the venerable Portland label Tender Loving Empire, Jared Mees has had a hand in many musical endeavors in this city—and as such, has many gifted friends. Busy expanding that empire of late, it's been a few good years since we last heard Mees on his 2011 release with The Grown Children. After being the first to release on TLE back in 2007, April 21 will mark Mees' fourth release.
"Life is Long was a process of five years of writing and one year of recording," Mees explains. "The record was always going to be called Life is Long before I had any songs. It was written in snippets of poetry sung into my phone at off times when melodies or lines would come to me throughout the day. My life was pretty hectic for a few years there and there was no actual music making going on in my life besides a snippet here and a line there. There were hundreds of them that I sang into the phone but they didn't really all come together until 2015 when I started talking to Paul Laxer about recording a record."
"Overall, making this record was a really emotional process and really made me grapple with some big issues, which I hope translates for anyone who hears it," Mees describes. "What does it mean to 'be alive'? How long does life last? Is there a god that made us alive? What is death? What happens when you die? Can we actually prove that death is what we think it is? Is life a construct of consciousness or vice versa? Why is it so amazing to have a child? What does it mean to be right?
"Obviously I didn't come to any groundbreaking philosophical conclusions, but in the end, these questions led me to see life as a curiously strange experience of beauty and wonder, of suffering and joy. As is noted in the last song 'Eyes Be Wide,' I wish only happiness and love for my fellow humans who share this life with me."
"The bulk of it was recorded was recorded at this river house near Idanha, Ore., along the Santiam River. It was a divine and totally serene place to record. It was like eight days of 'comfy boying it,' which means wearing only sweatpants and robes. Jumping in the hot tub and the river... smoking weed and doing yoga and watching movies. Oh yeah, and recording," Mees laughs. "Ninety percent was done at that house and then we did pickup sessions throughout the rest of 2016 at Paul's house."
Supported by "a great crew on this record," Mees says, "I don't really play on the record because I'm really just not that great of a musician when it comes down to it." In addition to Laxer, contributions come from Alex Fitch (Typhoon) on drums and percussion, Lizzie Ellison (Cardioid, Radiation City) singing on a few songs, Becca Schultz (formerly Ages and Ages) on keys, Michael Finn and Leo London (The Domestics) playing a variety of instruments and singing, Jesse Bettis (New Move) singing and playing guitar and bass, which is also what Jake Hershman (Yeah Great Fine) did—plus Sam Cooper and Patti King (The Shins, Radiation City). "I was blessed."
"We had Jeff Stuart Saltzman mix it and Adam Gonsalves mastered it," Mees continues with the credits. "Oh, and my father-in-law, Bill Forbes, engineered one of the songs too! It was a dream process really. It took for-freaking-ever but I'm really happy with the end result."
One of those works in progress was "Signal Fire"—"an unfinished song about a friend who I was trying to help guide through a difficult time," Mees explains. "The opening lines were very emphatic: 'I'll be your motherfucking signal fire'—as in, I will be here through thick and thin and I'll help you find the way through this. But that song was never more than a few lines and after our daughter July was born, I toned it down and made it a lullaby. This was the first song that was not written down at all until it was entirely finished. This verses were written freestyle each night as I put her to sleep, piecing parts of it together that I remembered from the previous night. Most of it was drivel, but every few days there'd be a part that she'd latch onto and ask me to sing again. Those were the parts I kept. Eventually after six months or so it was complete and we could sing it together, and made up hand motions and whatnot."