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Double Grave Grapple With What Lies Beyond Nowhere

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Double Grave’s GOODBYE, NOWHERE! opens with a misleading quiet. The sound of a light wind rattling some outdoor chimes couples serenely with the album cover’s blue skies and green rolling hills. It’s a moment of calm, carefree, and transportative bliss that makes you, for a second, forget that you’ve pressed play on an album—even lead singer Jeremy Warden was lulled into a false sense of security the first time the band put the test pressing on the turntable. For an album that captures all too well the current weight we’re all experiencing day in and day out through an empowered blend of noise rock that is both warm and sensitive yet devastating and harsh in equal measure, those chimes are a genuine respite.

I first met Double Grave in February at a small all-ages venue in Sunland, CA, an area that itself is its own kind of nowhere, a section north of Burbank where the sprawl turns into farmland. The Minnesota trio are sharing a roughly 25 minute set with Alaska indie rock group Termination Dust due to a strange scheduling error that seems out of anyone’s control, and both bands are hanging out in a parking lot waiting for a local set to cycle through. When I bring this interaction up to Warden over Zoom months later, we can’t help but start laughing, both because of the oddness of the evening (Double Grave were never formally listed on the bill and were only able to play either two or three songs, although neither of us seem to remember the exact number) and because it was among the last times either of us had seen live music.

The months since that show have seen the band experience the broad spectrum of the pandemic’s impact on musicians attempting to survive: rescheduled live shows, shifted release dates, jobs lost, jobs found, music written, and an inevitable reassessment of what it means to even be in a band. Warden’s dayjob with a local house cleaning company has just recently started up as Minnesota has begun to lessen its COVID restrictions, and his bandmates have also been back to work. Drummer Seth Tracy works at a local restaurant and bassist Bree Meyer just started a new job helping build houses with AmeriCorps. But this time, as it has for so many, has also seen the band reassess how little “place” ultimately means in an exclusively online world, functionally working sending music ideas back and forth via email, learning to navigate a world where you can’t be in the same room as other people.

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Double Grave are set to release GOODBYE, NOWHERE! on August 7th via hometown label Forged Artifacts, the band’s most accomplished work to date. The album has been done for almost a year when Warden and I speak, one of many pre-pandemic relics that are finally seeing the light of day after months of date shuffling. Warden says it’s as comfortable as the band feels like they’ve ever sounded on record, as close to capturing that live sound I experienced back in February as they’ve come yet, and now an odd memento of what recording music was like before emailing ideas back and forth became the norm. “This is the first time we feel really represented by our recorded music,” Warden says. “It’s always been that thing of, like, that’s not quite what we sound like, actually.’”

Still, it’s been a long time since the record was finished being recorded, a fact that certainly seems to have weighed on Warden and the band. The final mixes were done back in September of last year, and they sat on it for a few months both to make sure it was what they wanted and because everyone was living lives outside of Double Grave. Suddenly there was snow on the ground (a Midwestern hang-up, he assures me) and the most ideal opportunity for a release the way they wanted to do it was half a year away. When I ask Warden if the process of releasing the record amidst the larger unrest the country has been experiencing over the last three months has been at all satisfying in any way, the way he sighs tells me this is a process he’s been mentally trying to take in in equal measure. “Some days it’s like ‘It’s going so good, I’m so excited.’ And other days I’m like, this is dumb. I should be somewhere else.”

Figuring out ways to sensitively balance what is inarguably a massive next step for the band, both musically speaking and in terms of where they’re at in their careers, has been hard. “We waited so long, and then so many things happened…” he says as he trails off a bit, mentally assessing just how much has happened out of his control the last 10 months. “It’s, like, hard to reconjure the excitement. It’d be easier if we could tour right now, for sure… but even that aside, we’re in like a historical moment, and it’s very hard to be like ‘Hey, listen to my band’ as we’re in this moment of uprising and social justice, and a global pandemic, and an important election.”

“It’s hard to think about when it’s appropriate to release something anymore. Because like, I don’t want things to go back to normal,” Warden says. “So if that’s what I’m personally waiting for, it’ll just never come out… Internally, and for our fans that know us, there’s a whole lot of satisfaction and fulfillment, but on the other side of it, of trying to promote and reach a bigger audience, I don’t feel that (excitement) as much anymore.”

There was no way of way of knowing just how immeasurably striking the title GOODBYE, NOWHERE! would be when the band settled on that name, how uniquely qualified those two words in conjunction would be in the middle of a pandemic with no end in sight. Even though the record is a journey of self-discovery about searching for what lies beyond nowhere, the exclamation point at the end feels like it imposes a sense of relief to the statement, a kind of joy to saying goodbye to our own individual sense of nothingness, both mentally and physically.

“We were thinking about place,” Warden says about those opening chimes. “Thinking about being in the middle of nowhere. We definitely wanted the album to make you feel like you were somewhere, this contained world… ‘Nowhere’ is a literal place you want to get out of as much as it is a mental place”

These days Warden is in a better mental place than when GOODBYE, NOWHERE! was written, even if his physical one has been mostly the same since March. There is a loneliness to the album, a sense that nowhere is neverending, a feeling only amplified listening to it today.  “Feeling lonely / I’m not what I once was / Didn’t mean to try so hard / and now you’re gone again,” Warden hums on the opening of single “The Farm” before landing the dagger “Touch me / Feel me now / I wanna reach out.

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Those lines contain a multitude of now near-universal emotions people are experiencing daily and land that desire to connect better than almost any piece of art that’s been released since the pandemic hit. GOODBYE, NOWHERE! feels equipped to deal with that quarantined loneliness in part because it was written from a similar place, written in a moment of self-imposed isolation where Warden was living alone, away from his now-fiancé Meyer. “I was not in a great place… Bree and I have been together for almost 10 years, but we weren’t living together for a moment and a lot of it had to do with me needing to work on myself, mentally, and needing some alone time.”

The energy of that time alone radiates throughout GOODBYE, NOWHERE! “It felt really important to me none of these songs were totally hopeless,” Warden emphasizes. “I was writing a lot of songs that felt really hopeless, but I had to write those to get to these songs about getting better and leaving bad mental spaces and leaving physical spaces behind.”

That blend of optimism and strength amidst hopelessness is perhaps most strikingly on “NNN.” “I don’t wanna go back to how I use to be / Nothing, No one, Nowhere / I don’t wanna lay here until the day I die,” Warden howls amidst a cascading wave of fuzz, the ubiquity of the sentiment growing by the day.“Gotta get up gotta go out gotta be good to myself / If you want me / tell me now / There’s nothing left to know / take me whole.”

For a while we talk abstractly about that sense of physical space he alluded to. Warden notes that it’s funny to see local bands existing amidst acts from everywhere because all communication and music simply lives almost exclusively online now, and certainly Double Grave now exists less as a band from Minnesota and more as a band simply in the internet. A lot transpired from the parking lot where we met in person to us chatting on Zoom, roughly 1,600 miles apart from each other.

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I ask if he’s ever thought about leaving Minnesota, and he admits the idea of leaving is something the band has loosely discussed ever since the pandemic revealed a new creative process to them. Both Warden and Tracy are from Mankato, and Meyer was born just a few hours east in Green Bay, so the Midwest is all they’ve ever really known short of touring. I ask if he’s ever felt at all trapped and wishing to escape where they’re from, a theme that feels central to the record itself and the theme that will no doubt resonante most when the album finds fans. “I grew up in a small town,” he says. “And it’s not that small, and I’ve lived in smaller, but it felt small. And there were times I felt like I needed to escape it. And when we were working on the record we were really focused on that feeling of needing to get out. I was trying to remember what it was like to be 16 and feel like you’re stuck in a dead-end town trying to get out.”

From a dead-end town to the hopeless isolation of your own home, trying to get out has never felt like a more helpless pursuit. The album’s closer, “Too Late,” is a quiet, sparse guitar ballad, a closing note not all that dissimilar to the opening track, although the blissful pensive quality of the silence has now taken on something far more worrisome—the hopefulness barely visible behind a tired goodbye. “Hard times keep coming down on me / I don’t know where I went wrong” Warden starts. “I try to be cool and friendly / but nobody wants me / nobody cares / It’s too late for me anyway / no one here to help anything grow.” That feeling of trying to get out is suffocating. And then, he again lands the dagger: “I tried to make it out here / No one could see me after all.” GOODBYE, NOWHERE! indeed.

GOODBYE, NOWHERE! is available Friday, 8/7 via Forged Artifacts.

CJ Simonson
CJ Simonson is Merry-Go-Round's Editor-in-Chief and representative for all things Arizona. The only thing he knows for certain is that "I Can Feel The Fire" by Ronnie Wood is the greatest closing credits song never used in a Wes Anderson movie. Get on that, Wes.

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