At the height of the pandemic, Chicago musician Matthew Baron took on a challenge he hadn’t attempted before: Wake up every day for two weeks straight and immediately work on music.
“All of those songs were written from a very specific snapshot in time, just those two weeks,” Baron says.
On Oct. 13, Baron’s band, Young Man in a Hurry, is set to release its third full-length album titled Actor Brought a Vice. The band is set to have a record release show in Chicago on Saturday, Oct. 14 at Constellation.
Written in Oslo, Norway and partially recorded in Michigan, Baron got creative by keeping the process equally improvised and intentional. The band pulls from 80s and 90s lo-fi, synth sounds, layered over Americana indie-rock tunes. Young Man in a Hurry have passionate energy, which is woven together with community from afar.
When Baron got back home from Oslo, he drove out to Michigan for two days in the studio with his friend, producer and musician Dave Vandervelde.
“I didn’t know what my agenda was that weekend. There are 14 songs on the album but only six of them were completely written before recording,” Baron says.
On his first day there, he tracked the songs that were complete. On the second day, he took a lot of those half-baked ideas to improvise the songs’ structures in the studio with the tape continuously rolling.
“The weather was wild. It was storming and the cicadas were [loud]. So, there’s also all this cool ambient noise in the demos,” Baron remembers.
Those were the foundation tracks for an album—drum machine, vocals and guitar chords—which kickstarted a new recording process for Baron.
Baron and Vandervelde were deliberate about what they were going to add next and recorded quickly, but with intention. They wanted a strong presence of bass, and they wanted to collaborate with other musicians (Macie Stewart of Finom, Ben LaMar Gay, plus members of Fiona Apple and Father John Misty’s bands). The catch was that all they received were those bare-bone foundations of the demos.
Not receiving any other parts of the songs allowed them to focus solely on their own parts. Once Baron had every piece, he then sculpted them into a song. It led to intriguing arrangements, and a sonically full sound.
Baron is a music-forward writer, typically writing lyrics after the rest of the song is crafted. But this time around, he says the lyrics feel like the focal point. The album is a direct record of the time he spent in Oslo—the personal and professional turmoil he was experiencing, as well as the grace he received from different people around him, and the experiences he had while there.
Actor Brought a Vice is rich with instrumental layers, featuring the violin, flute, flugelhorn, cello, marimba, and tenor sax, to name a few. It’s a smooth and calming listen, but it’s musically complex, layered with background ambiance and raw character. By not keeping himself and his band within a box of writing, listening to the album feels like you’re right there in the room with them—it’s a fresh, spontaneous sound.
“I was saying, ‘I really want you to improvise, but I also want you to be very deliberate,'” Baron recalls.
Rather than pulling inspiration from other music-oriented projects and artists, Baron says the album was process-driven and experimental. He refers to a Sonny Rollins quote about starting from the middle of a song and going to the beginning at the same time, which “makes no sense,” he says. But he conceptually used that method to write in both directions at once.
“It sounds pretentious, but it was more of a mood. It was less of a song and more of the mood that some of those songs evoke for me,” Baron says.
Recommended by a friend, Baron bought the book Notes on the Cinematograph by Robert Bresson, which is basically “an instruction manual on how to be creative,” he says.
He used directives from Bresson’s book to influence the record, as opposed to just focusing on music. And while his album title Actor Brought a Vice has no concrete meaning behind it, Baron wanted his bandmates to present themselves as actors, as though he was casting a film. Baron says it’s a reminder that “we’re all playing different parts, and we bring our vices wherever we go, and how sometimes our vices, or our negative traits, can be our biggest assets depending on how we use them.”
And Baron wanted the album to sound like a movie. Songs such as Lady in the Window do just that. It’s instrumental, the only one on the album, and it holds a renaissance feel. But it perfectly paints a picture for the listener—of someone, a lady, gazing out a window. It was the first song that truly stuck with me during my first listen.
Before writing in Oslo, Baron started the guitar riff for the song. One day, he stood against the apartment window with his acoustic guitar and played the riff. He wasn’t trying to write anything that day, but was inspired by the urban environment he was in. While playing, he noticed a lady in the window in the building across from his, hence the name. To complete the song, he enlisted Macie Stewart, Ben LaMar Gay and Emma Hospelhorn (“Chicago improvised music royalty”) to give it an avant-garde sort of arrangement.
“I’m a project-oriented person,” Baron says. “The album allowed me to get my energy out, not just the actual writing of the music, but being able to see it all the way through.”
Unintentionally, the lyrics across the album are quite opaque. Baron hopes listeners can see themselves through the music.
“Given the nature of how it was recorded, I hope people are intrigued and that there is some mystery surrounding the record,” Baron says.
Start with the song Dept. of Injuries off the new album, which Baron describes as wistful and a bit emo.
Pay attention to the drum sections. You won’t be able to tell, but they were recorded entirely on an iPhone. Baron refers to the song as the Dashboard Confessional progression and sees it as the lyrical centerpiece of the album.
Kendall Polidori is The Rockhound, Luckbox‘s resident rock music critic. Follow her reviews on Instagram and X. @rockhoundlb