Timothy Monger, co-founder of the beloved Great Lakes Myth Society, recently released his third solo album, Amber Lantern. The album bubbles over with delicately orchestrated pop songs and "harmony-forward" vocals, with folk instrumentation center stage. Monger, 40, made a conscious effort to differentiate these songs from past work, writing the lyrics more personally, with the sounds themselves following suit.
Metro Times spoke with Monger about the new album and why some things just take their own time, and why you should not miss his show. Monger is visibly stoked about his upcoming show at the Loving Touch, his first Detroit-area show in a while, and his first at the venue. (He still considers Great Lakes Myth Society to be together, with potential for eventually releasing their "long-dormant" third album.)
Metro Times: When you talked to Metro Times about your previous album in 2011, you mentioned that you hoped that it wouldn't take another seven years for your next album to come out.
Timothy Monger: It didn't, it took six! I was hoping to have it out in 2016 and get on like a five-year cycle. Oh God, I did say that at the end of the interview?
MT: You did.
Monger: I always marvel at people who can put them out every two years. It's funny right now, my album came out last month and I'm promoting it, doing shows but I'm already conscious of not wanting to wait another six years to release something.
MT: What was the first song you started working on for this album?
Monger: It was a song called "Plough King," the first track. I think it was about a year after I released the other album and I was just kind of playing around and I tried a bunch of different lyric sets for the song and it was just another acoustic thing that I'd had millions of and I just wanted to try to deconstruct something. So I pulled this song apart, removed the guitar, laid down organ, a fuzz bass track, I went out to this big pole barn, took a tape recorder, and sampled a snare hit that became the main hook of the song. That was the first thing I had pretty much and it was an isolated place we were living in and the lyrics reflected this snowy landscape and drifting, creating new roads. We live in this grid of roads out in farm country. It was easy to imagine taking a snowplow and designing your own set of streets.
MT: Do you think of this as an album that reflects nighttime?
Monger: It's a little more nocturnal than some of my stuff. Particularly, it might feel that way because it's such an inward-looking album. It's very personal. I was consciously trying to get away from some of the more nostalgic type of writing that I've done. I feel like there's always something midnight-ish and anxiety-ridden about the looking inward you do in the middle of the night. It probably got reflected in the music, particularly the song "Sleepless" is about waking up — I've had a lot of trouble sleeping — in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. Half the time I'm just working on a part thinking, "I have to stop, I have to get to sleep, I can't just keep writing this part." Every now and then I would get up and go record something if I couldn't sleep any more. I live in a small house with my girlfriend and there's only so much you can do at 4 in the morning recording-wise.
MT: There's a noticeable divide between the music scene in Washtenaw and Wayne counties and your music seems capable of appealing to both audiences. Is that fair to say?
Monger: I've felt that also and ever since I started playing music in this area, there's been a weariness between the Detroit scene and Ann Arbor scene and rightfully so, they've spawned different bands. In 2005 my old band, Great Lakes Myth Society, started getting bookings in Detroit and we met a bunch of people and the lines blurred. It seemed that odd divide disappeared for us and we were very fortunate.
Musically, I think I'm certainly not writing for a certain scene, city, or location and I'm very grateful to be accepted in the Detroit community, which is an ever-changing microcosm. It's been interesting seeing the new garage-pop, '90s influence, Burger Records-style, slacker stuff, the synth stuff. There was a time I was in a folk band trying to play Detroit and it was in the middle of the garage boom in the late 2000s and of course no one cared at all. It's a whole new influx of people who love the old rock stuff just as much as the new stuff and I'm glad it's opening up to a wider variety of influences and I'm excited to be a part of it.
MT: Is there anything else you'd like to say about Amber Lantern?
Monger: I worked really hard on it. I'm very, very proud of it, very proud of all of my albums. And if I'm not it's not worth putting out and I probably won't put it out. Anything that crosses the finish line is something I intended to be exactly the way it sounds.
Timothy Monger State Park plays the Loving Touch on Friday March 31; 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; lovingtouchferndle.com; Tickets are $6.