– featured image courtesy of chris cox –
justin majetich shed his full band and the last letter of his surname in pursuit of his newest album. club dread features a streamlined palette and a renewed ambition, becoming a vessel to explore the fractured intricacies of life through a dissonant, electronic lens.
after the acerbic, audio-visual one-two punch of “horseback” and “bloodbrunch,” majetic returns today with “tender ums,” the album’s reflective penultimate cut, its subterranean pulses and acoustic piano motif swirling together towards something bigger, more grandiose. in its final moments, “tender ums” reaches that summit, all of its components coalescing into a perfect representation of majetic’s raw, soulful interior so often shrouded in stabs of angular synths.
we recently touched base with majetic via e-mail for an intimate glimpse inside the creation of club dread, its transcontinental roots, and the sequential significance of its third and newest single. check out the transcript, along with the premiere of “tender ums,” below.
club dread is club adjacent. is this a headspace you’ve occupied for some time or one you specifically found yourself in while writing the songs on this record?
when i moved to new york city in 2015, i suddenly had access to a whole range of underground parties — stuff i’d dreamt of in the midwest but that didn’t really exist for me there. i’d caught traces of it from friends in detroit, but overall, it was totally new and exciting. i moved to new york for a musical community i’d expected to find in the live venues, but i guess it was on the dance floor that i first felt a sense of belonging in this city.
so yes, for a while my headspace was club-adjacent – preoccupied with its magic, saturated with the music. by the time i was writing club dread in 2017, i wasn’t going out as much, but i was absolutely referencing that headspace as i wrote. i was dipping back into those experiences and re-imagining them for the album world. i still catch a party now and then and have some really great friends who i met through that community.
both oakland and queens factor into your biography – disparate locations geographically, but perhaps ones with some things in common musically. are you drawn more to the contrasts or the constants of these two cities? how did working on the album far from where it was initially conceived affect its direction and outcome?
place heavily informs the work i make. not only does it shape the album’s atmosphere but it is also personified in the work, almost as a character. NYC was the place-character in my last record, LUV IN THE RUINS, and i wanted something different this time around. i was spending a lot of time in oakland with my brother and sister, and naturally, it followed to set the record there.
there’s such a complex spirit to the bay area. so much tension between the awe-inspiring natural beauty and the extreme human disparity, the promise of progress and the dystopian realities… all the while, there’s this catastrophic fault-line brooding underfoot and the pacific chewing at the coast, violent and massive, an insatiable conduit of dread. incorporating the bay as a setting seemed like a powerful way to illustrate both the ecstasy and grief the characters of club dread experience in and around a club stricken with tragedy.
that being said — and i realize i haven’t directly addressed your question — there are traces of NYC in the album. a lot of the experiences i’m filtering into the record took place here, and it’s where i was living when i wrote most of the lyrics. still, i don’t think being back in NYC for a bulk of the writing process hindered my ability to access my sense of the bay in any significant way. i’d taken extensive notes, and honestly, i think place can sometimes be better comprehended from a distance. or at least, better comprehended for the purpose of art-making – the finite, fallible substance of memory naturally lending a tint of mythology to the thing remembered.
as for the the contrasts and/or constants between oakland and NYC, i mostly think about the former. to me, they’re sort of inverse of one another: one vast, one claustrophobic; one idealistic, one realistic; one circuitous, one direct. these sort of things require a more nuanced explanation, but that’s the jist. as for musical contrasts, i feel like there’s a lot more concern with coolness and cleverness in NYC versus a lot of play and theater in the bay. but if i’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that any scene is mostly what you make of it.
much of your album is centered around an electronic soundscape, but “tender ums,” which we’re premiering today, counts an acoustic piano among its focal points. can you speak to the genesis of this track and how it fits into club dread overall?
i was visiting my parents in ohio, where my dad pastors a church. after service, everyone will head to the fellowship hall and catch up over snacks. on this given sunday, i slipped back into the sanctuary to play the piano while i waited for my parents to wrap up. that’s where i wrote the theme that plays during the song’s first interlude and also lends shape to the vocal melody. it felt like something you could loop endlessly. it was soft and small but carried an emotional weight. i’m actually just realizing it now, but this sanctuary setting in which the song began is preserved in the “airport chapel” of the song’s opening verse.
anyway, i tucked those four measures away for a few weeks, and then one day tried growing them into a song, along with a phrase i’d pulled from my notes: “the body wasn’t made for this sort of placelessness.” thirty-six hours later, i had “tender ums,” which is a speed unheard of for me. it just flowed with uncharacteristic ease. it was the last song i wrote for club dread, and it felt like recompense for an otherwise meticulous process.
though it’s the penultimate track, i see “tender ums” as the album’s final chapter. the actual closer, “club dread,” looks back over the record in a way, encompassing the events, characters, and themes – a spiritual conclusion. but “tender ums” sees the speaker at the chronological end, as they make their departure from the bay (airplane imagery a bookend with similar imagery in the first lines of album-opener “chewing tabs”).
it’s perhaps the record’s most vulnerable moment, but still i find a quiet triumph in the song. take the line, “waking to a kinder sadness….” those who’ve experienced grief subside might relate to a moment when one first feels the heaviness shift. it’s the tiniest movement but, nevertheless, a notion of a world beyond grief. you understand that life can recover, even if you don’t understand how. that’s the moment from which the song is sung, and i believe it’s a crucial expression of hope in an album frequently given to despair.