Tower's PULSE! Debuts Opus Vitae's Song 'End Of The Road' And Teases The Upcoming Album
Singer/songwriter Banah Winn operates under the moniker Opus Vitae and has gradually been releasing a series of singles during the lockdown period, culminating in the debut of his song “End of the Road" today right here on Tower's PULSE!, which will be widely available on September 9th.
The new song has many sound elements and vocal elements in common with previous releases, but is also very distinctive in many ways. It lays emphasis on the instrumental, at first, and clocks in at seven minutes in length. It uses a more spoken-word approach at times and speaks quite directly about the needs of the world that human beings are depriving of resources and polluting at an alarming rate. Winn quite literally hopes that people hearing the song will react as if hearing this message for the first time, with an authentic desire to act before things are too late. However, "End of the Road" is also part of a bigger pattern of music writing, as Winn reveals below, as he gears up for a new album's release, Gramercy.
Banah Winn speaks with us about "End of the Road", his mental process when writing the song, the journey he's been on in choosing to see the changes in the world right now as an opportunity, and why he's actually writing happy songs these days.
Hannah Means-Shannon: You’ve been releasing several singles lately. Did you know far ahead of time that you would be writing songs and doing that, or has it been influenced by our global situation?
Banah Winn: No, these are songs that I’ve been trying to put out for a bit and I actually put them off. It’s all leading up to an album called Gramercy, which I’m going to put out on September 25th, which is also my birthday. “End of the Road” is the last single before the record comes out, and this song in particular is the closer to the record. And it seems like the message of the song keeps getting more and more fitting as time goes on. Hopefully things will get better after that.
HMS: I realized, when you said that “End of the Road” was the closer for the album that you really can’t put it at the beginning or even in the middle. It just wouldn’t work!
BW: [Laughs] Yes, both musically and lyrically, I think that’s true. You can’t really talk about the end of the road at the beginning, or have it be a seven minute crescendo.
HMS: I was about to say, “And it’s a seven-minute track!” The only people I’ve spoken to with tracks that long were ambient artists, but I’m impressed. Of the songs you’ve released so far, this one seems to have more of an intention and message behind it. Is that fair?
BW: I think that’s very clear, yes. I hope it is.
HMS: So why is this song different in having such a direct message? Or are there other very direct songs on this album, too?
BW: Going back to my mindset when I wrote it, I think that this song is intentionally direct. The rest of the album, for the most part, if it was encompassing grander themes, it was more on the personal level. This song is broad, with a social theme, which is something that I have been wanting to write about for a long time, but I wanted to be very particular in how I approached it.
I grew up with hippie parents, and my dad was a musician who was always writing political songs. I really wanted to do something like that, but I felt like the way they were writing songs back then in the late 60’s and early 70s couldn’t be done in the same way now. I wanted to find a way to portray that kind of message in a genuine, powerful, and direct way, but also avoid being cheesy. It’s a song about the environment, and at this point, the world in general, but how do you inspire people with a direct message that’s not just sad, but inspirational? That’s what I was after.
HMS: That makes total sense. I think also even if you are saying something really important and helpful in a song or in another mode, if it’s phrased in a way that someone has heard before, it doesn’t necessarily reach them. So breaking through that takes some thinking to keep it from just being a slogan they ignore.
BW: That was the theme of the record, really. With every song, there was a feeling that I was taking and trying to put in the song. When the song was done, I’d play it and ask, “Am I getting that same feeling back again?” That something I’m proud of on the album, that each song has a distinct emotional identity, and this song more than any other on the album.
HMS: What are the pros and cons of being in LA as a musician? What brought you to LA?
BW: I came here for more opportunity and good weather. There’s obviously been such a stark shift in the world, so LA is different this year than in any other year. I’ve been here 7 years now. Leading up to Coronavirus, I was getting a little burned out because there can be a non-stop, “go-go-go” energy. Just before all this happened, I was having a feeling that everybody just needed to take a break. Now, it’s lovely being here. As far as music goes, there are so many musicians, artists, and people in the industry, even in my neighborhood. There have been people I’ve met walking their dogs who are artists or in the industry.
HMS: Do you get the sense of being part pf a larger community of musicians by living there?
BW: Yes, definitely.
HMS: That’s a nice thing, even in an apocalypse.
BW: I should say that when I wrote “End of the Road”, I had a much more pessimistic view than I do now. Especially during COVID, I’ve had a lot of time for self-reflection and growth, and it’s given me the space to have a more positive view about the world and my life in general. There are elements of this song that I feel are based on thinking that things are going to fall apart. I think they are, but there are two ways to view it: either it’s horrible and things are only going to get worse, or this is bad and it’s actually an opportunity to swing things in another direction.
The latter is ultimately how I’m feeling now. I think that’s our only choice in life. Even if something is bad, objectively, you can see that as an opportunity. My hope is that in four or eight years from now, the world will be in a much better place.
HMS: When you have no sense of agency, when you seem to have no ability to change the course of events, then the primary change ends up being one of attitude, I think. Can you change yourself? Thereby you change the events.
BW: Exactly. Ultimately that’s the only thing you have control over. That’s been key to my whole quarantine experience, going from being a reactionary person to a person who decides they can be in a good headspace regardless of outer conditions.
HMS: That’s great that this time has given you something.
So your mindspace now is more like “The End of the Road Revisited”?
BW: Yes, the end is always the beginning.
HMS: What was happening in your life initially that pushed you to finally write this song?
BW: Subject-wise and content-wise, I was in a place for a number of years where I was reading lots of articles about how the environment was going to collapse. Something that really hit home for me was that before Stephen Hawking died, he basically said, “You all need to get your shit together”. There’s a line in the song that mentions that. Reading that made me hit an emotional crescendo. Also, writing this record was part of an intense year for me. Finishing the song, which was the second to last song on the album, was something based on me knowing that I needed a closer for the record, and wanting to write something super epic.
Once at four in the morning on a manic Youtube binge…
HMS: Wait that wasn’t during the pandemic? Because that’s what everyone is doing in the pandemic.
BW: No, I just do other stuff like that now. But I found a video of Nils Frahm playing the song “Says” with a seven-minute synth build. And I just thought, “I need to do that but rant about the environment over it!” The next say, I got up and got out my keyboard. I hit record and did this build that lasted for seven minutes. Then I layered it three times and listened to it. When I heard it, I said, “That is going to make an awesome track.” I kept it and somehow took that live performance and wrote a track over it. It worked out. That was a really fun experience, honestly.
HMS: It sounds like you channeled a lot of that frustration.
There is an almost spoken-word aspect to some of the song, too. Had you come across the use of spoken word in a way that impressed you that influenced that choice?
BW: I have no idea, it just happened.
HMS: It’s pretty cool and reminds me of protest music and activism.
BW: It’s like a speech. Have you ever seen the Great Dictator speech by Charlie Chaplin? Maybe I was attempting to channel that, I’m not sure.
HMS: Oh yes! Good one.
How does this all fit into your daily practice and ways of viewing the world? I saw that you are a practitioner of yoga. Does that overlap with your songwriting?
BW: During quarantine, and during this whole last year, I’ve reached a point of knowing more about some of the deep life questions I was asking. It goes back to what we were saying before, that ultimately the one thing you have power over is how you feel about things. Your power is what you give attention to. If you give attention to solutions, you’re more likely to find solutions.
I consider the record Gramercy to be a transition record. It was a transition in a lot of ways, but for me, it was a transition out of the dark into the light. For years before that, I was having a pretty rough time. Yoga helped me purge years of pent up emotion and I think I captured it in that record. That’s why it’s such an emotionally intense record. But your power is in how you look at things, and that has become my practice.
So the next record after this one is probably going to be happy, John Denver-y Folk tunes. No joke! I’ve been going up to the mountains every weekend and writing these happy, positive tunes. I would have thought I was lame five years ago if I heard these tunes. But I feel good now. Or if I go up to the mountains and I’m in a bad mood, I write a happy tune, and at the end I feel great. That worked.
HMS: Absolutely! I think that’s awesome.
What sort of feeling or mood do you think the song “Chasing Ducks” was going for, by comparison?
BW: That song was very nostalgic of my childhood. For me, it was a combined feeling of missing my family and longing for a sense of home, but also identifying that place of home with a lot of sad and negative feelings. A lot of it had to do with my parents’ divorce and things that I was still carrying with me at the time. It was a mishmash of memories of simple moments, like literally chasing ducks around a pond, which I loved doing as a kid.
HMS: It’s amazing the things that we have in our memories that sit for years, if not decades, seemingly untouched, and then something pulls them up. Music has a wonderful, terrifying way of doing that.
BW: I think music is the most effective way to take an emotional snapshot. Whatever feeling you put into the song, you can go back to it anytime you want. I really love that song, too.
HMS: Regarding the new album, of these different approaches to songs we’ve been talking about, what sorts of things can we expect from the rest of the songs?
BW: The album is basically the journal of a year in sequential order. It’s an emotional journey of that year. A lot of it had to do with the classic inter-personal relationship issues. A big part of that transition was coming out of a really dark period of being devastated after a breakup for almost a year. Right after starting Gramercy, I met someone new. It was this feeling of falling in love with someone new while still being heartbroken at the same time, which was a really weird feeling. That’s sort of the centerpiece of the record. Then in the second half, there’s a happy song or two. Then it starts to get broader and more political towards the end. Genre-wise, there are a few other tracks that feel really different.
There’s a track I really love called “Night Ride”. It’s the experience of getting in your car and driving at night, in this calm and cooldown after a really intense experience. The song has this psychedelic British dance-music feel. It’s really trippy and really cool.
HMS: Awesome. I can’t wait to catch that one.
BW: I wanted to say that I’m super-psyched that Tower has a focus on vinyl, and this will be my first vinyl release, too.
HMS: Amazing! It is great. I always love hearing that musicians are releasing on vinyl.
I’m Banah’s hippie dad. I’m proud of the way music has evolved in our family from one generation to the next kind of like passing the baton and not knowing where your son will take it. But he’s taken it and the music lives on in a new and vibrant way.
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