Congratulations to Justin Small of Do Make Say Think, who set out last year on an ambitious project: to record and release a new track each week for a year. Now that the project is complete, we’ve asked the artist to look back on the year that has been.
53 tracks is a lot to contemplate, so if you’re hearing about the project for the first time, here’s how to dive in. One might enter the project through the order of release by checking out the tracks on Bandcamp, conveniently divided into seasons: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. Or one might break them into categories in OCD fashion, as we’ve done below.
Our interview with Justin follows the track listings!
Vangelical (The Ambient Album)
Beginning with the title track, the quietest of Small’s 53 pieces, Vangelical sets a soothing mood and sustains it throughout, adding warmth in small increments and varying tempos only ever-so-slightly. The setlist ends with Small’s most romantic track, “Oh how in LOVE” and carries the intimacy through the repartee of “50 by Fire”.
Key tracks: Who is taking care of Alexander, Oh how in LOVE, 50 by Fire
Setlist: Vangelical, Stubborn Persistent Illusion pt 1, Stubborn Persistent Illusion pt 2, Who is taking care of Alexander, Stupid Conscience gonna lead me to the poor house, St. Adrienne blesses tiny Curren, Song of Eostre, Just Passing Through, Smiling Bear, Oh how in LOVE, 50 by Fire
The Doomed Moth (The Post-Rock Album)
At first, this is the album we expected from Small ~ a healthy dose of post-rock frequencies, alternating with ambient sequences. But a number of curve balls are thrown in as well, ranging from doom (“The Doomed Moth”) to political commentary (“I reject that thinking!”) to Middle Eastern jam (“In the Can”). Many of the songs shift from pensive pieces to slow stormers at the halfway mark.
Key tracks: The Doomed Moth, Oh Donna, The Waltzing Wife, Gazey days of summer, In the Can
Setlist: Mercury Retro, Song for Kathryn Borel, The Doomed Moth, At Peace, Oh Donna, Waltzing Wife, Slow Motion Hearts, Drone Operating Blues, Gazey days of summer, I reject that thinking!, Song 53, Pocockalypse Now, In the Can
Spark and Fade (The Electronic Album)
One can create an intriguing electronic album by digging through the Small setlist. It begins with drone in abstraction and proceeds through IDM to straight-up club bangers before concluding in complex fashion with the rhythmic title track.
Key tracks: Endless Bummers, You’re right, very good chicken, Orange is the new blue
Setlist: Midnight March, Balloon Family, Endless Bummer, Oh December my love, The warm storm, No Hurry to Worry, All those endless jeers, For Fox and Pear, Ample Habitat, You’re right, very good chicken, Pura Vida FSM (Tim Condon re-work), Booogy Wooogy Back-up, Orange is the New Blue, I have the best words (make America HATE again), Spark and Fade
Oh my Heart (Sing the Songs of Justin Small!)
This project introduces the artist in a completely different way. All of the pieces are slow, and the vocals are wistful, at times even heartbroken. That’s why our sequencing ends with a Christmas song.
Key track: Someone is flying-There was light
Setlist: Pride of Gomorrah, Untitled Heart, Coast to Coast Ghost, Someone is flying-There was light, Forever Stings, Oh my Heart, Past, do you last, Devided Masuline, The Floating World, State of the art heart, Have Yr Slf A Mrry Littl Xmas
The Orphans EP
We really didn’t have anywhere else to put these tracks, the strangest in Small’s oeuvre. First comes the ambient “Apalogue Live (ish)”, which concludes in conversation and song; then the frightening (and well done) Halloween piece, “Hallowed Be Thy Eve”, which contains spoken word and field recordings among the chaos; then the feedback-driven “2016”, which softens mid-piece and turns classical. Let’s hope the actual year ends the same way!
Key track: 2016
Setlist: Apalogue Live (ish), Hallowed Be Thy Eve, 2016
Gazey days of summer (The Album!)
Quite simply, this is the album I’ve put together of my favorite tracks from the last year ~ yours will be different!
Setlist: Who is taking care of Alexander, Someone is flying-There was light, The Doomed Moth, 2016, Oh Donna, Waltzing Wife, Gazey days of summer, Endless Bummer, You’re right, very good chicken, Orange is the New Blue, In the Can, Oh how in LOVE, 50 by Fire
First of all, congratulations on finishing this ambitious project of releasing one track a week. Many artists have attempted such a thing, but few have followed through. Was it easier or harder than expected? Did you find that you were inspired every week or were there some lulls?
Thank you. And thanks for the support over the last year! I’m not sure it’s a question of ‘hard’ or ‘easy’. Being disciplined is a different mindset. One I’m not used to. I’m really quite a chill (ahem…often lazy) kind of person. I enjoy a good cottage 100x over any camping experience. So undertaking this wasn’t hard. Just different. But much like exercise (which I’m being SUPER lazy about these days) you just start doing it. Almost with a zen-like focus, inspiration just seems to be there. Admittedly the well was deeper on some weeks rather than others, but looking back, I can’t really pinpoint which ones.
Haha exercise!!!!!! seriously, I crested 40 and now I can’t even drink a single beer without it showing up on my belly! I also intend to focus on different things. I still write and create every day, it’ll just be for a different end. I really dug the more beat oriented music on some of the weeks I did, so I’m focusing on that. Doing research and learning gear. I might take piano lessons from a really great avant player in town. DMST is about to deliver our new record to CST. So I’m certain when that drops, that’s going to be my world for a while. And Ohad (DMST) and I have been really busy with score work so any amazing idea for a track still has a destination or home!
These tracks unfolded like a sonic diary ~ some were personal, some political, some holiday-related. How much of the project was recorded for yourself, how much for others in your life, and how much for the general listener?
At first my attitude was ‘I’m just going to do this for me, and people will either like it or not’, but when I started actually getting subscribers and having a relationship with them it became a much more personal quest to communicate and curate my weekly compositions to them. For sure my inspiration came from very different places; Deaths in the family, personal milestones, struggles with heath, the joy of having an incredible daughter and wife, political frustrations, holidays, etc….and I welcome the idea of the general public tuning in. That’s why the Bandcamp page exists (on your recommendation no less!!)
The ones where I had enough of a chance to challenge myself. With electronics, with singing mostly. Orange is the new blue, Floating world, Pride of Gamorrah, Very good chicken, to name a few!
Those who only know you from Do Make Say Think may be surprised at the number of genres represented. As you recorded, did you start to feel any affinity for any particular genre that you had not felt drawn to prior to the recording? The electronic and experimental angles were particularly interesting.
Yes again, electronic and experimental music have always been big parts of my life. And you can hear those influences/elements within DMST. The beauty of this project is that I’ve always wanted to do that kind of music exclusively, but couldn’t dedicate a whole records worth of time to those influences.Or I couldn’t force that hand within DMST as I’d have likely faced resistance. So it was great to scratch that itch. and having done 12-15 of those over the course of 53 compositions, I can definitely say that I’m imbued with a new sense of purpose when it comes to those inspirations. Look for a blistering noisy dance record to come out of me in the next year or so!!!!!!
P.S. I NEVER did do the collection of grind-core jams I threatened to do during this project! That is my personal failure to deal with!
It seems that you grew more confident as you went along, which would prove the old advice, “Write every day and you will become a writer.” Would you agree?
I would normally. As this is the end, I have the desire to say ‘See! I DID IT! and it just got better!’ but truth be told, as this rounded out, I sort of did an overhaul review on a radio show that I do, where I played the year as a random mix over the hour. The archives of which can be found here. And I found I had some pretty strong songs off the top. Ones I could proudly put against the compositions I did at the end.
I think I may do something similar to the mix from the radio show, but more focused and curated. Find my favorite 15-20 compositions and mash them up into 2 (maybe 4) mixes for a vinyl release. But that would fall under the category of vanity releases as I’d be doing it myself, and paying for it myself, and quite frankly there are currently bigger fish frying and in danger of being burnt if I don’t focus!!! But yeah, I’d also have to have a big booklet showcasing 53 pieces of original art as well!!
What went through your mind as you recorded Song 53?
I was heartbroken to know that ‘forever stings’ was the OFFICIAL last song! I still had one more in me! Song 53 is the phantom week! the song that shouldn’t exist! My real last jam of this project!
A Closer Listen thanks Justin Small for his time and courtesy. Stream the entire project below ~ over five hours of music!