A poet, writer, and songwriter creating powerful emotional worlds
Amy Klein thought that she would never make another record. In 2014, three years after gracefully exiting the grueling recording-and-touring schedule of Titus Andronicus, Klein had started a series of promising bands that had all ended poorly. She felt dejected by the process, put out by the prospect of again writing songs, building them with someone else, and then watching the whole project fall apart. “I was in one of those I’m-going-to-sit-in-my-bedroom-for-a-while phases,” she says, laughing with the grace of retrospect. “And then I was just writing these songs in my bedroom.”
These songs, as it turns out, became Winter/Time, Klein’s striking sophomore LP under her own name and a bold rebirth, with fully produced sounds and complex lyrical conceits that push far beyond her breathless punk past. Across these seven tunes—from the pummeling, distortion-driven opener “Nothing” to the redemptive closer “One More Time,” which climbs into a perfect chorus of twisted jangling pop—Klein steps out of the darkness and the winter. Like Kate Bush leading The Who during “Come to You” or like Stevie Nicks lifted to new heights by keyboards and spiraling guitars during “White Wind,” Klein arrives here in a light of her own making.
In the past, most every album Klein recorded was a rush job. The band would go into the studio, stomp and stammer as they played some songs, and then leave, the bulk of the work in hand. Around the time she found herself writing these tunes alone, though, she became mesmerized by Lost in the Dream, the breakthrough 2014 album by The War on Drugs. Its musical depth and meticulous layers mesmerized her, the way the guitars, rhythms, and vocals framed a sort of ambient rock ’n’ roll trance, a state of being bound by hooks. Digging into the band’s back catalog, she realized that one of their longtime engineers, Jeff Zeigler, remained nearby in Philadelphia, working on records by the likes of Kurt Vile, Mary Lattimore, and Allison Crutchfield. Klein reached out to Zeigler; for the next several years, she spent weekends and holidays shuttling from her Brooklyn apartment to his Philadelphia studio, Uniform Recording. One by one, with a small band of trusted friends, including her long-term drummer Colin Brooks, Klein built these textured but bracing rock anthems until they practically radiated.
Several years ago, Klein, who earned an English literature degree from Harvard before joining Titus Andronicus on guitar, learned about the concept of the paracosm. These are highly developed networks of characters, settings, and symbols that children often build to help understand and deal with the world. The idea immediately resonated with Klein, who had depended on a paracosm of her own to sort through her emotions for decades. There were people, colors, and scenes that existed only in her mind, ways to interpret the world around her.
For Winter/Time, she decided to step into that world and bring listeners with her. When recording and experimenting with instruments and tones she’d never played, she listened for the sounds that triggered that inner structure. So we meet Daisy, a character whose name evokes the mercurial woman pursued by The Great Gatsby, and who symbolizes, for Klein, the artist's relentless pursuit of her true self. Amid a frozen winter landscape, Klein lets go of the past and seeks transformation. Taken together, “Daisy” and “Daisy II (Days)” represent Klein’s stepwise progress from dealing with regret and longing to finding strength within herself. “Daisy, I am an animal, too,” Klein sings in the sequel, the riff supporting her words like a tightrope. “Just like the snow that never stops falling. I’m alive, Daisy.” It’s a moment of budding resolve and commitment, embodied by Klein’s unapologetic and intricate guitar solo. “That’s where Winter/Time starts to turn into Spring,” says Klein, “when you start to remember your relationships to all the things you love.”
And for Klein, that is the purpose—and, possibly, the very premise—of Winter/Time after all: to square up to her challenges and reckon with her inner world so that, as she puts it, she “can connect more with myself and with reality.” Winter/Time lets us in and then shows us that the route out is one of confidence, experience, and belief—and, of course, seven fantastic rock ’n’ roll songs that find Amy Klein at a new peak of power.
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Photograph: Still from "Winter" video by ©Orlando S. Gondar
Amy Klein logo by ©Beck Strauss at Lil' Ribbons Pins