We’re pleased to be debuting new music from Michael Zapruder. “New Quarantine” is the new single from Zapruder’s new album Latecomers. You may also know him via his earlier project Pink Thunder, which found him adapting 20 poems by a host of writers into critically acclaimed songs. I spoke with Zapruder about the song’s origins, its unexpected resonance in 2020, and the long process of making Latecomers.
You’ve been working on Latecomers since 2011, which suggests to me that “New Quarantine” has been in the works for a while. How does it feel to be releasing a song with that title in the midst of all that’s going on right now?
It feels good and bad, like pretty much everything else these days. Good because even though the core toxicities of American life have been hiding in plain sight for such a long time, until recently there was always this possibility that maybe I was just being grumpy and brooding and morose. But now the rot is fully exposed. When I wrote the words to “New Quarantine” seven years ago, I might have just been imagining it. It turns out I wasn’t, but this is a vindication I’d gladly do without.
It also feels satisfying to put this song out now. It feels important to state clearly that the way we are organizing ourselves is largely insane. So much needs to change. Writing a song that is a message from a town where all the worst, most life-destroying aspects of our society have finally been embraced completely and uncritically, a place where the people crow about things that we usually try not to see, where they have no idea how terrible their town is – that feels like truth-telling. And that feels really good.
But of course mainly I wish things were better. I would prefer a world in which this song is less, not more, realistic. Here’s hoping we are close to the low point and will soon be headed in a better direction.
What was the process of bringing Latecomers to fruition like for you?
It was something I hope to have to do only once! The original working title of this record was “Thou Shalt Be New,” and I started it with the idea that change was both inevitable and something I was looking for. I should have been more careful about what I wished for. It would turn out to be eight years between that first recording session and the final mastered version of the record, and those years were indeed filled with major changes for me personally and creatively. They have been good changes, mostly, something for which I am extremely grateful. Over the time during which I made this record, I was trying to make good choices in bad times, and that’s what a lot of Latecomers is about.
Soon after we started the record, I enrolled in a masters program for music composition, and a few years later, my family and I moved from Oakland, California to Austin, Texas so I could get a doctorate. Through all those changes, while parenting and trying to expand my musical world into composing, I would periodically return to these recordings and try to finish them. There was an absurd amount of trial and an overabundance, nearly an infinity of error. But with the help of many friends, especially the engineer and co-producer Scott Solter, we finally chose eight songs (from over twenty-five we had started at various times) and pushed through the weird endlessness of the process until we were done.
You adapted a number of poems as songs for Pink Thunder. Has that had any lasting effects on your own work as a songwriter?
Well there is no way to spend that much time reading, singing and living inside of the work of those phenomenal poets without being transformed. I feel so lucky I had the chance to do that.
That said, though, these songs on Latecomers feel like a totally different branch of the tree. These particular songs don’t seem to have been influenced that much by Pink Thunder.
To answer your broader question, though, as a songwriter Pink Thunder helped me clarify my view of what I’d like my songs to be, and I think it made me feel good about letting poetry be poetry and letting my songs be songs. It gave me a clearer sense of where my songs’ territory ends and other territories begin. And now, if anything, I’m more interested in remaining in song-ville, with its weird alchemical magic, where doggerel and ditties can somehow combine to be life-changing.