Oakland’s Dick Stusso comes from a long musical line of off-beat singer-songwriters, with an unexpected take on the transcendental and a fondness for songs both harmonious and dissonant. In Heaven, his new album, jolts you whenever it seems too familiar; the resulting ten songs shift effortlessly from the comfortable to the surreal. He’ll be in Brooklyn next month, playing the Park Church Co-Op on June 8th as part of the Northside Festival. In advance of this, we asked him a few questions about the making of In Heaven and his literature of choice.
The first lines heard on the album are, “Feels like we’re heading/ the same way we came,” and there’s a host of allusions to cycles on the album–up to and including life and death. Was that something you were consciously alluding towards as you made In Heaven?
I suppose to some degree. I think some of the main feelings that tie the album together are dread and uncertainty. And how they kind of seem to stem from this feeling of a cycle being off kilter and unraveling while still being trapped in the cycle. Total bummer stuff, haha.
One of the songs on In Heaven was inspired by the writings of Sheldon Solomon. Where did you first encounter his work–and when did you decide to incorporate it into a song?
My friend Eric sent me a video of him talking about America and I thought he summed up a lot of things I’d been thinking in a succinct and kind of funny way. As far as the song goes, the original title was crap and the reference seemed to sit nicely.
What led you to record with a fuller setup for this album?
What’s with the distorted voices speaking on “The Big Car Commercial Payout”? Are they an ironic counterpoint to the title, or something else entirely?
They’re kind of an amalgam of conversations I’ve had.
Which of these songs evolved the most dramatically from its first conception to the version appearing on the album?
“In Heaven” the song I guess. It was originally a solo piano thing.
Obligatory literary question: what have you been reading lately?
Same friend who sent me the Sheldon Solomon interview just sent me this W.G. Sebald book, The Rings of Saturn. Well see how it goes.
Photo: Cara Robbins