‘Breathing Together,’ Flowers of America

flowers of america videorama

The cover of Flowers of America’s ‘Videorama’ album.

I hope this post for our Songs to See Us Through series finds you healthy and not alone. The series was designed to break social isolation through music and create support for musicians during the time when they cannot make a living by performing.

Even if you are not sick, there are so many things to worry about, triggered by this crisis. These days some of us are trying new ways to relax, including yoga and meditation. Just in time, singer-songwriter Renée LoBue, of the imaginative and unique band Elk City and known for her haunting lyrics, suggests for the series a much needed ethereal, calming song: “Breathing Together,” from her powerful album Videorama, released in March. You can listen to the song and then the entire album, and treat is as a form of art therapy. (The album is part of her side project Flowers of America, which combines her love of music, video and movement).

“Breathing Together” is “not about the pandemic,” LoBue says, “but since the pandemic has occurred, I have received so many emails and phone calls and texts about the song because it has really made people feel that we are collectively breathing in this together. I released Videorama quickly. I didn’t’ know what was coming, but I knew it was something.”

LoBue brings you into her psychic world — as she does with her songs recorded with Elk City — on a deep, intimate level, but this album comes after experiencing loss, anxiety and isolation, so it is darker than some of her joyful songs that make you move. Some of these same personal struggles face many of us today.

Her music is soothing and hypnotic. She and Elk City co-founder Ray Ketchem, who joins her as both a musician and a producer in this project, create a compelling album with many layered sounds and textures, as they have been doing for years. (Owner of Magic Door Recording in Montclair, Ketchem produces a diverse range of artists in his studio when he is not busy putting the rhythm into Elk City’s songs.) Chris Robertson of Elk City also adds his musical magic on some of the tracks.

Renee LoBue with Ray Ketchem.

“Flowers of America’s Videorama record,” LoBue says, “is a departure from Elk City because it’s (mostly) an electronic record brought to life by (Ketchem’s) visionary and artful production. Videorama is a record about anxiety. The record starts with a dedication that states: ‘For all the people walking through a world of anxiety: This record is for you.’ ”

LoBue shot the gorgeous video below, with its striking images of isolation and contemplation, in Hudson, N.Y., and on the train back from Hudson to New York’s Penn Station. There are also some images of her at her home in Montclair. The alternating images of her in her bed, contemplative and ill at ease, with those of the Hudson River, are eerie and evocative.

Haunted by loss and reaching for meditative, healing thoughts, she sings:

I was creepin’ like a little animal
Where we wander, I got nothing to say
I don’t know anything anymore.
Calm myself 1, 2, 3. Breathing, breathing
I just breathe it in — try to remember that it’s all about letting go
Try, try, try to leave this compartment arise in my mind
When I gotta remember, breathe in, breathe out
Take our time.

The title of her project comes from her belief that “we are all flowers of America and when I look at a beautiful garden, it’s beautiful because of the variety and if you take one of those elements away, it’s not as striking. It takes all kinds of beautiful flowers to make up a gorgeous garden.”

LoBue wrote “Breathing Together” in January 2019 when her stepfather was dying. “I really thought a lot about life and death and wrote that song about the fragility of life about how we can either be breathing in to or breathing out of life,” she says.

Ketchem adds: “The insistent but incredibly simple piano note represents the beeping of his heart monitor — the space in the vocal melody anticipates the preciousness of every breath. Watching someone dear to you struggle for breath is difficult to do.”

LoBue calls the song a “moving meditation,” adding, “There’s a point in the song where I sing, ‘Do you want to do this together with me? Let’s try sitting still, breathing ourselves free.’ It’s about a collective meditation into calm and being
proactive.

On Facebook, Ketchem wrote about the album: “I used atmospherics, cavernous reverberation, synthesizers, found sounds, sequencing and drum programming to create a bleak soundscape akin to (LoBue’s) primary inspiration, Scott Walker’s mid-’90s masterpiece, Tilt. It’s a brave statement from a supremely gifted artist using music to soothe the beasts within. If Videorama makes you feel less alone, Flowers of America has succeeded.”

While Ketchem refers to the album as a whole, I feel that if “Breathing Together” brings you a moment of peace, LoBue and Ketchem have given us a gift to weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic.

NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series is designed to spotlight songs relevant to the coronavirus crisis and encourage readers to support the artists who made them (and won’t be able to generate income via concerts at this time). Click here for links to all songs in the series.

We encourage artists to email us submissions (newly recorded, if possible) at njartsdaily@gmail.com. Please include links to sites such as Patreon and Venmo. Readers can also make suggestions via that email address.

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  1. Pingback: Songs to See Us Through: Responding, with music, to the coronavirus crisis - NJArts.net

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