House of Lull . House of When is the debut solo album from vocalist Alexis Marshall of Daughters. In 2018, Daughters released You Won’t Get What You Want, a monumental industrial, noise rock record. Marshall is also a poet, and he credits writing poetry with inspiring him to make a solo record.
“I think working by myself in that world made it easier to sort of try to search for in music the same kind of fulfillment,” says Marshall. “Writing all on my lonesome in a room on my typewriter and notepad, or whatever, really gave me a bit of confidence, or maybe faith, to take it to a different medium and to also think about sound.”
House of Lull . House of When, out through Sargent House, is a collaborative endeavor. Marshall made the album with Jon Syverson (Daughters), Kristin Hayter (Lingua Ignota), Evan Patterson (Jaye Jayle) at Machines with Magnets studio in Pawtucket, Rhode Island with producer Seth Manchester.
“I didn’t want to have a kind of working environment that was about just shining the belt buckle,” says Marshall. “It was just really about putting it all together on the spot and doing more of like a free-flowing thing.”
Marshall and his collaborators created sounds on the album from nearby objects and materials.
“I had a paintbrush, all the bristles had dried,” says Marshall. “I’d have a bag of coins and a sheet of metal. ‘Let’s just spin these coins on the metal and let’s see if we can make a song out of this.’ It was shit like that. There was no verse-chorus-verse way of thinking or anything like that. It was just we want to see what sounds we can pile on.”
Creating sounds on the record from these sources was a smooth experience.
“For me, it’s easy because I don’t play guitar,” Marshall says. “I have a habit of singing along to the drums anyway. For me, it was taking things that were not seen perhaps as percussion instruments, and then using those to create layers of percussion and noise as opposed to a guitar line and then the melody. Harmonizing or any shit like that, I wasn’t interested in at all. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I just wanted to throw some shit together and what kind of sounds it would make and then see if we could put it together.”
Making the music was a destructive and constructive process. Like a mosaic built from something fractured, Marshall’s process of making music with his team was a deconstructive and constructive endeavor.
“Jon would go into the room and then he’d start playing drums,” says Marshall. “He’d play for 10 or 15 minutes. Then, Seth and I would dissect what he had played. We’d choose a small portion of that, and then, we’d build a song off of that. We’d begin to build structure around the drums and things like that.”
Marshall incorporates elements of repetition, lyrically and musically.
“There’s a ton of repetition, and there’s repetition in lyrical content that I wanted to sort of see if I could quickly build something, and then, how long I could sustain it without too much change and variation,” he says.
The lyrical repetition creates a self-referential element to Marshall’s music.
“Two songs have the same words,” says Marshall. “One is a variation of the other. I was interested in that kind of self-reference and repetition and all that, lyrically as well as musically. One seemed to lend itself to the other. Or go somewhere and linger there for a bit on this record, as opposed to going to the next part, and here’s a part that goes to the next part, and this part takes you to this part, and ultimately this will take you to the ending. I guess that’s good, but I’ve done that before, for me, I just kind of wanted to build a realm and just be there.”
The similarities between writing lyrics and poetry prompted Marshall to take a poetic approach to songwriting.
“With this, I took more of the approach that I would take with writing poetry,” Marshall says. “Which is, sitting down and putting things together, thinking more about the language and how the words felt.”
Marshall’s songwriting also includes elements of stream of consciousness.
“Not everything needs to make sense,” he says. “That’s also to give some credit to the listener. It’s also up to the listener to see how they’re going to feel about it, or to read something and hear it and think, ‘How does this make me feel about something I’m dealing with?’ Or, ‘What’s my interpretation of it?’ And then, personalize it. I love Johnny Cash, but he writes a song about going to town and getting shot, so this song’s about getting shot. If you’ve never ridden a horse and gotten shot, you’re sort of searching for a connection. I think that here, with this record, it was much more of existential dread or something.”
Creating a solo album was experientially different from making music in a band.
“Musically, you’d think that after doing things in the band for a long time, it would be sort of easy,” says Marshall. “It was not that at all. To do it on my own was kind of trying to find was my way in the dark, which was strange, because I’d already been in a dark room. I’ve been in this room for 20 years. You’d think I know where furniture is, but it was a completely different experience.”
Currently, Marshall is making music with Daughters and intends to release more poetry.
“We’re working on this new Daughters record, which is in its infancy,” he says. “I finished a book, and then I’m gonna I guess put another one together.”
Marshall looks back fondly on making House of Lull . House of When at Machines with Magnets with his collaborators. “It was a nice place to be,” says Marshall. “It was nice to wake up with everybody and eat breakfast, go into the studio, work on some shit and have dinner together. It was great.”
For more from Alexis Marshall, find him on Instagram.
Photo courtesy of George Clarke