Journeymen: Over the Top or Under the Weather, by the band Last November, featuring Luke Pilgrim

By Daniel Garrett

Last November
Over the Top or Under the Weather
Songs written by Luke Pilgrim
Produced by Steven Haigler
and Luke Pilgrim
Engineer: Tom Tapley
© 2007 Bill Lowery Music Publishing/Muff Music
Released 2008

I. The band Last November’s album Over the Top or Under the Weather

Each life, each career, is a journey, and there is no question that certain lives and careers come to mean more than others to society, but each journey is important, whether or not it leads to heroism, invention, love, power, treasure, or wisdom. It can be interesting to stop and pay attention to what is the ordinary journey of a musician or a group of musicians, to learn more about how they are inspired, tested, and found true. I thought of that as I listened to the music group Last November’s recording Over the Top or Under the Weather, the band’s follow-up to its first album, All the Gory Details (2006). Last November—Luke Pilgrim, guitar, drums, vocals; Tyler Ayers, bass, vocals; Chris Jones, keyboards, vocals; and Taylor Woodruff, drums, vocals—has created a recording that uses different musical genres to present themes of a youthful, contemporary life.

The collection Over the Top or Under the Weather is bracketed by two short pieces, “Sunrise” and “Sunset”; and the first complete song, “The Bumper Sticker Song,” is an exhilarating uptempo expression of gratitude for finding a lover who is both fun and tolerant. That song and others create both a sense of fun and suggest some of the turmoil that a pursuit of fun seeks to keep at bay. While the singer’s voice narrating the observations of street life with slight personal references in “Sunday Afternoon” is a light and pleasant voice, it doesn’t carry the kind of sincerity that wholly convinces the listener that he (or she) is hearing a significant truth (and the drums seem a bit flat to me); but, I can imagine hearing this song on the radio. There is a lot of energy in “Jesus Had Breakfast in Bed,” a song of temptation and peril, and the song has a large, fat drum sound, the very opposite of flat. One of the more carefully produced compositions on the album is “New York Rain,” with a slow beginning and structural changes and a firm texture: there’s contemplation and drama; silence; light and darkness, featuring the line “And here I am yawning in the city that never sleeps but still manages to dream.” The tune “Uppers, Downers, & All-Arounders,” with its party atmosphere of sex and drugs, is given a head-shaking beat that, surprisingly, grows a bit repetitive; and it is hard not to think that it is better to have a song that mimes rather than manipulates human responses. Consequently, in these songs, which are about social scenes and personal relationships, and which achieve varying degrees of musical success and failure, it is easy to hear and see the beginnings of a life, the beginnings of a career: a journey. There is potential here—although, for instance, I don’t hear enough personality for my taste in the singer’s voice in the song “Hot and Cold,” a song about an unpredictable young woman, I still think the song has the kind of appeal that could make it very popular. I can hear the basis of commercial success more than I can hear the evidence of an important art.

The song that gives the assemblage its title, “Over the Top or Under the Weather,” a declaration of reckoning, is an openly sentimental work that acknowledges cynicism (“I want honest eyes to tell the perfect lie”); and the singer’s voice is in a lower register than on most of the other compositions, and that seems very effective: more sincere, more thoughtful—the person in the song seems more present. Of course, the age in which we live may make sincerity, as the song indicates, simply one more tool, rather than a fundamental fact. “Butter Me Up” is well-crafted, clever, with its recognition of how practiced romance can be, an imitation of something already false, such as a fairy tale or a film; and “Merry Christmas Little Match Girl,” on how different people experience the holiday, including an abused girl, is a countryish rock ballad. Youthful and uptempo is “I’m Not a Doctor But I Play One on TV,” while “Seventeen at Three in the Morning” savors young love and lust, and offers the apprehension of death—with a nice clapping beat and chorus, one of the more varied arrangements on the album. The first couple of times I heard Over the Top or Under the Weather, I was surprised by the energy and topicality, and the last few times I wished that it had a deeper, more resonant purpose; and I became curious about the nature of the band’s ambitions.

II. Internet Interview with singer-songwriter Luke Pilgrim of Last November

Questions were sent to Luke Pilgrim through an associate, Jordyn Borczon, via electronic mail, in late January 2009, and the answers returned to me in early February.

Daniel Garrett: When I was younger, I often thought of art as the work, primarily, of passion; and as I became older I began to see more the importance of discipline and structure, of planning. Of course, art requires both passion and planning, but often with a focus on passion in art you can produce a lot of excitement but, sometimes, you end up producing the same experiences again and again, whereas with a focus on planning you can more easily vary the themes, and the approach or form. Looking at the band Last November’s work Over the Top or Under the Weather with its diverse themes, its opening and closing settings, and its art work, I suspect that significant planning went into the project. I wonder how you see the interplay of passion and planning.

Luke Pilgrim: I couldn’t agree more. The planning is 90 percent of my job. It’s rather unfortunate because the parts we truly enjoy—writing, recording, or touring—is really a much smaller part of our job than most people realize. I spend the majority of my time working on the internet expanding our fan base (we still run our own Myspace page and answer every email), or designing artwork for posters and flyers and online banners, or doing interviews with terrestrial radio, online radio, satellite radio, or print and webzines. We really only get to spend a very small portion of our time on the creative end of things. However, I do write everyday. Whether we’re on the road or home for a while, I am always jotting something down in one of my numerous notebooks. So the balance of passion and planning is a very important part of success in any art form.

Daniel Garrett: Could you describe the origin and develop of the band; and what you hope for its future?

Luke Pilgrim: I guess this whole journey really started when I was eleven. That’s when I got my first guitar. Of course I didn’t start Last November until years later, when I was a sophomore in high school. But I began writing songs when I was about twelve. Most of the tracks on our first record I wrote when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. Which explains the difference in the sound from our debut to our second album… we were a few years older and I think the music reflects that. Our hope is that we can reach as many people with our music as possible. The most rewarding part of the job comes from fans telling me how much my lyrics mean to them. That’s what it’s all about; people living through our songs.

Daniel Garrett: I think I hear something a bit “New Wave” in the “Bumper Sticker Song” as well as in your singing and in the music in other parts of Over the Top or Under the Weather; and in “New York Rain” there is the noise of “Indie Rock.” How conscious are you of those influences?

Luke Pilgrim: I’m not very conscious of it. I’ve never been good at writing in a genre. Whenever I’ve tried to mimic my favorite artists it never turned out the way I had hoped. And Last November has never really fit into a scene or genre. We’re kind of all over the place which is great in some ways and not so great in others. So usually we just try to write parts that fit the song the best and write songs that will hopefully stand the test of time. That was our real goal with Over the Top or Under the Weather. We weren’t trying to write the best record ever or to re-invent rock and roll… we just wanted songs people could relate to and songs that wouldn’t sound dated in a few years.

Daniel Garrett: I grew up in Louisiana, and lived a long time in New York and I have been living again in Louisiana for a couple of months; and I recall that when people used to ask me about Louisiana I often said that I missed the land. What kind of inspiration and resources, and what kind of limitations, do you find in southern life?

Luke Pilgrim: I love the south. We’re all southern boys. So much great rock and roll originated from the south. I grew up in a tiny country town called Cleveland, GA. I think being from such a small town definitely shaped my writing and fueled my dreams. However you do find limitations around here because the music scene just isn’t really thriving. I think Atlanta is coming around though. It’s been the hip-hop capital for so long, its time for some rock acts to come out of Atlanta.

Daniel Garrett: Who are some of the artists, whether musicians, writers, filmmakers, painters, or other artists, that you find able to present a healthy, modern view of southern life?

Luke Pilgrim: That’s a good question. Most people have a very warped view of the south. I don’t know who really offers an accurate view of southern life but I’ve always been a fan of southern music. I dig Skynyrd and I even consider Petty a southern artist. He did a whole record that was pretty much a southern tribute, “Southern Accents.” I mean Elvis was from the south… and he’s the king of rock and roll.

Daniel Garrett: Art is sometimes thought of as something effete, as something that is not as masculine a pursuit as business or sports. What do you think about that?

Luke Pilgrim: I think that’s silly. I’ve never been very concerned with society norms for males or females. I think you should do what you’re good at and more importantly do what you love. I’ve just never been that interested in sports or cars or things that are considered typical “guy” things.

Daniel Garrett: I would like to list some musicians and have you note what, if anything, you think of when you hear their names: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Allman Brothers, REM, Blind Melon, and Gnarls Barkley.

Luke Pilgrim: Chuck Berry – [no answer]; Little Richard – [no answer]; Elvis – The King, the Rolling Stones – “We piss where we want to piss; the Beatles – Greatest band ever in the history of rock and roll; Jimi Hendrix – Are you experienced?; Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon; Allman Brothers – Macon, GA; REM – Athens; Blind Melon – heroin; and Gnarls Barkley – Crazy. The Rolling Stones: The reason I think that is because I watched this Stones documentary on TV and the band went in this restaurant and asked to use their restrooms. When the restaurant told them no, they went outside and pissed on the wall of the restaurant. Of course they were arrested and when the press asked them why they did it, Mick replied “We piss where we wanna piss.” Hahaha.

Thanks, Luke.

Daniel Garrett is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, AIM/America’s Intercultural Magazine, AllAboutJazz.com, AltRap.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black American Literature Forum, Cinetext.Philo, The Compulsive Reader, Film International, Frictionmagazine.com, The Humanist, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Illuminations, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, Offscreen.com, Option, PopMatters.com, The Quarterly Black Review of Books, Red River Review, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, The St. Mark’s Poetry Project Newsletter, 24FramesPerSecond.com, UnlikelyStories.org, WaxPoetics.com, and World Literature Today.

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