“It was like a fever dream. Every day counting blessings for safe passage.” Out there on the road with his battered guitar, playing 260 shows in just the last year and half, across 46 states and 14 countries, acclaimed troubadour Christopher Paul Stelling says he could see it all out there unfolding on the horizon.
Amidst the euphoria of playing in bars, cafes, theaters, festivals, under bridges and in living rooms, were late night conversations with friends, new and old, about the undercurrents of tension and change in their countries and concerns about what was happening back in his own. He witnessed immigrant riots, saw the fires burning. “Back in places like New York or Los Angeles it was harder to see,” he says,”But go the a Walmart in Oklahoma and tell me this wasn’t coming.”
And so Stelling wrote songs about it all. Darkly beautiful and powerful songs which became the album Itinerant Arias which arrives on May 5th. Months ago, these songs seemed cynical, even paranoid. After all, everything was going to be fine.
“I wrote this album about something that hadn’t happened yet, and now it’s happened,” he says. “I played the songs for people and they said, ‘That’s not what’s going to happen.’ And I would tell them, it really is. I’m not patting myself on the back about it. But I had been out their traveling the world, seeing it building. When driving by refuge camps and seeing people behind barbed wire fences it breaks you.”
Last November, Stelling premiered a politically charged and eerily prescient protest song from the album called “Badguys.” Now you can hear the lead track “Destitute.” Stelling refers to it as a “salvation song.” He explains, “It's a song about putting one foot in front of the other, about looking up... i think it's cheerful, a nice place to start. I don’t feel that way everyday, but you know, on some days I do. And it’s good to start off the record that way because then it goes to some pretty dark places.”
Along with the track, there is a video depicting Stelling at home in Asheville, North Carolina preparing to hit the road again. As Stelling explains, “I wanted the video for "Destitute" to convey the bittersweet relationship that I have with leaving. Just when I start to settle in it's time to go. As hard as it is to find any routine in my home life, touring has become like a nightly reunion. My friends are out there, and I get to go see them, check in, and play them my latest. "Destitute" is a song about counting your blessings.”
Unlike previous records, Itinerant Arias finds Stelling backed by a band, electrified if you will. It is a record inspired by movement and travel. The album cover a photograph taken by Stelling himself depicting an arrangement of found objects on his table. With a little more than a week before returning to the road, he retreated to a friend’s Connecticut cabin out in the woods with some musician friends. They slept there, ate there and didn’t leave for the next eight days, recording the haunting and powerful record.
“We would wake up in the morning, make coffee and record. The idea was just to live together, eat together and make this record. Having been alone and on the road, it was great to make a home with these musicians for those eight days. These songs were minimally demoed, arranged on the spot and recorded together live.
”You may be tired, you may be broke - but you’re not destitute. Because you've got friends who love you so - you're not destitute”