In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
J.A. Tyler’s novel Only & Ever This is an unsettling, encompassing fable featuring pirates, ghosts, mummification, and vampires, but most evidently love. An unforgettable and haunting book.
Matt Bell wrote of the book:
J.A. Tyler’s Only & Ever This is a rollicking adventure about brotherhood and family, marriage and grief, childhood and piracy—perfect for fans of Peter Markus and Justin Torres and Stranger Things and Treasure Island. (As everyone should be.) This book hums with the sincerity of all true quests: don’t hesitate to answer its call.
In his own words, here is J.A. Tyler’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel Only and Ever This:
My brain is a mess. No joke, sometimes when I go on a walk, even though I know my phone is already counting the steps, I count them in my head, one block to the next. And I do this while wearing headphones, listening to audiobooks. Yikes. In other words, inside my head, there is never quiet. This means that when I sit to write, I have two choices: Close my eyes and hope to god the scenes will unfold evenly, or, throw on some headphones, find the perfect soundtrack of the novel, and let the music take over for the noise, let the music quiet that inner mess so the narrative can emerge. Over the last decade spent writing Only and Ever This, these songs were how I managed to quiet the thoughts in my head for long enough to let another story exist, a story of a mother who is a ghost, a father who is a pirate, and sons who trundle down a complex of caves, the story of mummifying twin boys so that they won’t grow up. This playlist doesn’t have much in the way of ghosts or pirates or vampires or mummies, but because of these songs, my novel does. Thanks a million times over to these artists. Without them, I wouldn’t have this book.
Frightened Rabbit “The Modern Leper” from Quietly Now! Liver! Lung! Fr!
I love Frightened Rabbit, and this live album catches so much of the power and crash that I adore in the Scottish-accented vocals of the late Scott Hutchison. This song pounds, slams the floor, attacks the instruments and the lyrics, which fit so well with how started my novel, thinking about the body as parts: “A cripple walks amongst you / All you tired human beings / He’s got all the things a cripple has not / Two working arms and legs.”
Volcano Choir “And Gather” from Unmap
Volcano Choir was a go-to when I was writing any scene that I wanted to unspool and chime, just as this song does. There is beauty in its layers and unexpected rhythms, and there is also the hint of threat in its clapping, its vocals that come straining upward, punching through. A cacophony I love and wanted very much to capture.
Arcade Fire “Wake Up” from Funeral
This whole album is a gutbuster. The lyrics, the rhythms, the melodies. Listening to this song meant I had ten more tracks of writing that would come barreling out, because this song (and the whole album) barrel. It’s relentless, and this song never failed to spread that press and joy into my work.
Freelance Whales “Generator ^ First Floor” from Weathervanes
Over and over again I used this song to ease into daily writing. The churning, mechanical opening blended with soundscape created an opening, like someone holding the gate wide, and then those strings, plucked, begging you forward into the clouds of vocals. A freakish, lovely, stabbing song.
Bon Iver “Lump Sum” from For Emma, Forever Ago
The novel’s township is covered in rain, and this song more than any other encapsulates that experience, the rhythmic, pulsing trance of rain on a roof. Too, I’m a writer who likes to press hard, and the rhythm of the guitar here does it so magnificently, so smoothly, so perfectly.
Bon Iver “Hinnom, TX” from Bon Iver
The fluctuations of this song hit home, partially in its wave-like aesthetic, but also because so much of writing for me is like a chant, a rhythm in the repetition of words, of phrases. So the way the instrumentation bounces and wavers beneath the pleading vocals is fantastic: “All this time / With your heart in mind.”
Bon Iver “715 CREEKS” from 22, A Million
The first time I heard this one, I was spellbound. Justin Vernon’s voice, partially digitized like this, like it’s half-buried. Gorgeous. And the use of silence, of pause, is super inspiring too. What a tremendous reminder that while our voices carry weight, so do our silences, so does the absence of words.
alt-J “Fitzpleasure” from An Awesome Wave
The way this song slides in, whimsical with its “Tra-la-la” opening then into the harder press and finally relinquished to that angular melody. This is how I wanted the novel to travel, light combined with unexpected aggression, beautiful yet rough in turn. It’s a song that could ease the words out.
Broken Bells “Sailing to Nowhere” from Broken Bells
The haunting loop of the melody, and how it blends with the static waves, it’s a fantastic capture of the father in my novel sailing his pirate ship away from his family: “Sailing to nowhere / Vapor to float on / Still we hold on to the night.” This father holds on as we hold on to our kids, our grip forever tight.
Tom Waits “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” from Beautiful Maladies: The Island Years
Man, this song. It’s like growing up all over again. Not just the lyrics either, which are brutal, but Waits’ voice, that bramble and gravel and heart. This was a one-timer for me during drafting, used whenever I needed a sharp jab of how much shit kids have to go through. Any more frequency with this one and I’d be tears.
J. A. Tyler is the author of Only and Ever This and The Zoo, a Going (both from Dzanc Books). His fiction has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Diagram, Black Warrior Review, Fairy Tale Review, and The Brooklyn Rail among others. He lives in Colorado. For more, visit: www.jasonalantyler.com.