Chris L. Terry wrote of the book:
“Tobias Carroll has crafted a touching, quietly devastating novel about the triumphs and tragedies of chasing your dreams with your friends. From embattled architects, to punk rock innovators and unlikely web scammers, I’ll never forget the layered characters in Ex-Members or the singular marks that they leave on their forgotten corner of northwest Jersey.”
Set across several decades in and around a small New Jersey town, my novel Ex-Members follows the shifting fortunes of several characters over the years. It’s no surprise, then, that this playlist will be a bit heavy on the music of the Garden State. It’s also a touch melancholy, with some parts you can mosh to — just like Ex-Members.
Jónsi & Alex, “Boy 1904”
Ex-Members has its origins in a couple of different moments, experiences, and conversations — but one of the most influential ones was a concert by Jónsi & Alex held at a church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan many years ago. While there, I briefly had a thought about a man having an ecstatic experience during a similar concert, one that took him outside of time and space for a split second — and which prefigured his death. That ended up making its way into one strand of the opening section of the novel; the other, in which punk-turned-composer Dean Polis conducts a performance of one of his compositions, echoed that concert in its setting.
I borrowed the title of the first part of Ex-Members from a song by Oxford Collapse — one that’s a personal favorite of mine. It seemed only fitting to add this song here; if I continue in this theme, perhaps there’ll be a chapter in a future novel called “Spike of Bensonhurst.” (Also! You should see see Oxford Collapse drummer Dan Fetherston’s documentary We Were Famous, You Don’t Remember: The Embarrassment, because it is fantastic.)
J Dilla, “Lightworks”
The second section of Ex-Members traces one man’s attempt to develop a board game amidst his fraying mental health. I can’t think of too many songs focused around board games, so in lieu of that, I’m adding this J Dilla song for two reasons. One, it’s very good; two, the very retro sound of it seems eminently appropriate for the late-70s/early-80s setting of this section.
The Feelies, “The Last Roundup”
There’s a whole group of artists with ties to The Feelies who tap into something I like to think of as “the Jersey pastoral.” The Feelies’ The Good Earth is emblematic of this, and for a section in the novel in which characters talk about the woods and ponder the landscape in the 1980s, this particular song seemed very fitting.
Lifetime, “Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey”
The longest part of Ex-Members is an oral history of a fictional punk band, The Alphanumeric Murders. And since we’re talking about Jersey bands with their roots in punk, I wanted to include a couple of favorite songs from bands I saw and heard a lot of during my formative years. Lifetime looms pretty large in my personal musical canon; they played the first punk show I ever attended, at Middlesex Community College, and were a reliably fantastic group throughout their existence as a band. Their subsequent projects have also been terrific; I’m reminded that one of those bands, Paint It Black, has a new album due out later this year.
Another great band I got to watch evolve over the course of several years — and one who, like Lifetime, played a memorable last show. This song was, I believe, one of the final songs they recorded as a band; it pointed to another evolution of their sound.
Dahlia Seed, “Punch and Get Out”
The third and final stop in the “Tobias Carroll on NJ Punk in the 1990s” tour brings us to Dahlia Seed, whose album Survived By opens with this song — which remains at or near the top of my all-time favorite side one/track ones.
Unwound, “We Invent You”
I was something of a latecomer to Unwound, which may be because none of their albums clicked for me quite as well as their swan song, Leaves Turn Inside You. In the fifth part of Ex-Members, a man named Will Morgan goes to see a band play; as I imagined their sound, I was listening to a lot of this album. Make of that what you will.
The Narrator, “Breaking the Turtle”
At the concert in question, Will Morgan has his glasses forcibly removed from his face by an aggressive crowdsurfer. This was inspired somewhat by the time I had my glasses forcibly removed from my face by an aggressive crowdsurfer — in this case, at the final show of the sorely missed Chicago postpunk band The Narrator. It was a fun night, even if I ended up walking around for the rest of the evening holding a lens up to my eye in what a friend dubbed the “handicle.” (Part hand, part monocle.)
Lichens, “Kirlian Auras”
Part six of the novel consists of two interviews with Dean Polis, each done at a very different point with respect to his relationship to music. (For anyone with back issues of Eventide, the zine I edited in the 1990s, still around, there are a couple of nods to that period in this part.) I couldn’t think of much music that would accurately evoke multiple interviews, so I opted for a song by a musician who started out playing in punk bands and has more recently headed into the ambient/drone space, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe aka Lichens.
dälek, “Hold Tight”
In the seventh part of Ex-Members, Åsa Morgan makes her way around the tri-state area — and the country — over the course of several years. I wanted something a bit more up-tempo to evoke this section; dälek’s “Hold Tight” felt like a good fit. And though it isn’t from an album released on the label in question, I did want to have at least one alumnus of Gern Blandsten Records represented here.
Sparklehorse, “More Yellow Birds”
The penultimate section of Ex-Members follows Virgil Carey, one of the book’s central characters, as he holes up in his hometown and records a series of cassettes in which he recounts the ways he did a close friend of his wrong — and why. It’s a long litany of sad scenes; to accompany it, I chose one of the two or three saddest songs I know. (Seriously, the line about the pony breaks my heart every time I hear it.) if Virgil is anything like me — and, as his author, I can confirm that he is — he likely spent a lot of time being sad listening to this song and making himself even sadder.
Weakerthans, “Left & Leaving”
I borrowed the title of the last section of Ex-Members from a Weakerthans album, so it seems fitting to give them the last spot on here. This is a bit more hopeful in tone than the final section of the novel, which contains one of the more unpleasant things I’ve ever done to a character, though they weren’t aware of it as it happened.
also at Largehearted Boy: