An Ode to otis

I’ve been quiet on this blog lately. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything here. That’s not really for any particular reason other than the fact that I’ve been a little bit lazy. But there is also another reason. The last few weeks in particular have been filled with anticipation in my apartment. That’s because my brother, Sam, who some of you may already know as maSHerman, has been campaigning his debut album, otis. And honestly, it’s the only thing I’ve really wanted to write about. But I knew that I had to wait until today to do that.

That’s because this past Friday, otis was finally released and is now available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music or any other music streaming service you might subscribe to. I could go on and on about how beautifully written and produced this record is, but instead, this piece is going to be more about what my experience has been watching it all come together.

otis is a relationship album in every sense of the term. It’s a true story that he lived through, and it transformed the way he views life, love, faith and fate. I’m not going to get into the intricate details of that story here because it’s not mine to tell. Sam has found another way to do that himself, and that will be shared with you some time this week. But suffice to say, otis is an album that has literally taken years to come together.

It was some time early last year that Sam shared with me a complete track list of instrumentals consisting of what otis was intended to be. He walked me through the concepts behind each song. Originally, otis was essentially going to be a recreation of this relationship. It was going to be very narrative-heavy and some of his production choices were purposefully jarring to represent individual moments, like the night they broke up for instance. The idea for the overall concept of the album was that he was going to take these two characters and trap them on an album together. One character was going to be this ideal and unrealistically perfect female. The other would be the role that he felt he played in this relationship: an obsessive, overbearing male.

Sam spent a lot of time and energy working towards creating that version of otis. He got as far as releasing two songs last year that were originally supposed to be album cuts. You might know them as Signals and Facetime. Those two songs are still availble to listen to on the streamers, and they provide a great insight into what otis came very close to sounding like. But as he continued to try and create this angsty, true-to-life recreation of the story, he began to feel as though he was missing the mark.

For one thing, it seemed from my perspective that trying to get in the headspace of transcribing the more difficult experiences he went through in and after this relationship was not doing him any favors in terms of his mental health. I mean, he was actively trying to relive traumatic memories, which is not something I would recommend to anyone. But I understood why he was doing it from an artistic perspective. More importantly though, he came to the realization that he was writing this album with the wrong approach.

Sam’s thought process as it relates to the story of this relationship had matured over time. He had found solace in music and in this wonderful community of artists that he surrounds himself with. He was in a better place, even if he wasn’t free from the attachment that he still felt to this person he was writing about. Frankly, he felt like the whole vibe of this album was wrong. In fact, he felt like an idiot for approaching it that way.

That’s when he wrote the song Stupid Stupid, another track which is currently available to stream. This marked the official turning point in the development of otis. It was right around this time that Sam took that original playlist of instrumentals – which I might add also had full lyric sheets attached to them – and scrapped the whole damn thing.

He had his new direction. He knew how he wanted to approach this album and was resolute in the idea that he was finally going to do this the right way. He just needed that first song to get the ball rolling. But I don’t think either of us would have guessed that it would have been something that happened in my life that would have accomplished that.

It was this past January. I was beaming with excitement because a girl I’m very close to was coming back to Vancouver to visit for the first time since she had left town to go travel across Europe. I hadn’t seen her since we had taken a trip to Paris together in September. But we were having communication issues. To make a long story short, I assumed that she would be staying with me that week. So when she told me the day she was to arrive that she was actually going to be staying at her friend’s place, I was dismayed and confused. There was clearly something she needed to tell me, but for whatever reason she couldn’t bring herself to let me know what was going on in her head.

I vented about this to Sam for about an hour. Needless to say, he related heavily to the concept. Eventually, I decided to go out and take a walk to clear my mind. I came back about 45 minutes later to find Sam in the living room with his guitar in hand. He told me he had just written a song and asked if he could play it for me. And that’s when I heard this hook for the first time:

Why can’t you just talk to me?
What are you scared of?
Is there something you’re hiding that you just can’t get rid of?
Where do you go?
You don’t have to leave me alone
You’re welcome in my heart and in my home
But you gotta talk to me

talk to me

He had a verse to go with it. Within minutes, he had his studio set up to record and started laying it down. And to my delight, he invited me to write a verse of my own. So I did. And that, ladies and germs, is how talk to me became the first song that was married to the otis track list. It would eventually be the first official single for the album, complete with music video and everything. It was after that song was written and recorded that things began to snowball creatively.

Over the course of the next few months, otis started coming together bit by bit. His music family, NYHLA Records, had a group writing session not long after which helped him add to his track list. That was the night that am i enough materialized after Sam got into a room with Micah Berlow, a magnificent guitarist for the band Ghulo, as well as uber-talented singer/songwriter and eventual NYHLA signee, Biawanna. The combination of Micah’s guitar with Biawanna’s beautifully written hook helped to make that track an obvious lock for the album, and it too would become a single.

When I call you, I try out a joke, say, “Hi, is this the girlfriend store?”
You say my tired voice might just be the cutest thing that you ever heard before
You say you love me and you wish I was beneath you
I said I kinda am, that’s why I don’t believe you
Am I ruinous?
Why am I like this?

am i enough

I was in the room for the writing process on most of the songs on this album, which is something I will always remember. Make no mistake, I believe my role in the development of this album is a relatively small one, but there are moments throughout this project that have my fingerprints on them, and that is such a cool thing for me to experience.

I particularly remember being present for the writing session for caught, which was a song designed to be a nod sonically to the days Sam and I would listen to tons of pop punk music. If you hear blink-182 type instrumentation and harmonies on that track, I assure you that’s no accident.

You know, it’s hard to give me stage fright since I sing and play guitar
But now that I got what I wanted I’m the dog that caught the car

caught

There were also days I would come home from work to find Sam putting the finishing touches on a new song. Listening to otis, part one for the first time was eye-opening. That song is literally the perfect intro track because it encapsualtes the thesis of the album in a delightfully creative way.

I hate these boys who sing about girls and make us feel bad for them
I hate these boys who sing about girls like “Oooh, she the one”
I hate these boys who sing about girls and say, “This woman is my world”
Cause they’re all trash and they’re all wrong, except for me

otis, part one

otis, part two might be the most enjoyable listen on the entire project. It’s a delightful country bumpkin love song that Sam wrote and recorded on Valentine’s Day. Before he had that song on the track list, I remember him joking about how he had somehow neglected to write an actual love song on this album about love. Well this track checked that box and then some.

You’re my favorite album of all time
I can’t believe you were mine
I hope you know that my love runs deeper than my experience with signs
I could listen to you talk about slugs and mushrooms every day
I think your art’s as cool as your taste and your brilliant mind
Also, you’re fine

otis, part two

I think the song that really put this whole thing over the top for me was the night that I came home and was treated to the song limerent for the first time. Don’t get me wrong. I had been thoroughly pleased by everything he had created until that point, and I already knew that this album was going to be a hit. But limerent is just so goddamn impressive. It moved me to my core. The guitar riff is one of my favorites on the entire album, and Sam also provides arguably his best vocal performance of the record on that track.

O my love, get out of my sight
No matter where you’re always there to flash before my eyes
I try to make your bed somewhere outside my head
And let you go, but we both know you’ll find a way back in

limerent

The hardest slot on the project for him to fill was easily Track 9. At one point the song that filled that space was a whole ass rap song called music is tight. When Sam decided that wasn’t appropriate, he wrote a song called ttyl, which was designed to be upbeat and served the purpose of tying a nice, happy bow around this whole story. It was a good song, but the problem was that it didn’t feel like an authentic representation of what he felt.

It wasn’t until Joan Carver – one of Vancouver’s best-kept secrets – played a beautiful guitar melody that Sam knew he had the direction for what Track 9 should sound like. And out of that instrumental, camellia was born. It’s a song that more accurately represents his feelings, and it may be my favourite song on the project. In my mind, it’s a perfect song.

There’s a beauty in the gray I feel
That’s why I live where it rains all year
No, I’ll release you in the summer
And appreciate the colour
I’ll release you in the summer

camellia

There’s really only one song left that I feel like I need to talk about here, and I purposely saved it for last. It’s also the last song on the album, although technically, it was the first one to be written. Last month on this blog, I wrote a detailed piece about my dad and the devastating circumstances surrounding the last year of his life. About a year ago, I was having some freaky experiences that caused me to allow myself to believe it was possible that my dad was trying to communicate with me from the beyond somehow. So I wrote a song about it.

I took that song to Sam, and he liked it enough that he wanted to help me refine it. So he and I sat down and retooled the lyric sheet. He put an acoustic guitar instrumental behind my vocals, and bam, we had a song called legacy. We would later rewrite the song again to remove all negative language from it, and I am so proud of the finished product. It was Sam’s idea to rebrand the song as legacy, by max and that is an enormous honour. I’m so happy this song is out in the world. It may not be a part of the relationship story behind otis, but it fits the theme of closure.

If you haven’t listened to otis yet, you really need to. It is a masterpiece. I may have a biased opinion, but I promise you I’m not lying. The songwriting is what carries the project from start to finish, and if there’s one thing that you can automatically rely on with any maSHerman project, the production value is outstanding. I am so fucking proud of my brother for the hard work and care that he put into this record. He’s only getting started, folks. So why not get aboard the maSHerman train now? You’re gonna be in for a wild ride. The future starts now.

Listen to otis:
http://smarturl.it/otis

One thought on “An Ode to otis

  1. Thanks for your “liner notes”. So interesting to get some insight into how this beautiful piece of art got birthed. I can’t get the song Limerent out of my head. Brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

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