art by Joe Boruchow

Two Faces and a Vase

It wasn't until I was finished studying at university that I fully understood the limits of pains and joys that an obsession with music can bring. I understood the pains (and joys I guess) of getting some degrees. It isn't that I hadn't been obsessed with music. I just hadn't pushed the obsession to its limits.

I moved to Philadelphia. I went to a piano warehouse in New Jersey run by two guys who acted like they also ran the used car lot around the corner. Maybe that's how I went away the owner of a Hyundai--I didn't even know they made pianos--a 6-foot grand with the heaviest keys of any piano I've played. Practice would be weight-training.                 

The big piano got settled, and soon enough, I had begun the practice regimen I should've--but didn't have in college. I started learning the last piece of classical music I had attempted before switching piano teachers, before starting a decade-long thing with jazz. It was a Beethoven sonata.

Philadelphia was great. I rode my bike everywhere. I went to the art museum a lot. I was still okay with my roommates, and we made music all of the time. For a couple of college years, Dane and I did this whole band-incest type thing. I played accordion in Dane's folky band, and Dane played bass in my poppy band, and we had a experimental jazz trio with Kirk, (the drummer from my pop band). And now, we just weren't actually doing anything with any bands. Except we played in our housemate, Liz's band.

We were not creatively at a loss because the songs kept coming, but maybe organizationally we were totally gone. I think Liz suggested we just have one band. We found a bassist, this guy who I had played literally one jazz gig with. We made a list of band names on the white board in our kitchen, and erased the worst ones every time it got too crowded. We ended up with My Son Bison. It's like a three-word poem, that isn't catchy, has to be explained when said, and is probably one of the stranger decisions we've made as a band.

Finding a name is one thing. Figuring out what our sound was going to be was an entirely different challenge. Without choice, we sounded like an indie folk band. We sounded like the Beach Boys, and Fleet Foxes, and maybe Bright Eyes sometimes. But we also sounded like country, salsa, jams, and the jazz kept slipping out. You are what you eat, but you also are what your parents ate. My parents are Colombian immigrants, my mom's parents are from Argentina; Dane is of Basque and Filipino, so that stuff probably sneaks in too.

After an EP we recorded in Dane's room and two singles we recorded in DC that sounded like rock and roll, it was clear to us that our first LP had to be something different. None of our previous recordings really captured what our rehearsals sounded like. I pitched making a purely acoustic album. Dane was entirely for it. I could tell he was excited to make something in a studio using the instruments we rehearse on: grand piano, acoustic guitars, upright bass.

We narrowed the songs down to the once that fit together--the instrumental limitations helped us choose. I think the only way to justify recording an album in whatever you call the present era is to be able to point to the connective tissue. I think I can. The instrumentation is probably the most superficial connection. Then the harmonic stuff--I hear myself playing 4ths and 5ths everywhere. I'm so modern. The song forms are either these short joke-like things or these mammoths designed for mesmerizing.  There is this Latin thing too, the result of the stereo in my mom's minivan. Maybe Spanish on a couple of tracks, but really the sounds are from Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico on the others. And the classical sounds: big and orchestral like Ravel's Bolero, loopy and layered like Reich, and a Chopin waltz. All of that through the filter of jazz musicians playing mathematical pop music. I swear to god it's accessible. I swear to god.

Lyrically the songs are dense and raw. About communicating with the girl you love, being in a new place, the story of a friend who crossed the entire United States picking up garbage--generally being lost and being found. Saying any of my songs are about anything else would probably be lying. They are about me. Dane's songs are about me too. No. They are probably about him. Or I don't know.

We started recording the album in July of 2014. We had finished recording and started mixing in February of 2015. And then the sucker punch. Our whole lunch. Buried in the sandbox. Something happened and the record was lost. 

I wrote a song. (It won't be on the album.)

Life is Hell”

I know all of these songs.
I’m showing them off. I’ve heard them a million times.
Why should I show them the world
as if each one could have a life.

For the fame nor for the glory.
I doubt there is either in these tapeless times.

To restore the data ghosts.
Insert a joke about cyber crimes.

Playing Prussian roulette,
Hammer to the head of portraiture in pastel.
Art imitates life by failing to see the light that life is hell.
Life is hell.

We spent three weeks playing frustrated gigs and rehearsing with tension in our mouths. Then we went back into the studio, fueled by the melodramatic grief we probably needed for some of our darker tunes, and pushing ourselves to take the fun stuff to its limits

Since we first started work on it, my abuelita and my cat died. Dane and Kirk each lost grandmother's and pets too. Nick got married, bought a house, and started grad school. (Yay.) The rest of us quit jobs, got new jobs, or went back to the jobs we had quit. And as exhausting and as painful as it felt at times, when I listen to these songs, I know the art we made is worth it.

- Joel


Dane Galloway - vocals, acoustic guitars, mandolin
Joel Sephy Gleiser - vocals, piano/prepared piano, clarinet
Nick Krolak - upright bass
Kirk Kubicek - drums, glockenspiel, other percussion

Koofreh Umoren - trumpet
Noah Hocker - trumpet
Mitch Sibson - trombone
Alex Ariff - alto saxophone
Peter Oswald - cello
Liz Ciavolino - harp

Engineered, mixed, and mastered by Ron DiSilvestro

Album art: "Conversation" by Joe Boruchow