The music Andy Cabic makes as Vetiver is full of delicate fervor. Up On High, his first new album in four years, adds another luminous chapter to a body of work marked by its quiet, introspective aura.
Cabic’s melodies unfold like blossoms opening to the caress of sunlight, while his poetic lyrics embrace the delicate gap between infatuation and passion, the tentative space between thought and expression that lovers are all familiar with. The songs have a dreamlike quality, enhanced by Cabic’s subtle acoustic fingerpicking and the reserved rhythms of drummer Josh Adams and Gabe Noel’s bass.
“I was a bit shy and self conscious when I began performing,” Cabic said from his home in Richmond, California. “That’s why I chose Vetiver as a band name. I wanted an umbrella for my ideas. Even though I write all the songs, I’ve never performed solo. I always collaborated with other musicians, so it seemed better to have a word people could identify with, rather than my name. I was working at Aardvark Books when I started out and a co-worker always wore vetiver. It’s a subtle scent, but it filled up the room. I looked into its origins and decided to call my music that.”
Up On High comes four years after Cabic’s last album, Complete Strangers, and continues playing with the themes of unfulfilled relationships and one-sided love affairs. Even happier songs like “Swaying,” an ode to the dizzying rush of love’s rapture buoyed along by Cabic’s chiming acoustic guitar, and “Lost (In Your Eyes),” a celebration of seduction featuring Cabic’s whispered vocal and the ambient twang of an electric guitar, have a hint of melancholy in their delivery.
“That quality is in a lot of the songs, for sure, but it’s tempered with hopefulness,” he said. “The feeling is similar to [his last album] Complete Strangers in some ways. The tempos are measured and I worked with the same rhythm section and Tom Monahan, my longtime producer. But last time I structured the songs on electric guitar and had the songs almost finished before I had other players come in to play.
“This time, I wrote the songs on acoustic guitar. I had to move twice before we landed in Richmond, and all my equipment was in boxes, so it disrupted my writing routine. Through all the changes, I did keep my acoustic guitar nearby, so I took a more basic approach when it came to recording. Tom (Monahan) and I rented a house out in the desert and played the basic tracks live, before going back to Tom’s studio to layer in the harmony voices and some sparse overdubs. Tom’s a sonic master and always knows the right players to use to get the sounds we’re after. It took me back to the way I made my first albums.
“Lyrically, I just riff on the melody and the tone that the music is taking. They’re all autobiographical in a sense, but there’s no firm line between something that happened and what I write about it. I go beyond my own emotions and think about what the words might mean to other people. I enjoy songs that have a variety of things going on. I like to balance dreams of fulfillment, with the reality of a situation, without going too deep into hopelessness.
“I have a penchant for chord progressions that conjure up a hint of sadness. The limits of my own voice, and my own interior state, all contribute to that tendency in my music. I want to accomplish more with less, so that doesn’t leave a lot of space for verbiage or extra notes. If a song has a melancholy lilt to it, I like to have a hooky melody or I’ll use a bright sunny chorus against an unhappy verse. I like lyrics and melodies that straddle different subjectivities.
“I listen to a lot of samba, so ‘Hold Tight’ uses Brazilian music as a touchstone. It’s my homage to the music of Jorge Ben, with a bit of saudade in the arrangement. ‘Up On High’ is the oldest song on the album. I had booked some studio time a while back and gave it a go with some different people, but it didn’t click. It took a long journey to find its tone and pace, to become a song that feels very much like me, that’s very familiar to me. It finally allowed me to sink into my own style, in all its fullness.”
Up On High was released last month and Cabic is looking forward to performing the songs live. “I haven’t played any of these for an audience yet. I put together a new band to play with me and it doesn’t include anyone that’s on the record, so the songs will be a bit louder, and sound a bit different than on the album. We’ll also be pulling songs from a bunch of older releases. We’ll play the same arrangements, but you have to let the live show be what it wants to be. Some of the acoustic songs may be electric live and there will be some rocking out, and a bit of jamming, but not much more than just a bit. Like the lyrics, I like the music to reveal and conceal at the same time. I like to let the songs vibrate. I don’t want to tie them down, or spell everything out, musically or lyrically.”