Jason Vitelli presents Head Above Tide
Blending dramatic arrangements, folk sentiment and audiophile production values, NYC artist Jason Vitelli presents Head Above Tide. On his third full-length release, striking lyrical poetics highlight the suite of 14 songs, which sparkle with musical immediacy, and upon repeated listening, reveal an expansive emotional landscape.
“These songs coalesced around the idea of facing adversity and overcoming obstacles,” says Jason. “Over the years I’ve resolved my angst and became more sympathetic.” Romantic relationships, family, literature, fantasy and the culture surrounding him have become his personal points of reference in these stories.
What inspires Jason are characters in circumstances far different than his own, yet sharing a common thread of humility. For his song “Labyrinthine,” the pointed lyrics evoke the protagonist in the William Styron novel Sophie’s Choice, with driving string lines and tumultuous rhythm propelling her toward certain oblivion. The call and response harmonies in “Three Marionettes” portray the hardships endured by child refugees in the Second Sudanese Civil War; their oppression a symbol of the boundlessness of human cruelty. “In a greater sense, none of us can emerge out of any trauma unscathed,” he notes.
For “The Persecuted,” he references recent history when the New York State Supreme Court validated marriage equality. “When you are going through a difficult moment, it helps to realize that persecuted people, even in the throes of despair, have found ways to overcome their struggles,” he says. With the evocative “Autumn Hymn,” Jason imagines echoes of Charles Ives and the sound of a marching band disappearing into the dusk, a metaphor to mirror the passing parade of life.
Born and raised in the village of Dix Hills, Long Island, Jason recalls his first imaginative instincts as a child. “I was interested in creating something from nothing, and sharing it with other people. I felt like an outsider to some degree; introverted and intrigued by intricacy.” After attending Binghamton University for Music Composition and studying film scoring at NYU, he apprenticed with acclaimed TV composer Gary Pozner and subsequently wrote music for various short films, documentaries and mixed media projects. Soon however, Jason felt the urge to shift his focus to live performance, opting to reinvent himself as a singer-songwriter.
Uniting lyrics and his rich baritone with a musical language that came so naturally to him opened up new possibilities. “Though I loved composing for film because of the visual component, I was sitting in front of a computer all of the time. When I did my first open mic as a performer I was hooked – I wanted to commune with an audience directly.”
New York City provided plenty of opportunities in historic venues like The Bitter End, Café Wha? and Kenny’s Castaways. With his facility as an instrumentalist, Jason also joined various aggregates as a sideman, and for the experience of performing in a public space would be drawn to often play music in the subways. In 2009, he self-produced his full length debut No Photographs and overdubbed most of the parts on his own. Producer and engineer Barry Diament was so intrigued by the work that he produced a live direct-to-stereo recording of Jason on his boutique label, Soundkeeper Recordings. The next album, Confluence, brought his skills as a bandleader and live performer to the fore. For the new album, Jason employs a combination of traditional overdubbing techniques and live stereo tracking. “I want the musicians reacting to each other in real time as much as possible,” he says. “Often the interaction is what makes something distinctive and alive.”
Integrating live performances with engrossing storytelling, Head Above Tide confirms Jason’s commitment to exploring the human condition through song. “The reason that we love film and art is that they bring us out of ourselves, show us someone else’s reality, and in doing so, allow us to understand ourselves more through the process,” he says. “It is my goal to help people open their eyes to a broader horizon. As hard as life can be, grace and compassion will always keep our heads above the rising tide.”