There is an emotional duality about the Jersey shore that I feel quite deeply. On the one hand it is a wonderful and thrilling region. A boisterous, magical place filled with sun and sand, cotton candy and summertime romances. On the other, especially in the off-season, the area makes me nostalgic and contemplative. Don’t get me wrong. I love this quiet period as well. This duality is expressed perfectly on The Deafening Colors new album Carousel Season.
The Deafening Colors are John Arthur who performed literally all the vocals and Cris Slotoroff on all the instruments. The two have lived all over New Jersey but the both grew up together outside Atlantic City. They have been creating music for over a decade under various names. What they have created here is a beautiful and poignant document of something almost everyone who lives in New Jersey can associate with.
The album beings with “Parkway South,” which is exactly how many summer beach day trips began in my family growing up an probably thousands of other families around New Jersey. It is immediately familiar. Right away there are gorgeous Beach Boy harmonies that will be a thread throughout the album. The imagery in lyrics like “tail lights shining in a dead night” is vivid. “Mary-Anne” has some great surf guitar and brings to mind those bittersweet summer flings that in the bottom of your heart you know will probably not end well. But, of course you jump in anyway even if you realize “she would be the best kind of disaster.”
“Diving Horse’s Ghost” references the not too-kind-to-animals attraction from of bygone Atlantic City. Layers of noise really standout on this track and the songs ends with a nice touch of psychedelica. With nostalgic vocals starting barely above a whisper “Jerry Ryan” the song’s chorus exudes joy while the “casinos might be closed but the kids are dancing to the music.” “Past Time” might be my favorite track with its 25 second guitar intro before the same chord joins a swirling wave of guitars. There is distortion and lots of style changes that make this an engaging listen. The last minute and a half is a wonderful jam. Closing song “Carousel Season” returns to the Garden State Parkway and is a bittersweet coda noting that the “carousel’s still spinning but it’s out of rings.”
Though created in Weehawken and touches on the economic rise and fall of Atlantic City, joy and heartbreak on the beaches of the Jersey Shore, and what happens when you leave your home for many years only to come back and see it with a new set of eyes, it explores emotions that could be felt anywhere. It transcends the borders of New Jersey and tackles universal themes. This is quite a remarkable achievement.
Cris and John answered a few questions for us below:
It is such a great name. What does Deafening Colors mean to you?
Cris Slotoroff: It has always seemed pretty natural to me. Apart from my being relatively certain I have some synesthetic tendencies in terms of perception, I like to think of our music painting familiar, but blurry/obscured images for listeners. That little bit of blurry disconnect when it comes to the music makes the name make sense to me.
John Arthur: Deafening Colors seems to me like a mixing up of the senses that you might experience in a dream-like state–a type of confusion that clarifies. Not sure our music captures the type of experience the name evokes for me, but there’s plenty of time for that–we don’t plan on stopping with this whole music-making thing.
Where in New Jersey did you grow up? Did your family spend a lot of summer days at the shore?
Cris: I grew up in Linwood, which is on the bay just about equidistant from Absecon Island (Atlantic City/Ventnor/Margate/Longport) and Ocean City. While it was maybe ten minutes to the beach as a kid, I think it was a neat perspective because the islands have a more transient population than the mainland towns. In Ocean City, for example, the population doubles or triples during the summer with everyone coming down to their summer homes, but even though I was only a few miles away, residents of my town were pretty much there for the long haul. My family didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time on the actual beach together, but I did by myself or with my friends. I worked on the boardwalk for awhile in Ocean City, and I picked up surfing as a kid and continue to do so as often as possible. As far as my family goes, any time I’m home, my sister is my usual beach companion! I’ll surf and she’ll hang out and relax.
The big takeaway here is that some of my most distinct memories of the beach as a kid came from August into September. I would be working on the boardwalk or walking in from the water, and as the weather cools down and school starts up, I would watch the town literally empty out in a more permanent way than it did on weekends during the summer. It’s a little melancholy and a little cool. I think I’m still working it all out now.
John: I grew up in Northfield, NJ, which is right next to Cris’s town, Linwood (they share a high school–Northfield, Linwood, Somer’s Point all feed into Mainland Regional). It’s about a 10 minute drive from both Atlantic City and Ocean City. When I was very young, we did spend many, many days at the beach. My parents both worked in casinos (and still do), so they had somewhat unorthodox work schedules–which was cool because we could go to the beach, say, on a random Tuesday when fewer people were around.
Did you listen to surf music as a kid?
Cris: Despite the way our music sounds, the answer here is “not really.” I remember hearing The Ventures and Dick Dale and all, but I was (and am) less into genre than feel, if that makes any sense.
John: The closest thing to surf music for me as a kid, I guess, was Weezer’s Blue Album, which I played on repeat throughout most of (I think?) fifth grade. I probably listened to that CD 1000 times. I still sometimes drive to work and sit in traffic and start thinking, “you take your car to work, I’ll take my board…” and then I remember, you know, I’m sitting in a car like everyone else. Other than that I don’t remember listening to anything with an overtly surf style.
Why did you decide to record a concept album about the Jersey Shore?
Cris: In a way, I think we’ve been trying to write this album for a very long time. If the cliche is “write what you know,” this is something we know. Both John and I moved to northern New Jersey for college and stayed around in various cities and towns, and though we both have a lot of family and friends who still live there, we have enough space and time at this point to feel comfortable look back on all of it and trying to capture what it feels like. The picture we’re trying to paint is neither entirely positive nor entirely negative. It’s home. At the end of the day, I love where I’m from very, very much. For such a strange and interesting place, though, there really isn’t much written about it, so I wanted to do my part to tell the story. The album is a narrative in a loose sense.
John: I’d have to credit Cris for this more than me–the first few songs were definitely spearheaded by him (if I remember correctly, they were “Diving Horse’s Ghost” and “Carousel Season”). After those two were done, we realized that we had the beginnings of something conceptual happening, so we just rolled with it. I kind of picture the whole project as a collection of short stories–kind of like Dubliners or Winesburg, Ohio, which both seem to me like books where the author is working out their own childhood experiences through the creation of art. Did we succeed? I don’t know. But I think, to me, that’s what we were going for. It also helps that me and Cris started playing music together when we were like fourteen or fifteen–a lot of our experiences growing up on the shore were shared experiences.
Did the songwriting come easy given you were familiar with the subject matter?
Cris: Yes and no. I think both John and I wanted this record to work even if you’ve never seen or heard of any of these places. I think anyone can relate to going home and seeing it change for better or for worse over time, but I think the biggest challenge was to touch on all of these people, places, and feelings and articulate them lyrically. In that sense, I think the music came a little easier than the lyrics did. Lyrically, “Diving Horse’s Ghost” was the first one, and once that was written, everything else thematically began to gel.
John: It felt very natural–whenever we were at a loss for lyrics we just sat there until we came up with something. Sometimes we would just play the rhythm part on acoustic guitar and try different things, sometimes we would listen to a recording of the idea of the song (Cris usually records some sketch of a song right when it comes to him, and then we work from that initial sketch, although sometimes it seems to me like the song comes to him almost fully formed, which is awesome). Anyway, we would sit there and just try different lines, different melodies, until something struck us. I remember the verses of “Mary-Anne” and all of “Jerry Ryan” came to us relatively quickly, and we do this weird thing sometimes where we finish each other’s phrases.
The album was recorded in your bedroom. How long did that take in all?
Cris: Well, it depends on where you’d like to set your starting point. This past winter, I went home for a week or so and recorded some of the initial tracks at my parents’ house, and then in March we started to pick things up here in Weehawken. John would come over and we’d be at it for hours on end each day until it sounded the way we wanted. Home recording is probably the most fun aspect of it for us. I love doing it that way – from setting up mics to playing the instruments to mixing and mastering – it’s also nice to brag a little and say we do it all ourselves.
John: Started in about winter of 2014 by Cris during a holiday break, I guess (though some of these songs existed in various stages of completion years ago). Finished by early June 2015. It was recorded in Cris’s bedroom in Weehawken after that initial flurry of creativity while visiting his parents.
What is it about the duality of the shore that makes it both exciting and at times filled with melancholy?
Cris: Like I said, during the summer you really can’t beat the area in terms of enjoyment. I love it. However, during the winter it can be so stark and dreary. It can literally feel empty – as though you’re the only one around and you have to wait for everyone else to come back.
John: Waves lapping at the shore are like the ultimate image that reminds us of our mortality, aren’t they? And I guess when we’re reminded of our mortality we do one of two things: We get sad/nostalgic/wistful, or we go crazy and have as much fun as we can all at once.
Atlantic City is going through a transitional period. What do you think needs to be done to entice people back?
Cris: This “transitional period” you speak of may be going on forty years by some definitions, so if I had the answer to that question, I’d be a very wealthy man!
John: With casinos popping up in all of our neighboring states and now potentially in north Jersey, the only thing that I think can entice people back is something different than they can experience anywhere else–the beach is great but unfortunately beach weather lasts three or four months in New Jersey, and the shore is lined with other beach resorts that offer a variety of attractions. It seems the decline in revenues at some AC casinos and the closing of casinos is simple supply/demand at work–the demand is probably the same, but there are so many casinos that are so much closer to the NYC and Philadelphia metro areas.
Five words to describe what the Jersey Shore means to you?
Cris: Family, friends, surfing, traffic, home.
John: Love, home, beauty, stark, life
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