When last we left our hero Andrew Jansen, two years ago, things were coming up roses. The Minneapolis songwriter had just released another well-received record with his smudged-pop project Dial-Up, which he formed with his wife Ailia and other longtime friends. Andrew and Ailia were in the process of packing up their belongings and baby daughter to make a new life in California's Bay Area, where Ailia would be attending grad school and Andrew would be free to get blissed out on the California sunlight in between attending to dad duties.
“Long story short, I had always just wanted to live there,” Jansen explains, brushing back strands of hair taken by the Powderhorn Park breeze. “Ever since I was little, and, you know, you hear about the '60s or whatever.”
Rarely is a Minnesotan as well-suited to the Bay Area’s vibe as Jansen. His laconic, affable nature and mild hippie affectations are a perfect match for the northern California stereotype from a Midwestern lens. Naturally, the free-spirited Jansen fell head over heels for the geographic magic of the place, spending his free hours up in the hills overlooking his Oakland home, surveying the bridge and the golden city of San Francisco across the water.
“The weather is like 72 every day, I totally lost the whole winter ugh. I didn’t get seasonal depression for two straight years,” Jansen says, with his ever-present smile thinning slightly. “I don’t know if you should write that, because it’s gonna make people want to move there, and they just shouldn’t.”
That sentiment doesn’t come from Jansen’s need to jealously guard his secret garden, but rather, from a place of caution. Now separated and back in Minneapolis as a single dad, Andrew’s seen the California dream’s costs and seems elated to be home, where, somewhat ironically, he’s free to live life at a slower pace. The cost of living in the Bay Area has skyrocketed, even in Oakland, and Jansen says it was tough to make ends meet and find time to stay creative. He had originally hoped to make that “moved to California” album within the first year there, but the hustle left him a small window, even for a musician whose work is largely a solo, bedroom-crafted enterprise.
“A lot of it was done at night at first, but then I realized that my ears are kind of shot at night,” Jansen says. “So I started dropping my daughter off at school and doing morning [recording], and then doing work.”
In addition to the usual parade of service industry jobs favored by musicians everywhere, Jansen did some work from home in the tech sector, spending hours in front of a computer adding metadata tags to commercial music tracks, the kind of stuff you might hear in the background of a TV ad or piped in at a retail outlet. It was Andrew’s job to help label the songs for further sorting, plugging in tags like “Wistful” and “Serene” as quickly as possible.
“Listening to all of that commercial music actually made me think,” Jansen says. “Some of those songs are awful, but some of those songs, the way that they were built, made sense to me.”
As a musician with a taste for all things glitch and noisy, Andrew found new inspiration in the idea of creating a song that was melodically gratifying from start to finish, and began writing after a breakthrough moment on a walk with his three year old daughter, Gray.
“It was really bright, but she didn’t know the word ‘bright’ yet, so she said ‘loud sun’,” Jansen tells, “Like ‘The sun is loud dad,’ and that was it.”
The phrase came to characterize Jansen’s love of the California climate and anchored his new songwriting project with a strong theme. He began working in earnest, teaming up with Bay Area musicians Matthew Bedrosian and Stephen Johnsrude to flesh out some additional parts. But rather than forming a band with them as he would have in the past, Jansen held this project closer to his chest. Retaining sole authorship was important to him this time out and, perhaps, so was the cathartic nature of solo recording at home.
“I think it helped me not be a psychopath. I don’t know how normal people just raise a kid,” Jansen says of his free time in his makeshift studio. "I guess that makes sense, people play basketball, you gotta have something. These songs were necessary. Moving’s hard, having a kid can be hard, but in the end the music makes you feel good.”
The resulting album (((Loud))), credited to Loud Sun/Andrew Jansen, is far more lush and organic than anything the songwriter had released in his time with Dial-Up. In stark contrast to that outfit's remote, synth-heavy final album Cold Rinse, (((Loud))) is charming and immediate, with broad swathes of psych and a grounding in the classic songcraft of the sixties bands that inspired Jansen's love for California.
"Running Away" feels like bittersweet summer love incarnate, skipping forward joyfully with a wordless sing-song hook and climaxing with a guitar interlude that rises like eyes toward the stars. "Wayes" plays with the hippie-soul groove of Joe Cocker, twisting to suit Jansen's tender, vulnerable voice and telling a story of romantic anxiety that feels all too lived-in. Lead single "Gold Again," posted below, should be emotionally resonant for anyone who's ever fallen head over heels for California's irresistible charms, with Jansen crooning hazily about sunlight like a stoned teen who just stepped off the Greyhound two hours ago."Moving there, I knew I had this kind of music in me, but I just kind of had to go there to finish it," Jansen says. "I don’t know why things work like that, but I had always wanted to live in California, make a California record, and that’s what I did."
Rather than expressing bitterness or regret about his return to Minnesota, Andrew seems delighted to be back, relishing the uptick in free time by spending more time with his daughter and friends. He's found a new group of Minneapolis musicians to perform with, but intends to keep Loud Sun as more or less a solo project, enjoying the musical polyamory of working with a shifting ensemble of players immensely. While he may have had to move to California to write the album, Jansen seems just as certain that he had to return to release it. This is home, after all, with a charm all its own, especially on an exquisitely temperate summer evening like this one.
"It’s so good to be back here where I can implement," Jansen says. "What would I do with this there? I wouldn’t even have to time to get these musicians together, to practice ... I feel gold again, here, and it feels good."
Loud Sun/Andrew Jansen
With: The Awful Truth.
When: 10 p.m. Sept. 12.
Tickets: $8-$10. More info here.