Bora York's Chris Bartels: If I had stuck with folk rock, I would've been settling

Bora York's Chris Bartels: If I had stuck with folk rock, I would've been settling
Photo by Jon Wise

As many artists before that have set out to reinvent themselves, Chris Bartels, too, has turned his music aesthetic inside out for his new project, Bora York. The new band has Bartels including his wife, Rebekah, and a few other artists collaborating on a new sound that has built on Chris' former musical life -- that of a folk musician. Bora York's new album, Dreaming Free, has the band claiming the taste of synth pop, while pulling in the gentle and zen feel of ambient rock.

Gimme Noise spoke with Chris before the band's album release at the Triple Rock on Friday about his evolution in sound. 

See also:
Chris Bartels talks Morning's Gold and DIY recording

Band members: Chris Bartels, Rebekah Bartels, Charlie Wirth, Brian Seidel, Bjorn Nilsen, Jamie Kauppi

Gimme Noise: Chris, you had a previous project before Bora York. Why did you decide to pursue this new project?

Chris Bartels: Bora York actually started as a follow-up to my previous project. I started writing songs for a full-length folk album, and during the writing process, the entire project drastically changed style. I think I just wasn't very satisfied with where the new songs were headed and how they sounded, and I eventually decided to stop holding back style-wise and started adding more synth-driven, dancier elements to the songs. So it was an unintentional, gradual transition.

GN: Do you feel it was too different than your solo stuff?

CB: Yeah, I remember one day as I was listening to the songs I had so far, I was sort of freaking out. Most of the songs I actually liked were far from the original intended style, and at the time I was still not committed to completely changing the project and starting a new band name and all that. It wasn't until I made the commitment to let loose creatively, and just go with what felt right with the songs, that I began to get excited about the songs and believe in the project.

GN: Do you feel Bora York is where you're headed, or are you still writing solo stuff?

CB: Yes, and yes. Bora York is absolutely my favorite project right now, and the one that I'm investing the most time and effort into. I do, however, have a number of new solo songs written as well, though they too could turn out quite different from the Morning's Gold sound. But that's on the backburner for now. I don't know when I'll get to that. I think I just have a problem - I can never stick to one thing! I always have to be starting new projects and playing around with styles I haven't worked with in the past.  Which has its ups and downs I guess.

But I definitely plan on sticking with Bora York, and I've already started writing new songs and tracking rough demos for new material. Plus we have a lot of fun as a band and we all work really well together, so it'll be fun to have the rest of the band more involved in the writing process with new songs.

GN: What's the meaning behind the album name Dreaming Free?

CB: Dreaming Free is taken from the last song on the album, the title track. Musically, it's very mellow compared to the rest of the album, but I felt like the lyrics and the overall feel of the song most appropriately encompasses the album as a whole.

The song is about exactly that: dreaming free, and not settling for less than what could be -- in whatever your passions in life are. It's about being hopeful and striving for something greater than you can imagine, and chasing that dream. Though it's not a concept album or anything, this is sort of a theme that shows up from time to time throughout the songs.

I don't know what this album would look like now if I had forced myself to stick with the folk sound, but looking back on it now, I really think that would've been settling for less. It was a rough, slow process conceding to a completely different sound (I ended up throwing more than 20 songs out the window), but it was well worth it in the end. So it's interesting how that worked out - the actual writing process was a tangible picture of this album's overall theme.
GN: What influenced the writing and making of this album?

CB: Musically, influence was basically a blend of what I had been listening to at the time. It's sort of all over the place. M83, Washed Out, Toro y Moi, Beach House, Youth Lagoon, Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, Mint Julep, Observer Drift, Peter Wolf Crier, The Radio Dept., Night Moves, and more. I guess it seems like I'm pretty much just listing off some of my favorite bands at this point, but it'd be pretty tough to nail down one or two artists as the main inspiration musically.

To have Rebekah writing with me was a lot of fun. She's just a natural melody maker. As time went on, we really tried to give in to what we thought was our strengths instead of fighting them -- not being afraid of having really poppy melodies, but embracing them and fusing that with the sound that Bora York had become.

GN: What was the story you wanted to tell with Dreaming Free? Did you intentionally write with a story in mind, or do the songs live within themselves?

CB: The songs definitely live within themselves -- each one with its own story or influence. Some are very personal and meaningful, such as "Open Tales," which is about my relationship with my wife Rebekah and never giving up on each other, or "So Heavenly," which is about finding redemption through faith. Some songs are influenced by friends' relationships or situations, or other random things. For example, I wrote New England Love after I watched Moonrise Kingdom, a film by Wes Anderson. It's written in the eyes of the two kids who fall in love and run away together. "Settling Close, Traveling Far" is meant to be in the eyes of someone who is looking back on life and wondering, "What if?" It's a sad song, and a definite departure from the more upbeat feel of the rest of the songs before it. The album ends on a more uplifting note, though, with "Dreaming Free." As mentioned earlier, I felt like this song was a good synopsis of these songs as a whole.

GN: Any favorite tracks off the new album?

CB: "Ghost Lights" is the most common personal favorite among band members. It was written and recorded recently, well after the majority of the album, and Rebekah and I really enjoyed a more collaborative writing process. She wrote the whole melody to that song, as opposed to just a hook. And it's consistently been one of our favorites to play live as a band. "Open Tales" is another. It was one of the key songs that helped to transition the album from folk to indie-pop.

GN: What can we expect to see at the album release show?

CB: We're privileged to share the stage at Triple Rock with two immensely talented acts, Weaver at the Loom and Ben Rosenbush the Brighton. It's been a long time coming, and we're super excited to finally release this thing and celebrate with old friends, new friends, and family. We always have a lot of fun when we play live, and hopefully that'll translate into an energetic night. Maybe some awkward dancing from the band, who knows.We're so excited to share these songs, and are so thankful for everyone who has supported us along the way.

Bora York will release Dreaming Free at the Triple Rock Social Club on Friday, March 22, 2013 with Ben Rosenbush & the Brighton and Weaver at the Loom.
18+, $8, 9 pm

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