Abe Partridge photo by Cathy Partridge
Abe Partridge Handles Heaviness and Humor For Love In The Dark
Abe Partridge’s full-length album, Love in the Dark, arrives on May 12th, 2023, previously heralded by a tour-only EP called Alabama Skies. The whole collection of songs derives from a previously readied album that, paused by the pandemic, then became an expanded edition bringing in newer songs, too. The songs run the gamut of heaviness and humor but the underlying earnestness of Partridge’s approach to songwriting, which he takes very personally, creates common threads that you’ll find throughout his work.
One of Partridge’s musical activities is in field recording the music of Appalachian Serpent Handler traditions, which resulted in the podcast Alabama Astronaut, documenting some of his experiences. Partridge is also an established painter with a large art show currently running in Alabama and painting takes up a fair amount of his time. Devoted to these different pursuits, he continues to write songs and perform to create a very specific connection and communication with audiences.
Having previously talked with him about his field recording life, I spoke with Abe Partridge about the new songs and videos for Love in the Dark, his experience of live performance, and how he fits both music and painting into his schedule.
Americana Highways: I know that some of the songs on Love in the Dark go back to 2018. Was it at all difficult to decide which songs to choose to record and put together on the album?
Abe Partridge: This is basically a collection of songs that I recorded between late 2018 and about a year ago, late 2021. I was going to put out a record in 2020, but during the pandemic I wrote and recorded some new songs. Basically, I took that 2020 record, cut some stuff, and added some newer stuff.
AH: What was the last one that got recorded out of these?
AP: “When You Go Down,” which is a cover of a song that the Serpent Handlers taught me. So that’s the one song on the album which I did not write. It’s an old Gospel song that the Serpent Handlers like to sing.
AH: Did you have to decide on interpretation and presentation for that, or did you just try to keep it exactly as it’s usually sung?
AP: They generally sing it really upbeat and fast, and mostly in major key, and I slowed it way down and put it in a minor key. That changed it a little bit. I wouldn’t dare try to attempt to do it exactly like them. I don’t have the skillset to pull that off!
AH: What do you think slowing it down does for the song and how it feels?
AP: The thing that always stood out to me about that particular song is the lyrical content. It says, “You better go down, in the name of Jesus, when you go down.” Pretty much every song that I have ever heard among Gospel songs talks about how you’re going to be lifted up. This one was kind of the reverse of that. It just has a certain appeal to me that made it very powerful. The lyrics made it sound like a minor key song to me. That was just my interpretation of it.
AH: It’s a powerful idea, because it reminds me of underworld mythology in many cultures, where descending and then ascending is a triumphal thing. There’s also the tradition of Christ descending and harrowing Hell and releasing souls. Actually, that reminds me of the lyrics a little in “Love in the Dark” where you say, “I just hope the rivers of grace do downward flow.” We don’t really think about that idea much, of heaven coming downwards.
AP: Yes. Absolutely. I’m glad you thought of that.
AH: The song “Love in the Dark” continues to be a song that offers a good way into the rest of the album because it captures kind of a dark moment but also a rekindling of hope, like the candle flame we see in the lyric video.
AP: The songs were all recorded over a three-year period, but it was kind of a dark period. 2020 and 2021, looking back on all of that, I can see why the album goes that way a lot. It’s trying to find love in the dark, peace in dark times.
AH: It feels pretty genuine that these songs have an idea of hope to them. It seems to be built in rather than something that might be consciously added.
AP: Those particular songs come from me. Those are things that I wrote because I believed them.
AH: Does writing them help crystalize how you feel or think? Does it affect how you feel?
AP: Yes, it puts words to certain feelings that I have and when you do that, it’s definitely therapeutic. It helps clarify my own longings and my own experiences.
AH: I was just realizing that because touring was halted during the pandemic, the touring that you just did might have been first time you played some of these songs in public.
AP: Yes, that’s true for probably about half of those tunes. They weren’t really played prior. Now I’ve been playing them. There’s still a couple of them on that record that I do not perform live and I have no intentions to. It was new for the audience.
AH: Is it a different journey for you to introduce new songs when you’re touring?
AP: Yes, definitely. It depends on the shows. I’ve always viewed playing live as a communication between a verbal me and the non-verbal audience, but it’s still a communication that happens. Sometimes it becomes so intense that I lose myself in the songs and some of the songs are really heavy, like “Love in the Dark,” or “Simplicity.”
AH: “Breaking up Christmas” is a little heavy.
AP: Yes, that’s a good one! So sometimes I lose myself a little, or go back to where my mind was when I wrote that, and it becomes a little overwhelming. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. I think my audience understands that some of these songs are intensely personal. It’s just the kind of art that I make. I didn’t make any of this to sell it. I made it because, essentially, I had to.
I was making songs for eight years before I played them for anybody. I didn’t start playing any of my songs out until I came home from the desert, and a war, in 2015. Then, it kind of changed my life. At this juncture in my life, this is what I do for my livelihood, but I never want to let the commercial side of this dictate the kind of art that I create. I did not get to this juncture in my life by creating art that I intended to be commercial. I write all these kinds of songs like this and then I sing them. The awesome thing about art is that we’re all human and we all have, generally, the same types of struggles and experiences. So other people identify with a particular song and they find themselves in it.
AH: There’s an interesting thing where lyrics become so personal that sometimes the artist expresses something that people don’t talk about very much, and then when the audience hears it, they latch onto that because they recognize and need to talk about it. I think that’s a big attraction in singer/songwriter and Americana music. It’s richer territory for that to happen.
AP: Absolutely. That’s a beautiful way of saying that.
AH: The video for “Young Love” is so adorable and interesting. I love that blue color in the video.
AP: Me too. It was a filter that we used. That song is about a summertime fling I had many years ago between high school and her leaving for college. I hadn’t thought about her in years and I came up with a line. I have children who are as old, now, as when that happened! I was thinking about young love, because I have a son and a daughter in high school, and how finicky it is.
I just kind of wrote the whole song around that, about my experience as a teenager in love, where it ended as quickly it began. It ended up becoming like a three-scene story. Like a play. I contacted a buddy of mine called Dave Garrett who has dabbled in stop-motion animation and I asked if he could do stop motion for those three scenes. He did. I went over there and he filmed me taking these little folks out of my guitar. As the character loses his significant other, I put him alone, back in the guitar, and we produced it. He sent me all the clips and we put it all together.
I’ve never been a fan of music videos where they hire actors. It seems like that’s kind of run it’s course and doesn’t feel very creative. I just wanted something that could tell this story in a way that was beautiful.
AH: It feels very much like a folk storytelling approach, maybe like folk tales, possibly because of the string-beings.
AP: Those are bread ties! Like the things that go on the top of a pack of bread. [Laughs]
AH: That’s amazing. It reminds me of puppet shows in the old days at fairs and events. Because you’re there with the guitar, you’re the storyteller. It works really well.
AP: It’s been the most successful video I’ve ever put out. It was number two in CMT’s top twelve videos this week. It was second only to Keith Urban, and it was a zero dollar budget video. I’m sure Keith Urban’s cost more. [Laughs]
AH: That’s so awesome! Pretty good for some twist-ties. This is a big contrast to the video “Alabama Astronauts.” By the way, I live in New Jersey, so I was amused that the alien invasion starts in Jersey.
AP: [Laughs] That was the hardest video that we made, for sure! That was utilizing Orson Welles recordings.
AH: Do you really want aliens to come to Alabama?
AP: Noooooo. That whole thing is a big joke. Whenever you write songs like “Love in the Dark,” if you don’t have something like “Alabama Astronauts” to put in the middle there, it becomes unbearable for some folks. I’ve always written two different kinds of songs. I’ve written funny songs and I’ve written serious songs. It’s not that it’s pointless, though. What happened on that was that I had been injured when I was over in the desert in 2014.
I got hit in the head with a basketball of all things, and it landed on my right ear canal. I was just walking besides the basketball court and a guy through a ball that hit me in my ear canal and created a vacuum. It split my eardrum. It was bad. To make a long story short, I ended up coming home and having to go to the doctor a lot at an Air Force base. They had a lot of TVs there that were all turned to Fox News and The History Channel. The Fox News doesn’t really play the news and The History Channel doesn’t really play history, just a bunch of shit about aliens.
AH: That’s a potent combination.
AP: I was watching all this shit about aliens because I damn sure wasn’t going to watch Fox News. I was watching all this stuff about aliens while my head was ringing. Then, when I was coming home, there was a trailer park down from where I lived with a sign that said, “Call Wanda for more information.” So I just kind of wrote this wild song to that track. That track was sent to me by my producer, Sean Byrne. He sent it to me because he thought I might be able to write something to it. We just put all the words together to this little track.
AH: It’s almost a theatrical track.
AP: I perform that song, now, with an acoustic guitar. I play it with the same cadence, but to a different kind of music. But that whole song was written to that soundscape.
AH: How do people react to hearing it live?
AP: At this point, I’ve been performing that one since late 2019. It’s the song that everybody wants to hear. It’s pretty much the one that I end most of my shows with. It’s just funny and you leave on an upbeat note.
AH: I know that painting is also a big part of your livelihood. How do your work schedules fit together?
AP: When I’m home, painting is pretty much all I’m doing. On the road, I’m playing songs, when I’m at home, I’m painting or writing.
AH: Have you always spent so much time on painting?
AP: Every day of my life, every single day, I do these things, and I have no hobbies, unless you call music and art hobbies. Really, I guess I do nothing but my hobbies! Every day I’m either creating something or showing people something that I’ve already created. That’s what I do.
I currently have an exhibit on display at the Alabama Contemporary Arts Center that I think goes until May 21st. It’s made of 74 pieces and it’s the biggest exhibit I’ve ever put together. Then I have an art club called The Alabama Astronaut Art Club where I paint a painting for all the members every month. My wife takes the painting and makes prints out of them, which we number and sign. I’m just constantly creating. If I’m on the road and I have an idea of something I want to paint, I’ll just make a note of it, and then whenever I get home, I will go to work.
Thank you very much for chatting with us, Abe Partridge. Find more information, music and tour dates on his website here: https://www.abepartridge.com/