Sunday, April 21 2024

I recently had the chance to embark on a journey through the musical realm of One Last Job, a folk-rock / power pop sensation deeply rooted in Austin, TX’s vibrant music scene. Fresh off the release of their latest album, ‘Been Here Ever Since,’ I had the privilege of delving into a conversation with the ingenious Travis Klein. Renowned for a sound that intricately weaves influences from The Mountain Goats, Phoebe Bridgers, and Death Cab for Cutie, creating a sound akin to musical luminaries like They Might Be Giants and The Wonder Stuff, One Last Job invites us to explore the multifaceted nuances of their latest offering.

Hey Travis, thanks for joining us. How has your creative process evolved from collaborating on previous projects to working independently on ‘Been Here Ever Since?’ Were there any distinct advantages or challenges in taking on the entire project solo for this release?

It was a learning curve that also created some opportunities. Of course, going from two collaborators to one roughly doubled my workload, but having to sit with each song for twice as long also gave me more chances to notice potential improvements. For example, in our previous release, ‘Brittle Grins’, I did virtually no lyrical rewrites compared to the original iPhone-voice-memo versions of each song. On this record, however, there were several songs where I made substantial revisions for lyrics that were close but inexact (including adding a whole new verse in the song ’25 to Life’), and this might not have happened had someone else been waiting on me to finish.

Another challenge requires a bit of background: in addition to being a solo project, I also treated this album as a surprise to friends and family. I told Will (who worked with me on ‘Brittle Grins’) about it, but for the most part I kept the project under wraps until it was released. So for over half the songs on this album, not a soul besides me had ever heard even a scratch demo prior to sending for mix/master. Especially since I tried out a few new musical and lyrical techniques on this album, it was a bit nerve-wracking working largely in the absence of feedback; however, this without-a-net-ness did afford total creative freedom and a scary-but-exciting kind of vulnerability: for better or worse, this thing is totally me.

You describe the album as being about gratitude. How did you approach weaving this theme into the lyrics and melodies, and what aspects of your personal experiences inspired the storytelling in the songs?

A core feature of my thinking over the past few years has been an internal debate between the merits of gratitude versus ambition. Both ideas seem to have enough depth to suggest entire worldviews, but they also seem to be polar opposites and potentially even zero-sum. Which is more valid as a basis for life-navigation? Is it useful to try and strike a balance between the two, or is this strategy counterproductive with ideas that are fundamentally antithetical?

This internal dialogue has characterised both this album and ‘Brittle Grins’, though in BG I ended up making a final argument for ambition whereas here I make the case for gratitude. Lyrically, this case is represented as a transformation in perspective taking place between the first and final songs. Gratitude spends most of the album trying to bubble to the surface through a viscous layer of ego, but before the latter can yield we first have to experience the effects–both therapeutic and side–of following ambition and individuality to their logical extent.

And, while the emotional journey is most clearly expressed through the lyrics, in my initial conceptual notes for the album I do have the idea of having electric guitar generally represent the voice of ambition while piano ‘plays’ gratitude. While this has by no means turned out to be a hard-and-fast rule across all songs, it’s more true than not, and broadly it’s an example of the considerations that went into having the instrumentation reflect the narrative tone.

Recording an album entirely in your living room and managing the process while travelling weekly between Austin, TX and Las Vegas, NV must have presented unique challenges. Could you share any notable or amusing anecdotes from the recording or production phase, considering the unconventional settings you worked in?

My favorite story is probably how the artwork came together. As you mention in your question, for the last year I’ve been travelling essentially every week for work, and I’ve frequently been gone for multiple weeks at a time. While this has been taxing in some ways, it’s also been a fun opportunity to do some sightseeing around the US; I visited a bunch of national parks, saw the northern lights in Alaska, etc.

For the previous release’s album artwork we had used an illustrator, and when I started working on this record I had kind of assumed I would do the same thing once I got some kind of idea for a visual to represent the album’s general character. But after months of recording and percolating, I was still drawing a blank.

There came a weekend in October that was going to be the last time I was home for several weeks, so I was treating it as my final deadline for any finishing touches that required the non-portable recording equipment (guitars, vocal retakes, etc.) before sending off for mix. And as part of what I sent the audio engineer, I wanted to include at least some kind of placeholder album artwork, which meant I effectively had to think of something I could make immediately. It occurred to me that the CVS by my place did photo prints, so on Saturday morning I uploaded some photos of places I had been in my travels over the last year. Then the rest of the supplies pictured in the album artwork (the corkboard, the pushpins, markers for the writing) were all available in the crafts section at the store. 

The whole thing took just a few minutes to put together and wasn’t originally meant to be the final product, and it was only after looking at the artwork while listening to scratch demos on my flight Monday morning that I realized not only how much I liked it but also how much better it was than any illustration I was going to come up with. There is no place where I feel more grateful–or where ambition seems sillier–than in nature, so I can’t think of a better visual complement for that theme. 

And, I likely wouldn’t have had the idea had I not been crunched for time because of my travel schedule, so I think it’s a nice example of how operating under tight constraints can actually be creatively generative sometimes.

One Last Job Travis

You’ve mentioned that the album is lyric driven but were there moments during the creation of ‘Been Here Ever Since’ where you felt the music uniquely conveyed a message or feeling that the words alone couldn’t capture?

‘Beneath the Ocean’ is the song where I most feel this. I wrote that song on November 13, 2022 (a Sunday), and one week earlier my best friend had been staying with me from out of town. We’d gone to Zilker park in Austin to hang out and enjoy the weather (November is lovely in Texas), and at one point in the course of conversation I took a swing at trying to articulate the ideas I had been thinking about for a while–that maybe gratitude is actually right, despite its ramifications. And while he listened with a sort of “yeah, maybe” expression, I felt I wasn’t rendering the idea effectively.

Then a week later I’m futzing around my apartment, bored on a late Sunday morning and getting ready to go out, when all of a sudden I’m struck by the opening lines to a song in my head. Without even feeling like writing, I scratched out a lot of what I had tried to articulate a week earlier, but with a melody I thought it resonated far more. It’s now my favourite song on the album, and–especially since I tend to rely heavily on linguistic coherence for what I consciously allow myself to believe–thinking about this episode serves me as a somewhat hopeful reminder that the domain of the verbally expressible is not the total world of ideas. 

What’s next for One Last Job? Are there any upcoming projects or directions you’re excited to explore after the release of ‘Been Here Ever Since’?

While I think I’ve reached a good checkpoint in the dialogue between gratitude and ambition, I doubt it’s ultimately over. My sense of Hegelian symmetry now calls for some kind of synthesis between the two, but at the moment I have only the vaguest of ideas of what that would look like or how I would express it.

In the meantime, I’ve also considered trying my hand at an electronic project to broaden the range of sounds I can make. And of course, I would love to get some regular performances or even a small tour going to get some mileage on this new album and connect with people! If you like what you hear, hit me up 🙂

For Fun – If you could choose one track from the album to represent the essence of ‘ONE LAST JOB’ in a movie soundtrack, which track would it be, and what kind of scene do you envision it accompanying?

I’d pick ‘Out of Place’, the second-to-last track. And it’s a wrap-up scene. The guy comes back home at the end of the third act and picks up the letter on the dining-room table he had opened at the beginning of the first. Though it had been so troubling at the time, he hasn’t had a moment to think about it since. He laughs a little, in as much astonishment as amusement, at how far away he seems from the letter now–he never addressed it, but its relevance departed on its own. (Song starts here.) Grabbing a ballpoint pen from the table, he writes, “You got it!” at the bottom of the machine-printed page, folds it into an airplane, and tosses it out the window. We follow the airplane, carried miraculously on by a series of unlikely gusts, on its journey through and eventually out of town as the credits roll. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Travis. From all of us at TIG, we wish you the very best with ‘Been Here Ever Since.’ Stay tuned for more from One Last Job, as their musical journey continues to unfold, resonating with stories that captivate and melodies that linger.

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About Author

Matt Warren

Matt Warren is a Cheshire based musician who studied contemporary music and composition. When not writing for The Indie Grid he enjoys watching 'Breaking Bad' on continuous loop and going to gigs. Since a youngster his fave band have been 'The Beatles' (with 'Cardiacs' in at a close second)... and this still applies to this day.

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