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Dialogue - Issue #13

Everything is Blindingly in Bloom

Words and illustration by Shana Cleveland

How a move to the country wilderness inspired Shana Cleveland to write an album of supernatural love songs.

About five years ago, after spending all of our adult lives in various US cities, my partner Will and I decided to buy a house on the outskirts of a small former gold rush town in northern California. We had been living most recently in Los Angeles. After a few months of half-hearted real estate hunting, we found that the only options in our price range as self-employed musicians were dilapidated shacks (some that literally hung off the sides of cliffs) or lots that seemed impossible to legally build shelter upon. When we broadened our search to some smaller towns that we were less familiar with, we got excited about the possibility of not only having a house but land as well. Just think of it, we could have privacy! Maybe some chickens! We could build sculptures from found materials and leave them out for the elements to degrade like a collaborative exhibit in our own secret gallery!

Similar to how looking up at the sky at night in a city you only see a fraction of the stars on view in a country sky. When we left the light pollution, noise pollution, and general hustle of LA I found it so much easier to see my connection to nature itself.

Although people often make reference to seeking “peace and quiet” by retreating to natural spaces, in my experience rural life is full of just as much noise and savagery as a city, it’s just created by different creatures and elements. One day while gardening late in my pregnancy my hand grazed a young rattlesnake, perfectly camouflaged among the dry leaves, and I jumped back to watch as it slowly swallowed a lizard whole. I’ve come across stray spinal columns while walking in our yard and pulled my three-year-old son away from what sounded like a fight between a snake and a mother fox guarding her den behind some large rocks by our house. As a recent city-slicker, some close encounters with the brutality of nature can be unnerving, but I’ve come to appreciate this constant reminder of death for its unmistakable invitation to be here now.

We’ve been out here for a bit and have followed through on some of our country dreams and put off others. But to me, the greatest thing about living in a place so surrounded by nature has been sitting outside with my guitar and playing whatever comes to mind. For as long as I can recall I’ve written outside. I remember coming up with vocal melodies while sitting on top of sand dunes during a trip to the ocean on a day off on tour - the roar of the waves and wind make it feel possible to sing out loud in public. The panoramic sounds of nature make me feel less critical of my thoughts as they come and I’m able to tap into my subconscious mind without the judgment I might spiral into if I was writing in a quiet room, alone with my thoughts. When I entered the controlled environment of the studio it was important to me to find a way to record the album in a manner that preserved the feeling of being surrounded by nature. To my surprise, we quickly realised synthesizers, which I had always thought of as being one of the least organic families of instruments, were the perfect tool for recreating the atmosphere of the natural world: the buzzing of insects, singing birds, the wind and shifting leaves. When I listen to my album Manzanita, I can hear the environment that the songs were written in and I think that makes the album feel like its own living world.

I’ve often marvelled at the transformative power of music in my own life. When I play guitar outside it feels easy to slip into a meditative state, the ego disappears a bit and the outside is allowed in. I hope that this record is able to transmit the beauty and mystery that I’ve found during these outdoor writing sessions to anyone who takes the time to listen.

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