Love. Connection. Community. Understanding. Most of us experience these aspects through the prism of family and friends. But not everybody can turn those feelings into song, especially not with the beauty and sensitivity of Pennsylvania trio the innocence mission, fronted by Karen Peris and husband Don. Following their Bella Union album debut Sun On The Square, which won the band some of their best-ever reviews, they have made another exquisite and touching album, See You Tomorrow, due for release 17th January. A record steeped in awe and wonder, intense longing, sadness and joy; a rich sequence of songs that attempt to describe the essence of what makes us human. The band have shared a moving video for lead track “On Your Side”, created by Karen Peris, which beautifully weaves together her distinctive hand-drawn animation with striking black & white photography.
Sufjan Stevens, who has covered the innocence mission’s classic ‘Lakes Of Canada’, once called their music “moving and profound. What is so remarkable about Karen Peris’ lyrics is the economy of words, concrete nouns which come to life with melodies that dance around the scale like sea creatures.”
The band recorded See You Tomorrow in the Peris’ basement (and the dining room where the piano sits). Karen wrote and sang ten of the album’s eleven songs, and plays guitars, piano, pump organ, accordion, electric bass, melodica, mellotron, and an old prototype strings sampler keyboard. Don contributes guitars, drums, vocal harmonies, and one lead vocal on his song ‘Mary Margaret In Mid-Air’. Fellow founder member Mike Bitts adds upright bass to four songs including ‘On Your Side’, the album’s first single.
Thematically, See You Tomorrow evolves from ‘Sun On The Square’, touching on the major changes that happen in the life of a family. Karen says, “Great love of course contains great anxiety, for the safety and health of the loved ones, for one’s own ability to be a good enough helper and companion, for the future. And the intense desire to hold the present moment of togetherness, at the very least to store it up in vivid detail, so that it can be not lost at all.” This desire can be felt in the song ‘Movie’, whose piano accompaniment echoes both the flickering of film and the unstoppable rush of time, and in ‘St. Francis and the Future’, which relates the tiny, perfect detail of a Jan Van Eyke painting to the human longing to hold off change, to keep it in the unflawed distance. Karen relates, “We were thrilled to come upon the painting ‘St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata’ long ago on a family day trip, and a kind attendant at the art museum gave our children a little magnifying glass to view it, and in the distance was a tiny city, birds in the sky, just barely visible. I’ve found in recent years that I was writing poems about that moment, but that the background of the painting had taken on a relation to the inevitable changes that I, as a mom, was mentally trying to hold off.”
Each successive innocence mission record marks the passing of time, and how we handle, and learn from, our experiences. “As time goes on I suppose we keep looking more toward connectedness, and feeling more gratitude though also more challenge about life, and wanting to find a language to define it somehow and wondering how others experience it,” says Karen. “The thought that these are universal concerns makes me feel more drawn to write songs, to join in a conversation, even though the conversation itself is sometimes about being at a loss for words.”
Two examples are ‘John As Well’ – “to crave knowing other people deeply, and being more truly known by someone” – and ‘At Lake Maureen’: wondering aloud about what the other person feels, for example the specific colours that they encounter in the natural world at a given moment, and how that combines with their emotions at the same moment.” The song contains one of Don’s favourite lyrics: “Make my soul come clean, a sail above Lake Maureen, sing into storms, sing into storms. This day is going.”
“There is a longing there to be transformed and a hopeful expectation that it is possible,” he explains. “I find joy, or a similar type of joy, in all of the songs,” he concludes. “A humble recognition of challenges and hardships, the acknowledgment and comfort in knowing that they are both personal and universal, and the expression of light and hope” – which is one way of summing up the perfect marriage of melody and words that is See You Tomorrow…