The different settings for my latest album, Desert Cities – Part One, span from Denver to Seoul. Track three, Brooklyn, is a love song for the gritty and enigmatic Bushwick neighborhood and track four, Coming Home, rides the metro north to Midtown where home is not a place but a person (and a lovely oasis at that). Track two, Lost in Seoul, reflects on the foreign shores of South Korea, “the crowded streets, the angry East Sea, don’t mind if I belong here for a while.”
Only track one, Hold out Thirst, mentions a dry, barren, lifeless, sandy desert. Its brief and stark first refrain, “I went to the desert and held out my thirst,” captured something much bigger in me when I first listened back to the completed album. The desert, in this case, is where one goes to reflect deeply, to test themselves against the elements, physically and emotionally and to experience thirst as a fundamental sensation of life, to feel acutely alive. The remainder of the album (part two included, TBR Fall 2019) is born of this same desire.
Listen to the album while reading the text.
You called me over
You set out a blanket
We ate on the floor
I was still running from,
Running from Boston,
Running was home
You were much older
My Norwegian Wood
Except you burned me down first
So I went to the desert and held out my thirst
From Hold out Thirst (Desert Cities – Part One, Noah Evan Wilson)
Hold Out Thirst
The first deserts that the album visits, in Hold out Thirst, much like the Beatle’s song which it references, are a home with no furniture and a relationship with no love — and by the way, I’m pretty sure in the Lennon-McCartney version the narrator burns the woman’s house down, “and when I awoke I was alone, this bird had flown, so I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood.” — in my version, I tried to steer clear of arson.
Thirst describes deserts as well, the feeling of being on the run and plans never fulfilled, “Brianna, you showed me how lucky we were to be lost, we never made it to Atlanta, but look where we are now, look where we are.” Wherever that is, I suppose, depends on the listener. The desert that I had in mind when I wrote the song was in Moab, Utah, one of a few places, so grand and otherworldly with monolithic martian-red arches and other alien rock formations, that I would visit years ago when I wished to feel a little smaller (or when I wished for my problems to feel a little smaller).
Lost In Seoul
Next, in Lost in Seoul, the album visits a desert of self-questioning, “it’s been 52 days, and I’m lost in Seoul, though I’m miles away and my body is home, 52 days I could give a damn, trying to decide who I can be and who I am.” One of the things I love about travel, specifically backpacking or any other rich cultural immersion is how we discover new aspects of ourselves as we fit into a new, strange, and brief lifestyle.
The dissonance between that new life and the one known from before is the desert where this song was born. The chorus ventures into another barren territory as well: time, “all we got is time; all we got is time, for now.” Waiting is hard to write about — there’s no action. I know this well, as I work on new songs while restlessly awaiting to be reunited with my fiancé, who lives in Mexico. However, it is longing, such as this, like thirst, that can make one feel truly alive.
Brooklyn, named for the city where I currently live, and more specifically dedicated to my neighborhood, Bushwick, is not your typical desert. New York City, in general, is not dry or barren by any means, it is a city known for convenience — though, “in my little corner” of the city the “corner stores never sell what they say” — here the desert lies in our wallets.
Okay, okay, maybe not your wallet… just trust me, as a cliché artist-who-just-moved-to-NYC-in-a-2002-Honda-Odyssey-with-everything-you-own type, making your way in this city is much like hiking up a sand dune, sinking five inches down into the sand with every step. Also, one day you might be climbing a dune in one direction, and the next the wind has blown your path far in another.
With that said, Brooklyn, also acknowledges another distinct desert you may have also visited before: awkward, hollow conversations with old high-school friends, “catching up with old friends, am I the only one who’s changed? Maybe they’re all thinking that I’m still the same.”
Desert Cities – Part One features my first true love song, Coming Home, written for my fiancé, Natalia. This song was originally featured as part of the 2018 season of The Acoustic Guitar Project, Denver, and now resides as the lingering peaceful (and perhaps even joyous) thought, before Part Two takes us to abandoned places and the spaces between first and second chances.
I suppose if there is a desert in this song it may be the feeling of wallowing in the aftermath of a mistake, “a few missteps for each sure foot,” or missing a train you thought might just lead to happiness, “I counted up the trains I missed, before home was off that northbound six.” There can be loneliness to both experiences; each is attempts at finding a home that just wasn’t the real deal.
A personal desert of mine, that now only lives in this song, is the time before I met Natalia. I love when an experience can make a cliché become a personal truth, unlocking familiar metaphors as if you are hearing them for the first time, and suddenly each misstep and each missed train have to lead you to a perfect moment and maybe for the first time you wouldn’t change a damn thing.
I realize that I described deserts earlier as dry, barren, and lifeless places, perhaps even a test of one’s aliveness. I also find deserts stunningly beautiful, plain, and simple. I love the open space, big sky, rich colors, powerful midday sun, and dry, cool evening air. I especially love all the small unlikely signs of life, which I hope one might find carefully planted throughout the album as well.
Desert Cities, in total, will include eight songs, eight sonic homes for many of the thoughts and ideas that have piled up in my consciousness over recent years. I do hope they find homes of their own in a handful of headphones and stereos and perhaps even a few good conversations somewhere out there in the world. In the meantime, however, it’s the rainy season here in New York, and everything is in bloom.
Noah Evan Wilson, Category: Artist, Singles: Desert Cities – Part One, Lost in Seoul, Top Tracks: Coming Home, Brooklyn, Hold out Thirst, Lost in Seoul, Lost in Seoul, Biography: Noah Evan Wilson is Brooklyn based Colorado kid and singer-songwriter known for his heartfelt contemplative lyrics and rich acoustic arrangements.