I wrote the songs on Skulls Example between 2009 and 2017, and recorded most of them during the latter half of 2017. "Skulls Example" is a name I once chose for myself during a party by closing my eyes and picking two words at random from a book of magic.
I tracked most of the basic instruments for each song with my bandmates Zach Burba (bass/synth), Greg Campanile (drums), and Jessica Jones (guitar) at a studio in Portland, Oregon. We used nice microphones, ran audio into a Mackie mixer, then ran stereo audio out of the mixer to a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. Then I bounced the individual instrument tracks from cassette to Ableton Live on my laptop. Zach overdubbed a lot of the bass and synth tracks remotely from his house in Seattle. I tracked all the vocals and recorded some guitar overdubs in a reverberant empty bedroom in my house in Portland. Engineer Tim Shrout expertly mixed the album on ProTools while I micromanaged.
It has been a decade since I have released new material under the name Dear Nora. The last time I released an album of new material was in 2011 – that was called California Lite and it was under the band name Key Losers. Thematically, California Lite makes sense as an early warm-up to Skulls Example. It’s about freeways, the internet, human connections (and broken connections), and wilderness.
Skulls Example is about how our weird, techno-futuristic present (VR, self-driving cars, drones, Tinder dates, reality TV show government, Starbucks ubiquity, iPhone as extension of human body, Blade Runner -esque income inequality, cryptocurrency “utopias", etc.) juxtaposes so absurdly against the never-ending backdrop of inexorable, ancient elements (fire, ice, wind, storms, mountains, rocks, human instinct, etc) . It’s like we live in multiple realities at once: Now Reality layered upon Ancient Reality, Virtual Reality layered upon Now Reality. The palimpsest creates the illusion of collapsed time.
The album is specifically about humanity. Our capacities and feats are so incredible – we’re godlike – and yet we're scrounging for happiness and basic survival, we're heavily addicted, we just want love, we want family. We’re simultaneously so brilliant and so basic. To me, this feels like the worst and best time to be alive. I experience some level of horror and bliss on a daily basis.
One of the reasons I “retired” Dear Nora ten years ago was because I couldn’t figure out how to navigate financial stability as a full-time songwriter and touring musician. And for the last three years, I’ve worked as a commercial music producer. I enjoy my work, but I constantly think about how I’m contributing to the Massive Capitalistic Garbage Dump of Life. When Trump got elected, I knew it was time to make a new album.
I derived a ton of lyrical inspiration from several recent visits to Oaxaca and Mexico City. I’m fairly obsessed with Mexico’s culture, music, and attitude towards death. I also derived inspiration from the Mojave desert and Oregon’s high desert, places where there are creosote or juniper trees, and fields of ancient lava rock. To me there’s nothing like letting go of my thoughts and being in the dusty, sensual wilderness. Living on Earth feels like pure magic to me and I tried to bring that feeling to this album.
Stylistically, I tried to channel all my favorite songs by Billy Bragg, Leonard Cohen, Gang of Four, Prince, Frank Ocean, Young Marble Giants, Lou Reid, Vangelis, Joni Mitchell, and Enya.
This album would not exist without the extraordinary contributions of my immensely talented collaborators. Thank you.
- Katy Davidson