Sometimes inspiration comes in the wake of disillusionment. With his new solo album, World Waits, Jeremy Enigk says he's found a new confidence as a songwriter. But it came only after the vocalist for Sunny Day Real Estate and The Fire Theft was dumped.
"There was a certain point after The Fire Theft, [Rykodisc Records] didn't exercise its option to continue with us," Enigk says. "That was sort of shocking to me because I had planned for that to go for quite awhile. And it exhausted me. I was, like, "Wow, I've never been able to maintain a label [deal].' So I decided to just start my own label [Lewis Hollow Records]. So it was more of a change in my attitude as a person rather than the music.... It was really about just accepting myself, and my music is an extension of that. This is who I am. This is my style, and I accept it and I'm just gong to go for it."
With Sunny Day Real Estate, Enigk became an underground icon. The band's music-with heart-on-sleeve lyrics, hard-edge guitar riffs and catchy pop melodies-is considered the prototype that would later evolve into "emo." The band released four albums before breaking up after 2000's The Rising Tide.
Enigk then formed The Fire Theft with Sunny Day drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel, releasing their self-titled debut in 2003. That band is now also on hiatus, with Goldsmith and Mendel spending much of the last year and a half as the rhythm section in the Foo Fighters. The time off allowed Enigk to finally record his second solo album, 10 years after he released Return of the Frog Queen on Sub Pop Records.
"This is my bread and butter, my heart and soul," Enigk says of his solo work. "It's what makes me the most proud. I just did not have time to do a solo record, so I just had to just sort of make a choice, and I went with the bands."
Frog Queen was a critical hit with Enigk's high-sweet voice over strings, horns and grandiose orchestration. Back then, he was drawing from classical music, The Beatles, classical music, Prince (especially Purple Rain) and Gary Numan.
The album "is a really big, grand production. But the actual recording style was done on a very raw level, and emulating, like, the old Beatles recordings [made] the sounds just dirty. That was intentional. I wanted World Waits to be a lot more accessible to a wider audience by making it more of a production."
World Waits is still a lush album, but the strings and orchestration are toned down. Songs like "City Tonight" and "Damien Dreams" have elements of grit, but more often Enigk takes a lighter approach, using washes of guitars and keyboards to support his supple vocal melodies, which are the album's obvious strength.
Although The Fire Theft remains a going concern for Enigk, Goldsmith and Mendel, it figures to be awhile before the group resurfaces. Enigk plans to continue touring behind World Waits well into 2007. His live set draws entirely from his solo career, but Enigk says he'll occasionally pull out a Sunny Day tune if it suits the situation and audience.
In the past, "I just looked at [touring] as: Why would I put myself through this?" he says. "Touring can be very exhausting and you have very little time for yourself. Even if it's just doing laundry or eating food, whatever, it can be very exhausting. That was always an aspect I couldn't deal with.
"It's fun now. It's actually fun."
Jeremy Enigk plays with Manuok at The Casbah on Thursday, Dec. 21. $15. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.