Swim Inside the Moon is a record by 24-year-old Angelo De Augustine. This second full-length of Angelo’s career captures a sound he’s been looking for since he started playing music a decade ago.
Shortly after the 2015 release of Spirals of Silence, his first record, Angelo toured extensively but caught whooping cough on the last show of the tour. The illness debilitated Angelo for months. He feared he might permanently lose his voice, or if it came back, it wouldn’t sound the same.
Unable to sing or sometimes even speak, Angelo instead focused on songwriting. “I wasn’t thinking much about making a record,” says Angelo.
This gave Angelo a lot time to focus on songwriting and sound. Although Angelo had previously recorded in studios, he felt like that environment didn’t capture the ambience he wanted for his music.
Angelo’s voice did recover, and this time he set-up his equipment by himself, in his home. In his bathtub.
Recording in a bathroom might sound odd, but it’s nothing new really; supposedly Jim Morrison recorded vocals for “L.A. Woman” in a bathroom and even took The Doors (lolz) off the hinges so he could talk to bandmates while he played, and The Beatles recorded some of their earliest work in bathrooms. In the 1940s, producer Bill Putnam engineered the first intentionally recorded reverb for a Harmonicats take of “Peg o’ My Heart” by putting the microphone and loudspeaker in a bathroom.
Angelo’s setup was similarly simple: a Shure SM57 microphone next to the wall of the shower and a cable back to an analog reel-to-reel in his nearby bedroom. He’d hit record, then run quickly to the bathroom with his guitar and sit on the edge of the tub and play and sing. For some songs, he played his mother’s 100-year-old piano in the living room, and on others he added synth and electric guitar. He kept it simple.
Recording the nine songs on Swim Inside the Moon took several months. Because Angelo was using an analog reel-to-reel machine with very little overdubbing, he was always recording live. If something didn’t go as planned, he’d start from scratch each time.
Some of the songs took only a few takes. But others took weeks; if a song wasn’t working on a particular day, Angelo would return to it the next day. Sometimes there were other interruptions: “Occasionally my dogs would bark on a really good take,” says Angelo. Other times Angelo kept recording anyway.“You might be able to hear them in the background,” he says.
The reverb, analog as it is, gives Angelo’s music a strong sense of place: this music existed as a soundwave that bounced off walls in Angelo’s bathroom, and then traveled over wires to the listener. The reverb amplifies Angelo’s songwriting, echoing a sense of heartache, loss, but also of joy and hope, and the comfort of home.
This freedom allowed Angelo to find the sound he was looking for: “A sound behind the voice,” he says. “I noticed that when you sing off a reflective surface you hear two voices. One is the representation of yourself and the other is similar to a shadow that follows the sound. I was compelled to isolate that voice and bring it more to the front of the songs because in many ways I feel more connected to and comforted by that voice following me.”
Besides a distinct sense of place and time, listeners might also hear Nick Drake’s intricate arpeggiated guitar parts, Elliott Smith’s pure vocals, or, at times, a likeness to the soulfulness of artists such as Vashti Bunyan, and Judee Sill.
But it’s worth noting that these artists are fairly new to Angelo, whose musical inspiration comes more from his mom than from a playlist. “Because my mom’s career was singing, she would never listen to music when she wasn’t working,” Angelo explains. “The music that I did hear the most were her songs that she wrote at home.”
As to what these songs mean, well, that’s harder to say. “I couldn’t tell you,” says Angelo, though it sounds like he wished he could. He compares his songwriting to waking up after a vivid dream: “I get into this place, and then I wake up with a song instead of a dream,” says Angelo, “Maybe I’ll know what it’s about later. Or maybe I knew, and I’ve forgotten.”