- L.M. Sorenson Photography
Salt Lake City artist Vincent Draper's music, at its heart, has always been that of a soloist. Though he's dabbled in collaborative projects, and enlisted the help of friends for his own music, his own work has mostly been stripped-back, acoustic and burrowed in a woolen folk sound that was Draper-centric. From 2013's EP SAM to his last full-length release, 2016's Ruinier, this has been true—with the exception of a Salt Lake tribute album in collaboration with Charles Ellsworth from a few years back.
"It was sparse," he admits of his songwriting from the last few years. "I didn't want to crowd the songs with noise. And that whole 'less is more' mentality was a big part of what I really loved in other people's music, that delicacy."
In 2019, though, there was a shift, by way of the EP Heavy Sleeper, which found Draper letting percussion and smokey guitars move up to the front a bit. It's a shift that's since been fully realized by way of Draper joining with his band—a group of musicians who formerly filled out some of his bigger live shows, but who became real collaborators when bassist Kevin Schultz all but told Draper they should make it "a real thing."
Hence, Vincent Draper and The Culls, and their new album, Night Light, out April 16. Night Light finds Draper and the four Culls—Schultz, Eric Peatross on keys, Johnson on drums and Chase Terry on the guitar besides Draper's—constructing a beautiful collection of 12 songs where carefully crafted instrumentation adds depth and power to Draper's always-spare lyricism.
"Ghost" opens, establishing that a gently-paced song with frugally-delivered, low basslines—plus simple, slightly reverberating guitar parts and muffled drums that thrush even to the song's quiet conclusion—can make for complexity. From the follow-up "Guest List" on, the album shifts between smoldering melancholy and brief snatches of light, calling immediately to mind the melodicisms of Duster, with atmosphere and pacing like that of Horse Jumper of Love. The Culls deftly but surprisingly transition from gentleness to tension, in a way that keeps one on the edge of one's seat.
The instrumentation, infectious on its own, makes Draper's lyrical style—simple observations, statements of emotional fact—more compelling, too. On "Lit Me Up," he sings, "You come over unannounced / falling in my arms / falling on my couch / pulling on my heart," lyrics that recall the bleary-eyed, sentimental focus of folks like The National's Matt Berninger.
Draper likens his writing to the function of a microscope—that is, to study an object up close. "There are infinite worlds in front of our eyes at any given moment. I don't feel the need to make really big statements or claims. I just really notice how little things in my day to day will make me super stoked or totally break my heart," he says. And while he maintains that mostly he feels like he just writes "teenage breakup songs," it feels less like his songs are simple teenage songs and more simple odes to the small things that can make up big emotions, like on "Hottest House" where he sings endearingly, "I blew my speakers out last night / thinkin' about you."
"It's been kind of difficult, but a practice I take seriously is to, as a song starts manifesting, focus only on ideas for lyrics and structure, stopping my brain from doing anything else so that I can come with a much less molded piece of clay," says Draper of his writing process with the Culls—a hard one as a musician native to drums. The Culls pick up these limited ideas he puts down, and run with them.
It's no surprise it turns out so well; Draper's shared a love of electric guitar with Terry since they were teenagers, and he's played in Hectic Hobo alongside Peatross and Johnson. The way "Fireplace" breaks from the rest of Night Light's songs and rumbles with pounding guitar and stormy keys is a reminder that these artists—plus Schultz, who plays in Crook and the Bluff and Hot House West—are also Americana aficionados.
Most of the rest of the songs are slow, and even when they build, it's with soft care. That care shows up elsewhere, too, in something as simple as the fact that The Culls care about this project as much as Draper does. After the pandemic hit, it took them a few months to remember that they had studio time booked in the summer of 2020 to record Night Light, which they'd written in 2019. As Draper tells it, the album was the only thing keeping any of them going, so they—not lightly—made the decision to mask up, head to Draper's go-to studio at Archive Recordings, and bust it out. "All the little subsequent steps after the studio time—the mixing, the mastering, proofing the artwork, getting the photos done—we had all these little steps to keep us excited through what would otherwise be such a difficult and dismal year," Draper says.
Via Diggers Factory vinyl crowdfunding service, they've made some physical records, which are already sold out. But you can and should visit vincentdraper.com for links to stream Night Light when it comes out Friday—it is, after all, one of the best new contributions to local music Salt Lake City has seen in some time.