At the End of Every Day I Make a Sun Set

by Jason Kutchma

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about

The moment (Galileo) was set at liberty, he looked up to the sky and down to the ground, and, stamping with his foot, in a contemplative mood, said, Eppur si muove (“And yet it still moves”)

Giuseppe Baretti
The Italian Library
1757

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As its title implies, Sundown, USA is at least partly about the dimming of hope in America—and how we all have a responsibility in its fall, and potential rise. Kutchma's extended treatise bears the title At the End of Every Day I Make a Sun Set, or the first and last line of the album's title song. Within its chapters, Kutchma surveys the urban decay of Detroit that he witnessed on tour, the recent closing of the steel plant where his father worked for 40 years in Johnstown and his own attempts to help turn around a rough neighborhood in his adopted North Carolina hometown.

"I hope the album presents the question that the sun might come up tomorrow, but the choice is a little bit up to you whether it does or not," Kutchma says. No, there isn't a song specifically about Detroit or about that shuttered Johnstown steel mill, but that notion seeps through Kutchma's portraits and sketches of "people at the end of their rope."

In "The Moment When the Full Moon Will Rise," for instance, he warns that "the world may no more turn, and all those cars gonna fucking burn." One can picture the characters in "The Carolers at 3AM," with misfits wandering the streets after closing time: "Blue and red lights, black and white sing/ To the right of the wrong frequency/ Then the strings of the strays join in."

Such keen interplay between people and their settings is one of the things that drew drummer Evan Rowe to join Kutchma in his new backing band, the Five Fifths. "Part of what made me say yes to this project initially, back before Pastoral [the band's 2012 debut] was recorded," he recalls, "is Jason's ability to write characters, and to write a place as a character and have it shape the motivations of other characters in the song."

Still, the music most vividly portrays the album's theme of desperation. Bristling with raw nerve and wiry acoustic energy, these songs sound like the frayed edges of that rope's end. That's equally true of the full-band version with the Five Fifths—which arose a couple years ago from Kutchma's desire to work in a more roots-aligned vein than his long-running punk band Red Collar—and of the solo version he recorded alone in his house. The latter consists mostly of scene-setting acoustic guitar, harmonica moans, bass rumbles and Kutchma's forthright vocals.

The mood is arguably even more vivid on the solo album's initial incarnation, a four-track cassette recording Kutchma has posted as a pay-what-you-can online. He made that version in his living room last summer with Carrboro producer and songwriter Wesley Wolfe.

"I had seen him play solo a few times; he can fill a room," Wolfe notes. "He's got a powerful voice and stage presence. I thought it would be great to try and capture that."

Wolfe suggested that a cassette machine might be an ideal vehicle to convey the intimacy of the material. "Cassette has its own sound," he says. "It can make a song sound like it was recorded decades ago. There is a timeless theme to this batch of Jason's songs."

Not surprisingly, Wolfe also cites Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska as a blueprint of sorts for what he had in mind with Sundown, USA. It's hard not to bring up The Boss's groundbreaking 1982 album when discussing solo recordings made on a cassette four-track. Kutchma acknowledges that, but he's a bit uncomfortable with the parallel—though not for the reason one might suspect.

Reviews of his work with both Red Collar and the Five Fifths often mention Springsteen, thanks to their shared inclination toward working-class themes, full-throated singing and fervent stage demeanor. But the Nebraska comparison bugs Kutchma simply because he believes the Springsteen classic shouldn't be the default reference point for homemade recordings.

"That's an important album to me," he says. "What I was disappointed by was that it opened up the possibility of independent artists to do the same thing with the four-track—but I don't know who, after hearing that in the early '80s, said, 'I'm going to start doing home recordings this way, and release them.' Who was doing that? I was surprised that I didn't hear of more 'name' people [following suit]."

We discuss other artists who have formally released such bare-bones solo recordings. Kutchma mentions Guided By Voices. I bring up Daniel Johnston, though his cassette recordings were on boombox, not a four-track machine. Further digging turns up Elliott Smith's Roman Candle and Iron & Wine's 2002 debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle. It's a surprisingly sparse lot.

"To me, it's so funny that this is 'the Nebraska treatment,'" Kutchma continues. "This should be part of the regular nomenclature of musicians—especially in this day and age and what's possible with costs and doing it yourself."

But the solo version of Sundown, USA that Kutchma formally released wasn't the four-track cassette session with Wolfe. Neither man was quite content with the final result, so Kutchma tried again, at home on his own this spring with a digital recorder. The Five Fifths had already made the full-band version of the album, which altered the tone and feel of the second solo trial. It's quieter, cleaner, the songs perhaps distilled more closely to their essences.

"It makes sense," Wolfe figures, "because there were months that passed from our original recording session to his own recording. He had finished the full-band album and wanted the solo record to be more intimate."

The four-track presentation, then, ends up sounding a bit like a bridge between the two formally released records. The Five Fifths picked up the spark from the four-track takes, filling in the gaps with graceful accents and dynamics.

"Compared to Pastoral it's very unsettled, and I think his idea to release both versions tells a more complete story," explains Rowe. "The full-band record is a declaration, all holding forth in a bar, bellicose and looking for a fight. The solo record is a confession, worried, at a kitchen table. At least that's what I pictured."

Despite the common material, these records really are distinct presentations. That much is clear from the simple fact that they have different track sequences. To Kutchma, the singular vibes he heard by shifting the order underscored the artistic rationale for releasing the two albums simultaneously but separately. He's aware some listeners might see it as a marketing ploy, but he insists it's not.

Another option might have been to release the two recordings together as a double album, but Kutchma felt separate records better suited his purpose. "That was an artistic choice too. Certain people will be like, 'This sucks, this is a dude in his bedroom.' Other people are going to say, 'I really love the intimacy of that one,' and not like the bigger band version. And I'm OK with either one of those."

And if a humble music scribe suggests that the initial four-track cassette version might actually be the best of the three recordings—well, that's part of the beauty of Kutchma's willingness to post it on the Internet. Again, it bears out his point about artists taking advantage of the possibilities of the modern era.

The multiple forms that Sundown, USA eventually assumed ultimately trace back to what Kutchma wanted to say when he was ready to follow up Pastoral. "It may be a testament to the importance of having a vision of what an album is about," he suggests. "If this album would've been the material on Pastoral, I don't know if I would have been as driven to do it as a solo thing."

By definition, solo implies a more personal perspective, and that's part of what Kutchma is getting at on the album's final track, "Centric." Written after the cassette recording was made (it's the one tune missing from that version), "Centric" addresses the notion of "being geocentric or heliocentric—you think that either the world revolves around you or you revolve around it," he says.

"When I work with the Five Fifths and even Red Collar, it's not just me. I am not the center of the universe with that," he says. "However, there is a time in everybody's life when you are the center of the universe. All those decisions, it comes down to you."

It's like that matter of whether the sun's going to come up tomorrow, and how it's up to each of us to take personal responsibility for it.

"That's a very fulfilling thing to admit," he marvels. "It's an empowering thing. It's up to me. No matter how low or high on the totem pole you are, everything comes down to you and the choices that you make, every single day."

This article appeared in print with the headline "(Re-)made in the U.S.A.."

-Peter Blackstock
The Independent Weekly
June 6, 2013

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The full band version is available here:

jkutchma.bandcamp.com/album/sundown-usa

The demo version is available here:

jkutchma.bandcamp.com/album/detroit

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credits

released June 11, 2013

Jason Kutchma: vocals, guitar, harmonica

Mastered by Nick Petersen at Track & Field

Album photo by Jeremy M. Lange
jeremymlange.com

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Track Name: Something Got In the Way
How many days had I alone
Just like this with no lights on
Thinking how many more ahead me lie?

Some light downtown burning bright
And some dumb kid looks up to the sky
He says nothing’s gonna stand in my way

It’s going to come soon enough
I hope you’re strong I hope you were raised tough
I hope your Momma never cut you no slack

Almost, almost, you’ll be so close
But this was not how it was supposed to go
Cause something'll get in your way

Everybody’s says that you’ll be fine
But it’s just what they ay not what’s on their minds

Put away your photographs
Take away those things from the past
Take them away
Erase them from your mind

Everybody says that you’ll be fine
But it’s just what they ay not what’s on their minds
Everybody says that I’ll be fine
I must look unsure cause they say it all the time
Track Name: I Believe Everything's Gonna Be Alright
I believe that I’m this month’s centerfold in How-To-Be-Down-And-Out
I believe I got no certainties except for this I got no doubt
There aint' no greater hurt on the heartless earth
Than when you lose the ability to dream
But I believe I’m gonna be alright

I scratched and crawled I cried and bawled
I was shamed cause I believed
That somehow this, the way it is, ain’t how it’s supposed to be
How I love every one of my poor failed dreams
And the failed friends they'd always bring
But their lies, their heathen lies, got me sad and low
So sad and low

So sad and low
Do you hear me?
I said sad and low!
And although I’ve lost complete control
I'm gonna have every one of you know
I’m gonna be there standing tall
Oh yes when tomorrow comes
Side by side with my poor battered dreams oh yes
in spite of none of them dreams have ever been appeased
By no small amount of my blood
I believe I’m going to be alright
Track Name: The Moment When the Full Moon'll Rise
Hey yo
Hey yo hey yo
You need a friend tonight
I’ll look over there
You can look me anywhere
Except in the eye
We can sit here
Side by side
Watch the moonbeam
Paper punched moonbeam
On a black paper night

And though the world may no more turn
And all these cars gonna fucking burn
Me and my graffiti eyes
Are going to sit and wait for the full moon to rise

You think he’ll just stay there
Huh? Just gonna stay there
Stay there all night?
So big and full
Baby you’re so beautiful
Motor City sky
You got any more of that
Huh? You got any more of that
My mouth’s so dry
You can look all around
Just don’t you look down
And tonight’s all right

And though the world may no more turn
And all these cars gonna fucking burn
Me and my graffiti eyes
Are going to sit and wait for the full moon to rise

Hey yo
Hey yo hey yo
You need a friend tonight
I’ll look over there
You can look me anywhere
Except in the eye
We can sit here
Side by side
Watch the moonbeam
Paper punched moonbeam
On a black paper night

And though the world may no more turn
And all these cars gonna fucking burn
Me and my graffiti eyes
Are going to sit and wait for the full moon to rise
Track Name: Nowhere In the World I'd Rather Be
There's nothing I’d rather see right now than your eyes
Nothing I’d rather see right now than your eyes
Oh to see and think oh Boy I really hope those are tears of joy
No, nothing I’d rather see right now than your eyes

There's nothing I’d rather have right now than your kiss
Nothing I’d rather have right now than your kiss
However you got them soft or strong baby just make them last all night long
There's nothing I’d rather have right now than your kiss

There's nowhere I’d rather be than in your arms
Nowhere in the world I’d rather be than in your arms
You make feel all loosey goosey like .38 Special singing ‘Hang on, Lucy!’
There's nowhere in the world I’d rather be than in your arms

There's nowhere in the world I’d rather be than home with you
Nowhere in the world I’d rather be than home with you
We’d roll around them covers till noon then order us some of that Chinese food
Nowhere in the world I’d rather be than home with you

There's nothing I’d rather have right now than your touch
No, nothing I’d rather have right now than your touch
I’d travel East to West and I’d make it fast just to get you baby whatever you ask
Just don’t ever ask me for too much cause I’m broke

There's nothing I’d rather do right now than sing you a lullaby
Nope, nothing I’d rather do right now than sing you a lullaby
But I got me problems called Time and Space, Einstein says it's all bullshit anyways
Though that don’t really help me out one bit right now

I just want to lay my head on your shoulder
Just want to lay my head on your shoulder
And you'll put your little hand in mine and we’d thumb wrestle best out of nine
And I’d be happy just to watch you get older
Track Name: February Is My Finish Line
Besides the pills and bills and my belly ills I really can’t complain
Though back when it was good it really wasn’t great
But I got less calls from these assholes who're ringing me twenty times a day
Saying there’s some other damn thing that I got to pay

Mister, you got the wrong number
No one here no no one knows that guy
Hey Mister Governor
Believe me yes believe me I’m really gonna try
But in January I’m just gonna squeak on by

Well I must admit the heart tugs a bit at your semi-friendly voice
As you talk and talk and talk and yakkity yak
Like I got a Rolls Royce

I give the wife a kiss and I go to the crib and I grab my girl and boy
We say into the phone no no one’s home
But please sir don’t be annoyed

Mister, you got the wrong number
We think you confused your fours and fives
Hey Mister Governor
You think maybe just once in my life
February can be my finish line?
Track Name: Then We'll Take the Moon
Can we take the moon?
One day we’ll be able to
Can we just get out of here?
That would be alright with me dear
Get a house on the shore?
And a cabin in the woods for when we get bored?
Then we’ll take the moon?
Yes, then we’ll take the moon
Can we take the sun?
It’s just right there on the horizon
It don’t look too far away
Betcha we make it in half a day
Oh I did that once
Well I went around the world just chasing suns
You get close but they go down
So let’s just stick with the moon for now

We’ll call it home
Just like that yes call it home
All alone
No more knocks on the door no calls on the phone
Just like that
Real soon
We’re going to take the moon

I think up in them stars
We’ll be better than where we are
I think up in that sky
We’ll be better yes you and I
We’ll smile when we look back down
And I’ll ask does my baby feel better now
And you’ll say yes oh I do
Oh I do oh baby yes I do
But what will we do you and I
When that moon looks like a lemon slice
Looks like that don’t you think
Like the kind they put in them fancy drinks
We’ll do what we do now
When we walk on the corner of Some Way and Some How
And hope they don’t disappear
We’ll hope they don’t disappear

Just like home
Just like what we call home
And alone
With all of our shit on the side of the road
Along with me and you
Just like that
Track Name: I'll Move No More
Oh I did yes I did get the hell out of the way
And I did yes I did left when you said don’t stay
Whatever you wanted I’d walk or I’d run
To always wind up back at square one
I moved when you yes you said so
I moved when you yes you said I got to gotta go
Then I bawled when called coward times two three and four
But I meant what I said I’m a coward no more

My time has come
My time has come
Push me or pull me or knock me to the floor
I meant what I said and I’ll move no more

Poked and prodded then knocked to the ground
I bowed and allowed you to keep me down
Until you yes you you make your amends
I will not break and I will not bend
You fooled me once and you fooled me twice
But I am the fool for being fooled all my life
Why is this space yours? Why yours and not mine?
You should be the one to move along this is occupied

My time has come
My time has come
Push me or pull me or knock me to the floor
I meant what I said and I’ll move no more

Not one step will I take not one bone will I move
I’ve made up my mind and I’m tired of being used
Used for your joys then used for your gains
You used me till almost nothing remained
I will not hide and I will not run
I am not through and I am not done
Don’t tell me to go don’t tell me to leave
I will move when I damn well please

My time has come
My time has come
Push me or pull me or knock me to the floor
I meant what I said and I’ll move no more
credits
Track Name: Sundown, USA
At the end of every day I make a sun set
I fade it down on another town where Luck’s a better bet
While I’m living in an old city’s ribcage long since dead

This is a town that’s one first last stand
This is a town that’s one last first chance
All my blood and my sweat that never scrubs out
Holes in my wallet remind me what I’m all about
And all of them fellas all out getting stoned
Paying workingman’s money just to fade
Maybe forget about
Their workingman’s home

Watch them drink maybe buy them one more
Lift that glass with soiled fingers and they'll be stumbling to that door
Ask if Luck made that gash? Did it make lights dim?
Did it bloat that body and will what’s sunk ever swim in Sundown

Some say the road out of here it never ends
Kinda fades across this country just to come round and begin again
Somewhere on that highway there may be a change
But I bet the only difference will be a porch and new paint

I look ahead again at that faraway town and see a sun’s final rays
I see a home in weakening light then I catch an old man’s gaze
Looking back into darkness to faint light of fading stars
Still so sure Luck will rearrange the lie of a gypsy’s cards
Is there a limit to our luck like there is to our time and belief?
Then what did he run out of if he believed such things every sundown?

There was a time when I hated here
I only wanted Sundown in the rearview mirror
In dreams I’d drive as far as I could
But in life Sundown sets at the front of my hood
Oh that sun it’ll rise and it’ll fall
But will Luck have its way with you all
Like Love a power we can’t create
Or is it one we do like Fear and Hate
And if I were on this Earth its only soul
On Life would Luck have it's way and its hold
Or would I say it's jsut the way life goes sometimes

I have so many secrets so much I keep to myself
But up on the hill for the ninety ninth time
This one I think I can tell
With Luck but not with Chance
If you don’t pretend it fraud
If no fortune’s ever had
Don’t blame Luck
Blame the Odds
Don't say I never said
It's not the fault of Sundown

At the end of every day I make a sun set
Track Name: The Carolers at 3AM
Hear the siren, the wail of the law
It think Honey they’re playing our song
The carolers at 3 AM

Blue and red lights black and white sing
To the right of the wrong frequency
Then the strings of the strays join in

One day I'll find way
I’ll be sure, I will know
One day I'll find my way
I’ll be sure, I will know
My way back home

They sing from the depths of the deep of their chest
And only stop to catch their breath
So badly they want to say

With howls and bays that this will end
With a major to minor bend
Or rather say descend

One day I'll find way
I’ll be sure I will know
One day I'll find my way
I’ll be sure I will know
My way back home
Track Name: Centric
Nothing lasts forever
No matter how hard you try
That with life is that with lifetime

It all takes one step further
Sorry I meant farther away
Sometimes I wonder if just perspective's changed

Don't say it never mattered
Once it really did
Life or death in the 17th Century

Everyone a judge or juror
Scientist, high priest
Reputation always on the line

All locked up in that prison
Some find the key
Being alone is a consequence of being free

Weren't you loud enough?
Were you just too proud there huh
When the night came in?

Or did the day decide to leave you
When you were by yourself?