"I take a pretty long time to write a song," Andrew Cedermark says. "Historically, that's been because I've kept working on it and working on it, on my computer at home. I have a million little doodles and ditties, things I've written down on pieces of paper and things I've played on the guitar. But I started realizing that, if [making records] is something I want to do seriously, I can't do it on GarageBand for the rest of my life. If I don't want to be an amateur, it's an important psychological step to actually make the investment in myself, and in this music, and go into a studio."
So he did. Cedermark, a founding member and former guitarist for northern New Jersey punk outfit Titus Andronicus, has spent the past year in and out of Marcata Recording, a studio run by longtime friend (and Titus associate) Kevin McMahon in a barn just outside of New Paltz, New York, hard at work on Lean on Me, the full-length follow-up to 2010's Moon Deluxe. The result, due this spring via Underwater Peoples, is a "cleaner" affair with, as Cedermark explains, a "barrel-aged feel" that takes its title from the classic Bill Withers song of the same name.
But Withers' influence, Cedermark says, extends beyond sonics or composition. "He was working in a manufacturing plant," Cedermark says of Withers, "and he was like, 'No man, I'm not going to quit my job. That'd be crazy. The music business is crazy.' But I think that indie rock in particular should leave open a space for people who don't tour." In fact, Cedermark's decision to leave Titus Andronicus four years ago stems from his dissatisfaction with just that.
"The thought is that on you're on the road being an artist," he explains. "But when you're on tour and you're driving around, going from town to town, you're not really engaging with the stuff of life and everything that makes your art relatable to other people. That you can't be at home and just writing your music and living your life has created an environment where, lyrically at least, the indie rock we consume is disconnected. The things that people say have little to do with what's happening in people's lives."
While recording in a studio on a tight budget forced Cedermark (currently a copy editor at The Record, a daily newspaper in New Jersey's Bergen County) to edit his ideas more aggressively than before, it also afforded him the opportunity to foreground his vocals for the first time. "I bought a microphone and have been working on singing for the past three our fours months," he says. "I had never sang vocals in the studio before, but I'm hoping that you'll be able to hear all the words, that what I'm saying will be a more important part to the experience."
Be it in the windswept rock of "Train Window" or amid the doleful chords of its title track, a "rewriting" of Wither's original, you can: Lean On Me is a beautifully written, intermittently devastating collection of songs not unlike those of Silver Jews' David Berman, another luminary Cedermark describes as a "touring and marketing-adverse" craftsman. "This is more of a band record, because I am playing with other people who knew the songs and people with whom I practice," he says. "But I don't really want to get out and tour all that much. I will, for fun, when we can. I'm not trying to build a life around it."