For years, Will Toledo has taken questions from fans on Car Seat Headrest‘s Tumblr account. Today, he revealed some interesting details about the songwriting and publicly processes behind his two most ambitious albums. Discussing last year’s much-acclaimed Teens of Denial and 2011’s Twin Fantasy, the musician dissected the merits of songs as individual works versus the broader merits of the concept album. Unpacking some of the marketing decisions behind the band’s actions, as well as putting some Sufjan Steven’s lyrics under the microscope, Toledo shared a revealing anecdote about the album’s marketing along with his thoughts on how music industry PR can negatively influence the enjoyment of art:
When we’d wrapped up the record and I was discussing with our publicist what the best approach would be for promoting it, I sent her a track-by-track breakdown of the album, explaining the overarching narrative, and how each song fit in context. Ultimately, we decided to leave this aspect of the record unspoken in promotional material, and focus instead on the strength of the songs as individual works. Thus, the narrative that subsequently built up around the album was about its songs, their accessibility, their potential as works of mass consumption. I had assumed, perhaps blithely, that people who preferred concept records to pop songs, who sought meaning through the building of ideas through a record rather than an immediate emotional release provided by an explicit turn of phrase, would encounter the album on their own time, listen to it while reading the lyrics, and discover that it did, in fact, function on this level as well. I underestimated the power of promotional narrative to influence people’s beliefs about what a thing actually is.
This is an idea that has always haunted me, because I don’t speak through press releases, I speak through my art. Most artists do. A press release is something designed to get people to look at art – it should, under no circumstances, be able to replace the art, to override its meaning through memetic repetition. (This is also a large part of what bothered me with C&L; I was tired of seeing people trying to interpret lines like “You checked your texts while I masturbated” under an unshakeable assumption that it must be about his mother’s death.) You must not allow the world to convince you to consume art like this. Art so rarely falls into your lap unannounced, but you must make the effort to pretend as such each time you enter a work; forget what you know about the artist, what you’ve heard other people say about the work, and try to experience it as direct communication. That is the only way you will be able to understand the art as it was intended to be understood.”