Mike Caridi has some questions. You might expect that he would. Last year, his cult beloved rock band LVL UP, often on the edge of calling it quits, finally made the decision to disband at more or less the peak of their success. They’d been signed to Seattle stalwarts at Sub Pop and were playing successful tours across the country—living more or less the best life you could hope for as a rock band these days. But it was time for a change. None of the members seem to harbor any bad vibes about their dissolution, at least publicly, but that sort of thing is a big life change; it’s an unmooring.
Fitting then that the first music that Caridi has released since then, billed under the moniker The Glow, finds him doing a lot of self-probing. On May 24, he’ll release an album called Am I, which, as its title suggests, allows him the space to explore a lot of open-ended questions, consider the past, to figure out who he is in this new space. The title, he says via email, came to him after he’d finished the record, when he sat down and wrote out all the lyrics and realized that these sorts of questions were all over it: “Am I good? Am I alone? Am I capable?”
“I tend to question myself a lot of the time,” Caridi says. “Life decisions I’m making, and so on. I’ve found it helpful and healthy to question myself. I want to be self aware, and to understand myself and why I make whatever decisions I make.”
The Glow has existed as an outlet for Caridi’s solo efforts for a few years now. The project began, he says, as a part of a “song a day for a week type exercise” a few years ago, and sort of became a repository for songs that didn’t feel like a fit for LVL UP. He played a few shows with a full band back at the end of 2015 and 206, but mostly The Glow been an exercise in working alone, a prospect he says can be tricky for him. “Working on these songs in a less collaborative setting felt sort of maddening,” he says. “I have a hard time letting go of things unless there’s somebody there to tell me it’s done or that I need to stop.”
He’s a natural tinkerer—which feels linked to the self-examining aspect of the songs. If he’s constantly wondering about how he fits in the world, its natural that it’d extend to how he makes his songs too: what if this bridge were different? What if I tweaked this EQ just a hair? But it’s resulted in a really considered record. It’s linked, naturally, to the fuzzed-out rock songs that he made with LVL UP, but also with their own compositional contortions folded in.
You can hear some of that on the two songs he’s releasing from the record today, “I Am Not Warm” and “Weight of Sun.” The former is a feedback-gilded rock song that also happens to feature unearthly harmonies, malleted percussion and an outro instrumental that sounds like a Fennesz piece. The latter features surreal vocal effects that turn Caridi into a melancholic alien, looking back on the past from some stratospheric perspective.
These two songs, per Caridi, represent two phases of the record. The first half was written, more or less, before LVL UP’s dissolution and the latter afterward. You’ll have to lean in to make out the differences over the fuzz, but in the later half there’s a little bit of hope buried in the uncertainty and existential questioning. Press materials suggest this a record of goodbyes, to old friends and old versions of the self. If that’s true, it’s only insomuch as goodbyes can signify new beginnings—that shedding old skin allows for new growth.
NOISEY: What has the Glow allowed you to explore that your more collaborative situations haven’t?
Mike Caridi: have a hard time letting go of things unless there’s somebody there to tell me it’s done or that I need to stop. I’ll tinker all day, and that really was sort of the recording process for these songs. They were never complete until I set a deadline for myself. Each time I opened up the project files I would end up recording a new keyboard part, or rerecording the guitars or vocals, or just find something that I felt could / should be better. It gave me the opportunity to follow ideas and see where they led me, sort of a no rock left unturned situation.
There are so many moments on this record that took months of messing around with to end up there. The method I tried to follow on this record for the most part was don’t think too much in the beginning, record the basic rock band version that came naturally with drums, guitars, bass; once I had that foundation I felt more comfortable taking chances. I’d take the guitars out and replace them with piano or mellotron flutes or whatever. I feel really proud of where these recordings ended up, knowing how different they were in the beginning, I hope some of that comes through in the listening experience.
The proposition in the title of the album is an existential one. Obviously you ask a more specific version of the question on one of the tracks we’re premiering, but I wondered if you could talk about what the title means to you.
I didn’t think of the title for the album until after the record was finished. I had a couple sillier more melodramatic working titles for the album. I sat down and wrote all of the lyrics out once I finished recording, and I was struck that I had unknowingly been asking “am I” throughout the album. Am I good, am I alone, am I capable, and so on. I tend to question myself a lot of the time; life decisions I’m making, and so on. I’ve found it helpful and healthy to question myself. I want to be self aware, and to understand myself and why I make whatever decisions I make. The way I most effectively do this is by writing things down to work through them, which I guess is why these questions so often find their way into my songs.
These two songs kind of represent a split in the record—that half of the record was written in between the last two LVL UP records and half was written more recently. Was there a big split in your headspace between those two times?
Sure, I was definitely in a different headspace during the writing of the first half of this record versus the second half. On a base level I was much younger when I wrote the first five songs. Those all came about while I was 23. The second half of the record was written more recently, between 26 and 27 years old. While three or four years isn’t really that long a time, I felt like so much had happened in my life.
While I can still relate to the things I was thinking about and the ways I was feeling for those earlier songs, I think I process those thoughts and feelings a lot differently now, hopefully in a healthier way. I think that’s really the difference in the two halves of the record; I’m considering similar thoughts and feelings, but I’m understanding, processing, and questioning them in a much different way. I’d like to think the second half of the record feels a little less hopeless, I definitely felt less hopeless while I was writing it.
Towards the end of the song “Flaws” I say “living intentionally, harmoniously, and patiently,” which is something I’ve had to try to focus on the past couple years, and although it’s still something I work towards and will probably always have to be something I’m working towards, I think it captures some of the mentality behind the second half of the record.
By including older songs—and then in the lyrics as well lyrically—it seems like there’s some focus on memory in this record. Could you talk about the ways that memory plays into your songwriting? How do you look back on older times without romanticizing it?
I actually struggle to not romanticize memories. Not that I think that’s a problem, I can usually look back on some of my lowest times and feel a fondness towards them. It’s only a problem when I turn that into a cyclical pattern, or fail to see the personal harm in things.
When LVL UP ended I felt a sort of panicked identity crisis, which is what the last song on the record (plainly called “Memories”) is about. I was sitting and looking at old photos I’d taken from tours through the years, and reflecting on a lot of these memories, and the littlest most unimportant details that I remember most vividly. Waking up in the van to a sunrise over this terrible rest stop in Nevada, sitting on the side of a highway with our broken down van in rural Oregon, driving through smoke from a nearby forest fire, etc.
I was feeling like I had devoted my life to this thing, and people identified me as the person from that band, and it felt like this “who am I” moment when thing I was most connected to and with was gone. In retrospect it was a little melodramatic but I love that I purposefully leaned into it in the end with that last moment on the record. There’s also a lyric in that song that’s quoted from Dave [Benton from LVL UP]’s new project Trace Mountains. I wanted to acknowledge that I’m proud of my friends, the stuff we did together, and the stuff they’re doing separately now, and I’m gonna miss doing the dang thing with them!
The Glow's Am I is out May 24 on Double Double Whammy. You can pre-order it now.