Flooded with song ideas and facing the loss of the grandmother who raised him, Jeremy Squires takes an experimental and emotional approach to Unravel, his eleventh album.
The New Bern, North Carolina musician recorded two of the songs in his late grandmother’s home as a way of saying goodbye. Other tracks were built with friends as a way to stay connected during the pandemic. Although Squires pulled from disparate influences and instruments, somehow Unravel feels effortlessly woven together into a cohesive statement.
“My granny was the foundation of our family, and because my mom, my dad, and my grandparents have all passed away, she was the last thing I had really. So when she passed away, I felt like things were unraveling,” Squires says. “But, unraveling isn’t just a negative thing. It could be something unraveling into something beautiful, like a different story is about to start, or another chapter. For me I felt like things were going to fall apart, and then everything was OK in the end.”
Unravel opens with “My Last Song,” the first time Squires has written a song on bass. He sent a demo, heavy on the low end with just a hint of vocals and synth, to drummer Erin Tate (formerly of Minus the Bear). Tate returned the track with percussion, which inspired Squires to then surround the song with light, airy guitar. Dreamy and melodic, but with a tinge of desperation and imminent danger, it introduces Unravel as one of Squire’s most compelling and creative albums across a career spanning 15 years.
Music and family has been central to Squire’s story from the start. When he was 11, his grandmother bought him an acoustic guitar in an antique store. He played and toured with punk bands as a young adult, until his son was born in 2001. His songwriting began to blossom, as heard on his first two albums – A Place to Hide and In the Dark – which he remastered and released during the pandemic. Despite the time that had passed, Squires remained connected to the work.
“It was weird to see just how much I have changed since then. And how much musically I’ve changed,” he says. “It was pretty rad though. I was afraid to dig into it, but I liked how lo-fi the recordings were. It seemed like a drastic difference in sounds compared to what I have now. Back before the pandemic, I would always play some of those songs live because I thought they were really good songs but I never listened to the recordings. I was actually scared when I was going to go back and listen to them, like, ‘Man… this is going to sound really bad!’ But I didn’t hate it!”
Some songs on Unravel such as “Fade,” with an acoustic guitar prominent in the arrangement, may serve as bridges between Squires’ older work and his new material. Others, like “Only in My Dreams,” are very much of-the-moment, where the cinematic opening lines put a listener immediately into the narrative. Squire’s gift for vivid description comes through repeatedly on the album.
“When I listened back to this album, it seems like you can really see and feel what I was talking about, or singing about. It’s like a story,” he says. “Lyrically it seems more in-depth. There’s something about this album that is more dreamy. I can see where it’s definitely different than anything that I’ve released.”
With the downtime during the pandemic, Squires embraced the opportunity to write in unexpected ways. For “Aurora,” he started with a drum beat, then worked around it with synth and vocals, not adding bass until its final stages. His friend Cody Ray played drums and bass and sang backups on “Unravel.” He wrote “Dream Walking” as a last-minute addition to the album, then recorded it at his granny’s house after her unexpected death in August 2020. The song “Burst,” one of the album’s moodiest tracks, was also recorded there.
In that song, he asks, “Am I deranged?” and admits it was written during a time with a lot of ups and downs. It could be about his marriage, or it could be about struggling with faith. Others may think it’s about his history with mental illness, a theme that runs through his albums.
“I always try to write about it, and even when I don’t try, it will find its way in,” he says. “And it’s in a way that I feel can help the listener, and anybody that struggles with anxiety. I try to put a piece of myself in there that somebody could relate to. Sometimes when I’m writing, at first it’s fun, and then at the end of it, I feel like I went through a battle. And sometimes I feel better, like, ‘Wow, that helped me.’”
As Unravel winds down, “Crosses” stands out for its layered bass and intriguing vocal fade-out, while “Diminish” has a vibe that fits well with its music video, which Squires filmed in abandoned houses. “Borderline” provides a poignant conclusion to the collection.
“I think that song’s about getting close to a tipping point,” he explains. “I tried to make it beautiful but it’s really a sad song. I was going through something when I wrote that one. I wanted it to be at the end because the whole album seemed to build, and to rise and fall, and I felt like that song was a good closer. I feel like leaving the album with that fit perfectly.”
Hearing the album now, Squires says, “I feel relief, I feel release, when I listen to it. I feel good. I feel like it’s something that I can be proud of. With a lot of things, I’m a perfectionist, but with this one, I’m happy with everything. It tells what I wanted it to tell, from what I was going through during the pandemic, everything I lost. It’s about finding a healthy balance and finding beauty in dark times.”
UNRAVEL Track Listing:
1. My Last Song
3. Only in My Dreams
6. Dream Walking