With his first full album as Dolfish, I’d Rather Disappear Than Stay the Same, Max Sollisch presents himself to a national audience fully formed and gorgeously conceived. It’s an immersive listen for anyone fond of fine off-kilter songwriting — particularly listeners who don’t mind lyrics delivered in a squawking whimper reminiscent of Neil Young — but the intrigue runs even deeper for those who’ve witnessed him finding his voice in this city’s dive bars, coffee shops and concert halls over the past half decade.
The young songwriter who spent his undergrad years mimicking the likes of John Darnielle, Conor Oberst and Elliott Smith has merged his influences into something stirring and unique. Tuesday, his album comes out on Afternoon Records, home to indie-pop favorites John Vanderslice and Pomegranates. Wednesday, Sollisch celebrates with a Halloween release party at Kobo. Then it’s off to months and months of touring, Sollisch and his guitar crisscrossing interstates in a 2005 Scion.
It’s not that different from what he’s has been doing since going solo two years ago, but more people are paying attention — national press, college radio spins, bigger venues with better bands. The troubadour’s ceaseless cycles have spun into upward trajectory.
“Sometimes you feel like nothing’s building towards anything, you know?” Sollisch said via phone last week. “And right now it just feels like I can see all of the stuff that I’ve been doing for the last two years totally paying off.”
Whether or not Sollisch’s slavish work ethic results in him making a living of this, the artistic dividends are evident on I’d Rather Disappear. He’s become a keen observer, spinning overheard conversations into clever examinations of human behavior. His guitar playing, sharpened from playing solo, floats nimbly in and out of the foreground. His melodies stick.
Perhaps most notable to anyone who experienced Sollisch’s “embarrassingly autobiographical” early work with Our Cat Philip is how powerfully he describes his own experience. Opening track “Grown Ups” is a story about processing alcoholism as a child, with images of “Boy Meets World” interspersed with visions of his mother vomiting into the kitchen sink. He sings: “Matt McNamara heard from his older brother about Jimi Hendrix/ Choked and drowned in his own puke/ I thought that would happen to you.”
Sollisch recorded the album over five days at a house in Iowa with Patrick Tape Fleming of fellow Afternoon signee Poison Control Center. The first Dolfish release, 2010’s eight-minute, five-song EP Your Love Is Bummin’ Me Out, stuck to a consistent feel and production style, a bashed-out, echo-laden twang you might call shoegaze country on speed. This one employs a wider range of sounds, songs bleeding into each other in a carefully curated palette ranging from Daniel Johnston’s gentle quivers to Modest Mouse’s stray cat snarl.
“The one thing I really wanted to do was create a rawer sound like how I have live. Six or so of the tracks are simply just me with an acoustic guitar and two mics right in the living room,” Sollisch said. “I tried to deal with it as like, I wrote 12 songs, I’m going to do whatever treatment that the songs call for.”
That same practicality led Sollisch back to his hometown of Cleveland Heights last summer when his girlfriend got a job there. After coming of age in Columbus, he’s still learning to navigate Cleveland’s rock clubs and DIY spaces, but the choice was easy for someone used to sacrificing for his passions.
“I can pursue my dream of touring being a musician from just about anywhere in the whole country,” Sollisch said.
And he does, and he will.