Singer, songwriter and guitarist Alexander Paquet on the tense, ambient 'Better Grid'
Alexander Paquet, who records and performs as Field Sleeper, recently took in the “Aerospace Folktales” exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art.
As part of the exhibit, photographer Allan Sekula included tape-recorded diaries from his father, an aerospace engineer with Lockheed Martin, and his mother, a homemaker. The father, being more analytical, had a tendency to attempt only deep, profound, deliberate statements, while the mother's entries were casual and free-flowing, creating a fuller, more impactful picture of life within the family. This reality struck a chord with Paquet, who has largely treated songwriting as though making a capital-s “Statement” is a requirement of the form.
“Yeah, there's value in being ultra-deliberate, but I think I also rob myself of more fun and worthwhile things by REALLY TRYING TO FIT IT ALL INTO THIS ONE SONG,” said Paquet, who performs a release show for new Field Sleeper full-length Better Grid at Ace of Cups on Thursday, March 29. “It can be a good exercise, though, because I feel pretty clean now.”
Paquet wouldn't have described the creation of his latest in such genial terms previously, labeling the stretch of time that birthed Better Grid as a tense, difficult period. (The album was recorded over two one-week sessions, the first in February 2017 and the second that June.)
“If I'm being real, it wasn't a fun record to make,” said the Detroit-born Paquet, 23, who has been playing as Field Sleeper since 2012. “I started going back to school but wasn't sure what I was doing; I still don't . … Then somewhere in that June session I was thinking, you know, I really don't want to end up in this spot again. After I finished, I said, ‘That felt like the end of a horror movie where someone finally gets out of the haunted house. Wow. That was weird. I never want to go back again.'”
This tension reveals itself in lines where Paquet sings of a tightening in his chest (the anxiety-driven “The Cliff”) and of a growing, all-consuming uncertainty (“Every Door”). But even where the singer's words are unsteady, the music remains sure-footed, the hypnotic, measured pacing serving as a blood-pressure-lowering balm.
“I can be a very uptight and tense and overwhelmed person, and so it was liberating to have music that, in order to perform it well, required me to slow down,” said Paquet, whose dreamy compositions walk a line between ambient and experimental acoustic rock — a vibe augmented by his choice of recording engineer, experimental musician Mike Shiflet. “A lot of the heavy lifting of recording the album was making sure nothing really popped out and altered that pace.”
Though a difficult record, Better Grid does end on a more hopeful note with a pair of tunes that find Paquet regaining some footing. “Tunnel's End” recounts a family car ride and serves as a reminder that music can be a joyous enterprise — “It's an ode to chasing your musical ghosts, or what first inspired you,” he said — while instrumental closer “Family Forest” traces an escape, of sorts.
“The sounds that you hear [on ‘Family Forest'], all the birds, they were recorded outside my window,” said Paquet, who has adopted a more outward-looking focus in his songwriting in the months since making Better Grid, exploring multiple perspectives and flirting with narrative-driven structures rather than deep, internal dives. “The way that song starts is the same as the rest of the album, with that slow guitar, but then it gradually gives rise to space — first the room that it was recorded in, then to the outside surroundings. … It was pretty much [the sound of] me getting out of my own head.”