Drew Clausen releases new music from Weird Brother and solo project Saint Whatever
'Pandemic Cowboy' came to the former Mors Ontologica frontman in a dream, while the more personal 'Mental Vacation' inspired a new solo outlet
Back in April 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, a fully formed song came to Weird Brother singer/guitarist Drew Clausen during a dream that placed him at a block party outside of his childhood home in New Jersey.
In the dream, Clausen was performing a song for a small crowd. “There was a yard that separated my friend's house next door to me. I could look from my kitchen into his kitchen. That’s where I was for this yard party. … It was so clear,” Clausen said. “I could look out and see these redneck dudes in the crowd, and I was like, ‘Ah, I don't like those guys.’”
In the first line of the song — the dream version, as well as the Weird Brother version, which is available on Bandcamp now and officially releases to streaming platforms on Friday, March 19 — Clausen addresses his skepticism of the suspicious concert-goers. “Don’t worry about them cowboys, they’re doing just fine,” he sings on the new Kurt Vile-channeling track, which Clausen titled “Pandemic Cowboy.”
Recording at Weird Brother’s rehearsal space, the rest of the band — bassist Steve Barrish, keys player Johnny Riddle and percussionist Dennis Ingle — latched on to the new song right away, with nearly all the dream lyrics carrying over but one (“Drinking fancy wine” became “Drinking Pepsi wine” thanks to a fortuitously misheard lyric by Riddle). But perhaps the best confirmation of the subconscious song’s place in the real world came from Clausen’s oldest daughter, who was listening to an early mix of “Pandemic Cowboy” in the car with her dad. “Let’s listen to that again,” she said.
Writing songs during the pandemic provided a creative outlet and source of sanity, said Clausen, who used to play in Mors Ontologica and Montauk Trash. Recently, he realized some of the material from the last several months should probably see the light of day. “I’m sitting on stuff, and I need to put it out, because what is the point [otherwise]? It's not like I'm some big famous artist waiting for a drop date,” he said.
Not all of the new material fit into the Weird Brother mold, though, so Clausen began a casual solo project he dubbed Saint Whatever after an offhand remark from his wife. (“She made a comment about the St. Christopher medallion I was wearing and said, ‘You know, Saint Whatever.’”) On his own, he could play older songs from Mors or Montauk, or newer songs that didn’t quite feel right with Weird Brother. “I don't want to put people in the position where they feel obligated to come learn a song and come rehearse. I have all the tools. This is what I've done my whole life. I can do it myself,” he said.
The first Saint Whatever track, “Mental Vacation,” which is also available on Bandcamp and will see wider release on April 2, came about during Weird Brother’s recording sessions for Fail Fast. While the mics were set up, Clausen played his acoustic guitar and sang some songs he thought of as demos at the time. He had his family on his mind, and the material reflected the more personal nature.
“It probably dealt with my recovery and my daughter — things that I wasn't going to have a good time and dance around with in Weird Brother,” said Clausen, who sent the track to producer Glenn Davis and recruited cellist Samuel Johnson to fill out the song with string parts. Over time, “Mental Vacation” became a droning, two-chord vamp led by Clausen’s Lou Reed-evoking, spoken-word-style vocals.
“At the end, there's this breath that [Johnson] does on the cello, and it’s my favorite part,” he said. “It's such a Zen kind of way to end the song.”