2013-12-12 / Front Page

Far from home

Travel inspires album of transition songs
By Ben Meiklejohn Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A local songwriter will release a CD next month of songs he composed while traveling between Maine and the United Kingdom, where he spent time earning his doctorate in education at the University of Manchester.

Chad Walls, who teaches English at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, wrote the songs in transit – on planes, trains and always while en route to another place. When he returned to Maine, he wanted to capture the displacement and nostalgia of the songs. Walls gathered together some musician friends to record the album, and the band, An Overnight Low, was born.

The Biddeford native said he never intended for An Overnight Low to be a performing band and mainly wanted to get his songs recorded as an audial journal of what he felt like living in a different world.

“I was living in another country and it made me feel guilty because I was liking it more,” Walls said. “It raised so many questions for me about loyalty and patriotism.”

While traveling between the two countries during breaks, Walls said the spare time gave him an opportunity to reflect on his experiences in the foreign country. It all began with a nine-hour delay at Heathrow Airport, while traveling home for Christmas. Walls began poring over his pictures and videos of Scotland and began discovering common themes of friendship, distance, travel and the calming effects of ale.

The resulting songs combined to form what will be An Overnight Low’s debut album, “Euston,” named after one of the major railway stations in London. Walls said he plans to continue the project by releasing two more albums within the next year, also named after train stations – Piccadilly in Manchester and Waverly in Edinburgh in Scotland.

The opening track of “Euston,” the hopeful and optimistic “The Artist in the Wrong World,” was named and inspired after a chapter of a book by a Maine author, Robert Tristram Coffin, that Walls pulled off the shelf to use as a clipboard. Walls said the buildings in Edinburgh are haunted, and the song introduces the discovery of finding a new voice, as if communicating with spirits.

“Perhaps Scottish ales inspired me that evening, but perhaps it was an old Maine ghost,” Walls said.

Chris White, who plays guitar and sings on the album, said Walls achieved his own songwriting voice on the album.

“It feels like his voice, even though there are different people singing the songs,” White said.

Walls, who plays bass, doesn’t actually sing the songs he wrote. On “Euston,” White, Holly Nunan and Matt Caldwell take care of most of the lead and backup vocals.

White, who has worked with Walls musically since 1997, and was in the band Frotus Caper with him, said An Overnight Low is a different experience because the music was all written by Walls and the musicians are primarily trying to help him convey the story.

“It’s his story of a person who is removed from the familiar and put into a new place, trying to navigate the nostalgia and hopefulness,” White said. “There is also the travel motif – a lot of references to planes, trains and automobiles.”

Walls said homesickness and the thought of friendships long past also weighed in as heavy themes for the album. The song “Junebug” is about the death of a friend who had held people together, and having to deal with things when they unravel.

“When I was traveling on a train, I got a little depressed and started to think to myself, ‘What would happen if I died? How fast would the information get to my family?’” Walls said. “There were so many peaks and valleys in how I felt being away from home. ‘Junebug’ was definitely a valley.”

Walls said the song “London” is also about the death of friendship in general – how in time, people grow apart and only see each other at weddings and funerals. The song was also inspired when he realized how little people may pay attention to the details of their friends’ lives.

“It’s about me returning home from Manchester one summer and discovering that most everyone thought I moved to London. It reminded me of my northern friends who would often complain that most of the world considers London synonymous with England,” Walls said.

In “Sleeper,” Walls captures lyrically the conflict between his longing for home and his enjoyment of a different country. “I don’t want to celebrate the Fourth of July yet/I’m not ready to come home yet.”

Walls said it was not meant to come across as an antipatriotic statement, but more as a sentiment that at the time, he wasn’t ready to return to America.

While the album touches upon the feelings of being a stranger in a strange land, homesickness combined with an urge to remain far from home, despair, reminiscence and memories of friendships long gone, the overall atmosphere remains hopeful, positive and looking forward to a new day.

“It just kind of keeps marching forward,” White said.

With clean guitar sounds and generous doses of vocal harmonies, light soft-pop drumming and chord progressions that keep it simple, “Euston” sounds like what R.E.M. would sound like if they were downgraded from being a spectacle arena-rock band to being a small folk-rock band performing in a cafe or in the intimate setting of your own living room.

“Euston,” by An Overnight Low will be available on iTunes and at Bull Moose on Jan. 21. The band also plans to schedule some performances to celebrate the release of its debut CD.

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