February 27, 2012

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #12 :: Eef Barzelay (of Clem Snide)

[a non-traditional photo, for an exceptional chapel session]

I mean no slight to the eminent photographability of the man behind this post, as I usually start all my Chapel writeups with a visual of our time spent beneath those Romanesque arches. But I came across this photo as I was marveling for the three-dozenth time at the songs that Eef Barzelay poured out for us that night, and it just fit, so flawlessly. The ossified yellowy shades of need, affection, accident, and habit — all cradled and balanced perfectly. For once. When you listen to this extraordinary chapel session, maybe it will make sense to you too.

Let’s set this straight from the beginning. Saying that Eef Barzelay (of the band Clem Snide) is a standard songwriter is akin to saying that David Foster Wallace uses a few moderately interesting vocabulary words in his books. Eef thrills me. Eef pens songs that flay me. There are just a select few songwriters in this world that feel as though they are thinking with my same brain. They say things that make me gasp with how stunningly they fit the neural pathways I have threaded together over my lifetime. Eef gets my brain, my ways of characterizing and explaining things, my heart.

One of the primary effects I am looking for in a song is for that minute where it takes me completely out of my head and away from my logic, and I feel something burning hot and bright – cut free from the crud of the world, and defying logical connection. Something feels like it will be okay, even if it is not okay.

I saw Eef Barzelay perform three times the weekend this chapel session was recorded. The first night was in the small Marmalade Art Gallery by the train tracks just south of downtown, where Eef played to a full small room of folks perched in folding chairs, under a flock of paper cranes swinging in flight overhead. He introduced several of his short films assembled from “found footage” — primarily clips documenting slowed-down natural animal and human behavior, scored with his own original songs, layered with visual effects, and all coming to a gluey, sharp point.

Something in me cracked open during one of his films of a snake slowly eating a baby owl alive, soundtracked by a potent punch of an original song. In that four minutes there was a strange peace in the cessation of the fighting. As sad as it was (fuzzy baby animals!), it was utterly and completely brilliant, that song. There in my folding chair, I just leaked a steady, quiet, miniature river of tears for the next hour through the rest of his films and on through his live acoustic set with his bass ukulele. I couldn’t even exactly say precisely why, except that maybe I felt understood.

This is one of my favorite chapel sessions so far, because it is so densely loaded with stunners, and with truth. As Eef sings in another one of his songs, “No one gets through this life without making a mess.”

The quietude of the chapel naturally seems to extract the reverential, introspective songs from musicians. That evening was the perfect setting for Eef to introduce us to several songs all about a woman named Mary, from a forthcoming record, Songs For Mary. I don’t know who she is — a real person, an alias, or an abstract summation of femininity — but that is not important, because what we do know is that Eef pours the most beautifully honest truths out to her. Come.

SEPTEMBER 25, 2011

The Ballad of God’s Love
Man — right out of the gate, this song packs one of the biggest wallops of truth I have heard about any of our insides in a long time. Eef plainly sings, “And don’t, don’t be shy to look yourself dead in the eye / the emptiness you feel inside, well would you believe …but that’s where God’s love hides.” Paired with track 3, and you got yourself a pretty potent theology that I can get behind. I haven’t felt that in a long time.

Let Us Sail On
Eef described the late night that he wrote this song, in a Motel 6 off I-40 in Arkansas, listening to trucks rumble by outside at 3am. As the TV glowed soft and blue with music infomercials, Eef decided to pen his contribution to “yacht rock.” Despite the affinity that I think Christopher Cross might feel toward the idea, this one pierces much more deeply. Oh, how we diffused the light.

Of the five, this is the song from the session I have listened to the most. It contains the absolute jaw-smack of a lyric: “Mary, history is never wrong / still it’s only to this moment we belong. So if your inner scaffolding feels frail / just remember God loves mostly those who fail.” The lines that follow those ones are also just as staggering. This song came on shuffle for me in November, when I was wandering the National Gallery in London alone at night. I love to wander alone at night in museums, soundtracking with songs that take on new meanings through the hybrid. Across the room, my eyes landed on a Michelangelo painting, an unfinished Michelangelo. It was the beginnings and the middles of his attempt to paint Christ’s entombment. In the lower right-hand corner, Mary was slated but missing. Like all of Michelangelo’s work, it spoke to me like seeing an old friend across the crowded room. I sat on a bench in front of that picture and thought for a long time about omissions, changes in directions, Mary, art, and what we call failure.

Fill Me With Your Light
The only already-released song from our session, this sweetly unnerving song is off of the 2005 Clem Snide record End of Love. I believe Eef said it was about a guy he used to work with at a record store in Boston who said he was being visited by aliens in his room at night, and that the song was about a different kind of dark.

All Good Hearts Go Astray
Another wide-open, penetrating song to Mary that confronts myriad failures (burning the barns that we’ve raised) with a simple plea for the forgiveness that we all, really, need so much. All good hearts go astray, sometimes. There is so much grace woven throughout this chapel session, the real, crushingly difficult kind. And for that I am grateful.



  • love it! thanks for sharing.

    ryan — February 27, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

  • Amazing! Once again your chapel sessions have filled a void in my soul.

    Missy — February 28, 2012 @ 6:43 am

  • I saw Eef at Marmalade and was so blown away, thanks for putting this up!

    Austin Richman — February 28, 2012 @ 11:55 am

  • I first heard Eef’s singular singing/writing voice when my cousin Mark, a regular gatekeeper and conduit and introducer of new great music, told me I had to listen to an album called Soft Spot by a band called Clem Snide. “Clem who?” I asked, certainly not the first with the question. It hardly took one line (I dreamt of an ocean blue / Under water me and you / Let’s not swim to shore /Just float forever more) to hook me. Here was a songwriter with a singular way of looking at things and articulating them. I’m sure he has his influences but, especially then, they were unknown to me. Like you said, Heather, this is somebody saying things in ways that I haven’t been able to completely express– giving previously ungiven due weight to small moments and deflating the overblown ones, showing humanity and understanding in just the right string of words.

    Soft Spot– an album about marriage, parenthood, worry, love, sadness, happiness. I knew about the last three, but had no experience really in the first two, but the album spoke to me. That’s the power of honesty. And of, again, a truly unique voice. Romantic. Realistic. All at once.

    “I saw you, doubting yourself in the mirror. But you look good to me.”

    There is no volcanic hyperbole or fleeting fireworks in that statement of devotion. Just real truth.

    I played his songs “Find Love” and “Fontanelle” a ton when my first child was born. I think I learned a bit about how to be a father from those and “Happy Birthday” which is a great list of his hopes, his worries, his blessing on his twin boys. “I hope that your friends are true and funny and your girlfriends are sweet and wear tight pants.”

    And then this new chapter of what you called “potent theology”, leaning towards faith (in whatever form) and hope and losing them and gripping then and letting then go and finding them where you might have not expected. And it resonates again.

    Anyway, all of this to say: thank you, Eef and Heather, for destroying me with this bouquet of songs/ The chapel’s a fitting place for these empathetic, compassionate, beautiful meditations.

    Paul — February 28, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

  • Every day you give us another pin-hole into the sky of this amazing musical universe we live in. Today we got a little pin-hole into your soul. Thanks for sharing. And thanks for the heads up on David Foster Wallace. Gonna check some of that out soon…

    jon — February 29, 2012 @ 9:48 am

  • I cannot believe I missed this!

    jonjon — February 29, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

  • [...] Fuel/Friends posted an altogether gorgeous new Chapel Session with Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay. If you aren’t familiar with his work, now’s the time. [...]

    Monday Links | songsfortheday — March 5, 2012 @ 7:31 am

  • [...] Eff Barzley did a lovely ukulele session for I Am Fuel, You Are Friends. [...]

    Marjinal and Jake Shimabukuro Documentaries: Friday Links — March 9, 2012 @ 7:01 am

  • Hi!
    I just discovered your blog and am in awe – it’s like coming to an oasis in the middle of the desert. Thank you so much for your words and for the zip files. I wish you all the best!

    jc — November 18, 2012 @ 6:39 am

  • [...] Descargar Fuel Friends Chapel Session # 12 Eef Brazelay of Clem Snide 2011 [...]

    Eef Barzelay | fonsessions — May 4, 2013 @ 11:34 am

  • [...] Descargar Fuel Friends Chapel Session # 12 Eef Brazelay of Clem Snide 2011 [...]

    Fuel Friends | fonsessions — May 4, 2013 @ 11:36 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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