From the fiercely catchy, horn-driven power pop of the album’s opening track, “Be My Girl,” to the dark, moody contemplative drone of “Still I’m Lost,” the songs on Social Media Anxiety Disorder span a wide variety of textures and styles, pushing the boundaries of Israel’s past work. We get to hear what it sounds like when Israel works with two accomplished producers with divergent styles and approaches, and we also get to (brace yourself) hear Israel rap. A little, anyway (while also embracing stream-of-consciousness ranting and raving, that some may even find comedic). “Just Can’t Take It” finds Israel wearing some of his deep love of ‘80s synth-pop on his sleeve, while “125” takes on a haunting, psychedelic tone amidst abstract lyrical directions, and many longtime listeners might well be quite surprised at the many new and uncharted (for Israel, anyway) musical directions taken on “S.M.A.D.”
How did this record come together?
I am a pretty prolific songwriter. Especially since I quit my day job in 2017 – I worked for the Minnesota Legislature for 21 years and finally quit the job to do music full time a couple of years ago. Since then, I think I have had more time to work on songs and song ideas, so I had quite a surplus of ideas coming into 2019. Then, we had a really bad winter in Minnesota (2018 to 2019) and I think it really just forced me inside and gave me a lot of time to focus on the songs. The world seems to have been in a lot of turmoil and I had some personal turmoil that maybe fueled the songs too. I had all these strong song ideas, and even though I had just put out an album in 2018 (“You’re Free”), I decided to work with two new producers (Jon Herchert and Steve Price) and make this record right away this past spring of 2019. We got to work on it and it was out by October 2019, due to lots and lots of days spent in the studio, and tons of great contributions from very talented guest musicians.
As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?
No. Not always comfortable. But for me, it’s necessary. I’m not someone who can “keep it all inside.” Never have been. I think my songwriting is just an extension of my personality – I want to share my experience, my stories, with the world. Always have been that way, ever since I was a little kid, I was telling people my stories. But there can be blowback – believe me! I am OFTEN accused of “over-sharing”, both in my songs and in my public comments, social media posts, etc. It can be really hard to walk that line between showing enough of my inner state and showing TOO much of it. So no, it is NOT always comfortable, but I essentially feel like I have no choice. This is who I am.
Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million-seller?
No. None. Well, not really. I don’t understand the music business anymore. Not sure I ever did, but especially not here in 2020. I really don’t understand the WORLD in 2020. I do know that if my music was to be more “contextualized” – that is if it was to be used in movies and TV shows where the emotions and stories could be “demonstrated” by pairing them with scenes and images that corresponded well to the songs, I think it’s possible it would be embraced by a much larger audience. But a million-seller these days, for a rock album? Who even sells a hundred thousand records in rock these days? I’m not sure I want to know. Not very many artists, and frankly many of the rock artists these days who DO sell a lot are…not very good. But I do want more commercial success – you better believe I do. I need a record label, first of all – someone who helps me push this out there. That would be a good start – some kind of indie label deal and/or some film/TV placements. Let’s go with that! I also need more touring support – someone to help me book shows in Europe and around the US so I can bring my music directly “to the people” more often and with better shows. All of that would help – but I still doubt I’d sell a million!
Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?
Yes. Absolutely, it is. It’s not that it’s THAT easy to make a record – it still takes work, and time, and money – but it definitely is cheaper than it used to be, with digital technology. You still have to really spend a lot of time to make something worthwhile. But manufacturing costs are way cheaper and all of that. What’s hard is getting it to be heard, above the “noise” of so MANY releases out there, constantly. The lower costs have frankly made it easier for EVERYONE to make a record – which is great, but hard too, when you’re someone like me on his 15th record and it seems like you’re competing for attention with everyone who ever had a song idea and a basement recording rig. I am not saying people shouldn’t make their records – but the flood of music has definitely made it harder to get my music heard. The Internet is a great tool for promotion, and yet also terrible because there is so much “overload” and of course the payments for streaming are SO bad, but that’s another subject for another day!
Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?
Well, first of all, I’d be very scared to GO to Mars, but that was not the point of your question! This is always a tough one, but I’ll try not to overthink it – here goes:
Beatles – White Album
Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street (hey, if I’m only getting 5 records, you’d better believe I’m going to bring as many double albums to Mars with me as possible!)
Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (I’m a huge Dylan fan, so very hard to pick one fave, but I’ve been SO into this one again lately)
Tom Petty – Hard Promises (same as my Dylan problem, can’t really pick just one, but I’ll go with that one for now)
Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings (I always go back to this one)