The Strangest Light

by The Ashtray Hearts

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about

How can a band stay together when its members no longer live on the same continent? That question faced the Ashtray Hearts as they spent eight years assembling what would become The Strangest Light, the band’s third album. In the end, distance helped shape the narrative for their latest collection of songs about lives left behind and lessons learned too late.

In 2008, lead singer and songwriter Dan Richmond left Minneapolis to follow his wife to the Balkans. Other members took on new jobs, new relationships, and parenthood. Yet the band found ways to keep working—members would send song sketches back and forth via email, assembling arrangements piece by piece. This process has made The Strangest Light the Ashtray Hearts’ most collaborative record to date. In addition to songs by Dan Richmond, the album includes, for the first time, songs by guitarist Steve Yernberg (“The Strangest Light”) and multi-instrumentalist and harmony singer Aaron Schmidt (“White Church Hill”) as well as key arrangement contributions from bassist Ryan Scheife and percussionist John Jerry. When Richmond landed back in Minneapolis on breaks and during an extended stopover prior to a move to Oregon, the band would pick up where it left off, working out the new material. Eventually, the songs took final shape in the studio in early 2012. The result has become what may be the Ashtray Hearts’ most complete and compelling record: an album inspired by travel, separation, and change, composed of twelve songs about love, loss, and last chances.

On The Strangest Light, the Ashtray Hearts continue to refine the pairing of lush textures and straightforward delivery explored on their first two albums. The record references folk, Americana, and country while embracing the singer-songwriter aesthetic of early 1970s Asylum Records. Yet it retains the band’s signature sound—close harmonies, layered guitars, and eclectic instrumentation. Recorded at the Terrarium in Minneapolis, The Strangest Light captures the warmth of the Ashtray Hearts’ sound, infusing the songs with both hope and heartbreak.

Band members remain scattered in different cities, with Richmond now living in Salt Lake City. Yet this seems fitting. The Ashtray Hearts make music designed for long road trips home, with songs whose slow pulse echoes the rhythm of the highway and lyrics that capture lives moving in different directions. The Strangest Light is both the end of long trip and the signal of a new start.

credits

released January 22, 2013

Recorded at the Terrarium in Minneapolis.

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about

The Ashtray Hearts Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Ashtray Hearts are a five-piece band from Minneapolis whose music references folk, Americana, and country while embracing the singer-songwriter aesthetic of early 1970s Asylum Records. The Ashtray Hearts' new record, The Strangest Light (2013), features the band’s signature sound—tight harmonies, layered guitars, and eclectic instrumentation. ... more

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Track Name: Books
we'll stay until it sings
as we keep from being found
it's just you and me and what comes along
safe on low ground

the weeks that we stayed in
there were books and weight and wine
and long nights with nothing left
but sleep and a worried mind

if they break us down
and we end up on that hill
call me back, back to my country

when the waiting hour is here and you believe
we'll call it all just a dream

if they break us down
and we end up on that hill
call me back, back to my country
Track Name: Let It End
when i woke up
you had called
they had torn up the streets and you were late
the war was on
our reservations lost
there was nothing to keep you from me

on a Michigan road, we got caught
there was no way that we could get to town
so the cards were drawn
the banks they piled on
for one night you promised to believe

when i woke up
we were here
we had come all this way to pass the time
the war was on
and all our friends had gone
but we wouldn't let it end

between the truth and better days
we wouldn't let it end
Track Name: The Strangest Light
when the actors called us in
there was nothing left to sign
now that he's not coming home
ancient cables and the fear of what we'll find
though we try and let it go

you miss him
he won't hear your baby cry
years without a sound
and then you'll find that the strangest light is gone
but you'll know what it was

i tried so hard to make it right
but in the end it was just a wasted flight
sister dear we've grown apart
i don't know why, it must have been our easy start
Track Name: Names
shine a light so I can make out your direction
I don't want to scream, "where are you now?"
if it gets burned, who will take our things
will we litter all the boxes
along unpronounceable names

sold by the old ways, we'll be on our own
making plans for when we get home

these are just excuses now
good words among the mines
divided by degrees
in the end it turns
so who will take us in
one by one all the houses
down the page name by name

it doesn't matter how it ends
or when it began
it's all right here
so call off the guns
in these violent days
won't you, my dear
Track Name: Dying Light
so we took a different route
of broken hearts and slow days
I miss the kids
but I'm here with a girl who won't disappear

in the dying light
the endless smoke
the windless night keeps it still

can't say forever we'll be here
just until the summer's gone
and I know that nothing will have changed at home.
Track Name: This Again
let's not do this again
cancel all the things we don't need
sell the rest and call in favors
and find that time to be you and me

and it we don't have enough
there's no month on a train
so write it up and say goodbye
pull that pension plan and sign

let's not do this again
cancel all the things we don't need
sell the rest and call in favors
and find that time to be you and me
Track Name: Sister
I lost my eyes, sister/mountain
and I don't dream about the past
fold up the tables, close the room
this whole time it wasn't ours

there's no proof that you were here
with the lives you left behind

I saw your car in Minneapolis
sitting on an empty street
your old books still in the back seat
where they were left on your last day

there's the the proof that you were here
with the lives you left behind

so I'll be waiting here at home
if this is home
then turn the offer down
and we'll turn the line

I lost my eyes and found a girl
you threw names into a jar
and took the long way home.
Track Name: Hollow Heart
crooked lines on your little hands
someone called to let you out
with your story now clear
to open up our binds

heavy sails and a hollow heart
suffer through another drought
we'll wait until the first to call this one good

a lucky turn
might change my mind
these few words will divide your heart
but Sundays will be ours
Track Name: Brother
my brother close
you on my arm
under the roof we made in the summer
we drank slow
my mother was alive
now we dance while breaking down

when we left the country that you've never forgotten
I quit waiting for a long look
my life has you in it now

there's room at the bar
we're all of age
winter's come and nothing's changed
we still had hope
when your mother was alive
now we dance while breaking down

when we left the country that you've never forgotten
I quit waiting for a long look
my life has you in it now
Track Name: Last Request
you're so tired, you can't wait
your room clean, bags are tied and torn
papers signed for a cheap way out
so stand in line, I'll raise my hand

your last request came through somehow

I'm so tired, I can't wait
my head clear, my year spoiled
I can't keep up with all this coming clean
so stand in line and take my hand

your last request came through somehow

what did I say that I can't say to you now?
Track Name: Embers
clear out the embers and stay light
walk slow and keep your head
the rest and the road
a chance once lost
for you to make it home

you burned out the yard to start clean
the boy with the shaky hand
new rooms on the square
a sudden goodbye
leaving me and the moving van

a song for the man on the hill
turned down
your voice is so clear
and if the angels learn where you lie now
let them take you and hold you near
Track Name: White Church Hill
we found her by the old house
back when we still had luck
the season soured
bad debt seemed to follow us down
and what we had wasn't much

so I'd like to show you
the grave of that sweet young girl
I'd like to look down on that old stone
next to the chapel
and the remains of what gathered us there
what we have isn't much

when the caller calls
take me to white church hill
I'll find her there
when you carry me to white church hill

it wasn't how they told you
there was no second chance
I forced my way out
but there wasn't anywhere to go

this I will tell you
there isn't a list
and it might not matter what we've done

when the last one is called
take me to white church hill
I'll find her there
when you carry me to white church hill