Dead Leaves Rising was basically the project that was born from the ashes of my first project Fade, and one which I spent over five years of my life working on. Musically, DLR showed a complexity and an aggression that was absent in all of the Fade material. The acoustic guitar was still the basis for all the songs, but I began to really appreciate what you could do in the studio, inspiring me to experiment with layered guitars and other instruments. Vocally, I hadn't really found my range, which means I tended to strive for notes well below what I was capable of. This also somehow resulted in a slight British accent, which is inexplicable to me today but seemed completely normal at the time.
The first album Shadow Complex was recorded from September 1996 through January 1997, at Waterlands Studio in Colts Neck, NJ with John DeGrazio behind the mixing board. I funded the project through part-time jobs during what turned out to be a hectic senior year of high school and released the CD myself in June of that year on my own Brighter Records, limited to 500 copies. The whole process was a real learning experience. I learned about manufacturing, preparing artwork, mastering, and all the essentials. Still I knew nothing about distribution at this point.
As far as I remember, I made up the term "shadow complex" to describe the social phenomenon I saw in a lot of my friends/acquaintances. Here were attractive 20-somethings from affluent upbringings with college educations, doing hard drugs and looking for reasons to be miserable. As someone who grew up feeling extremely detached, I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to "portray" that mood as glamorous, as those in the gothic community had. For me to say someone had a "shadow complex" was kind of the same as calling them a stupid goth.
Shadow Complex was pretty important for me. I don’t know if it’s the best way to explain it, but it marks the end of "innocence" before my college years. I grew up during that record, and I guess there’s a lot of lyrics on there I feel are a little too personal, and maybe even a little unfair to showcase. But that's one of the hard lessons you learn when you're starting out. You learn where to draw the line between your private and public lives. Sometimes it's not so easy to see.
I still had a relationship with Projekt Records at the onset of Dead Leaves Rising, so I did some shows with Sean Bowley (Eden), Attrition, and even Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Dead Leaves Rising even had a track appear on the Cat-Shaped Hole In My Heart benefit compilation Projekt released. But that relationship tapered off after Pat Ogl left the label, and I resigned myself to setting up my own shows from then on.
While Shadow Complex got good reviews in genre publications (which in the late-90's were still predominantly print-only zines), I had the problem of being pigeon-holed as a "goth" act. In hindsight, I brought that one upon myself. I appeared on compilations released by niche gothic labels in Italy and the US, and played clubs in NYC that catered to that audience. And while I did win over a lot of people, the genre in general doesn't take kindly to folks like me, who don’t always "dress the part." You'd be surprised at how many people would stare me down for looking too normal at my own shows, before realizing I was the guy they were there to see perform. On top of that, goths like to dance, and my music wasn't for dancing. I guess the level of discomfort I felt got to the point where I didn’t want to perform shows anymore. I needed some time off. So I took a long break.
From 1998 – 2000 I recorded new material whenever I could find the time and funds to work in the studio. I was in college at NYU by this time and didn't have a lot of money, so I had started another project Aarktica around this time, which allowed me to record music on a 4-track in my dorm.
Even though it wasn’t always geographically convenient, I returned to Windmill Studios in Stockton, NJ (where I had recorded the Windows cassette as Fade years before) to record the new Dead Leaves Rising material. The result was an 11-song album called Waking Up on the Wrong Side of No One. The sound was a complete departure from the previous incarnation of DLR. There was still a very brooding undercurrent, but it was not as pervasive and overbearing as the earlier material, and it was cut by more of a country/indie rock vibe throughout. My voice is the most noticeable change, as I had settled into a comfortable high baritone, rather than fishing for bass notes.
I felt that this album was some of my best work. It was released with the best of intentions on a small label called Plow City Recording Company based out of Moline, Illinois in summer 2001. Without getting into too much detail, there was a certain level of personal dysfunction I was unaware existed between the label heads. The label folded only months after my CD was released. Because I wanted to distance myself from that whole scene, I ended Dead Leaves Rising after five years.
I tend to think it was for the best. Dead Leaves Rising had become an entirely different project than it was five years before, and I had become a completely different person than I was five years before. Viva la Pale Horse and Rider. - Jon
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