Orchestral arrangements give new emotive force in Bayonne’s ‘Temporary Time (Orchestrated)’

The catharsis of the original brought the Austin musician together with composer Nathaniel Earl for the reimagined project.

By Leah ScarpelliMarch 8, 2024 1:44 pm, ,

When he began making a splash in the Austin music scene – known for its Americana and indie rock – Roger Sellers seemed to come out almost out of the blue with a far more ambient, hypnotic electronic sound that could take you to other places.

Sellers eventually adopted a musical alias, “Bayonne,” though his approach stayed on track, growing to considerable critical acclaim. In 2023, he released his album “Temporary Time,” an album so gently intoxicating that a review by Beats Per Minute described the effect of listening to it as “like a glass of champagne just right.”

The album cover for “Temporary Time (Orchestrated)”

Now that album is getting a new treatment – collaboration between Roger Sellers and composer and producer Nathaniel Earl titled “Temporary Time (Orchestrated).”

The two joined Texas Standard to talk about the collaboration. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: I want to ask you first, Roger, about that album “Temporary Time.” I understand a lot of it was influenced by a tough time in your life. Can you say more?

Roger Sellers/Bayonne: Yeah. It was just a period where I was looking to, basically, just what to do next, creatively.

It was during COVID. I ended up getting an extra space to kind of get my work done and a little studio apartment in Hyde Park. And so I kind of just let everything… Laid it all bare and just kind of went for it.

And it was a period of time where there were a lot of transitions in my life. I guess when I was around, like, halfway through it, my father had passed away from a bunch of different health issues. It was kind of looming. So that was kind of an anchor for me to really just jump in creatively and to use it as kind of a healing process.

And it was about this time, I guess, after the release of your album “Temporary Time” that Nate, you actually heard some of these tracks and they touched you. You had just lost your dad, too, right?

Nathaniel Earl: Correct. Yeah. I heard “Solo” – was that your first release? I can’t remember. Your first single?

Bayonne: Yeah, I think that was the original. Yeah, the first single.

Nathaniel Earl: I was actually listening to KUTX, and I heard “Solo” pop up and it, like, moved me really deeply. I actually was in tears as I was driving home. I had just gotten some unfortunate news about a loved one of mine, and was in an intense grieving process.

The song touched me in a way that kind of just stimulated some kind of creativity. So I went home and composed some strings to it, just sort of as an exercise of, I don’t know, exorcizing the demons, I guess, and –

Catharsis, it sounds like.

Nathaniel Earl: Yeah, catharsis. There you go. Thank you.

And so you reached out to Roger and said, “hey, I want you to hear this,” or what?

Nathaniel Earl: Yeah, I did it and sat on it for a couple days and was really enjoying it and was like, I wonder if Roger would be interested in working on something like this. And so, I looked in my phone and I had him in my contacts list from an event I had run sound for him like maybe 2016, 2017 during South By and sent him a text. And he responded right away and said, let’s talk about it.

This is a pretty amazing story. Roger, did you ever imagine that you’d be sort of redoing “Temporary Time,” orchestrated?

Roger Sellers/Bayonne: It all kind of felt like serendipitous at the moment because, you know, during that time I was preparing for the tour – figuring out the rest of the rollout for the record.

And I was kind of just like looking to, like, what to do next after the tour, because there’s always a period of time after you’re done, you know, getting off the road. You’ve toured the record. The record is done, the rollout’s basically finished. And, you know, I was preparing myself to be going through that, not knowing what to do next.

And it was shortly before the tour that Nate texted me and I was just immediately intrigued because I’ve always wanted to do stuff with orchestrations and arrangements. I’ve just, I’ve never really had, I guess, the talent at it, or just the know-how. And I’ve always just wanted that. I’ve always wanted a piece of that in my music. So, it was just really crazy timing.

And then as we met up – I met him at the show at the Parish, the last show on the tour – and we actually met in person. And we started speaking after that. And it all just like, the meaning became much deeper the more and more we kind of dove into it – being as his father had recently passed, something I had no idea about.

So it was just this really special kind of everything falling into place, and something for me to look forward to creatively.

You know, it’s interesting because when I think of your music, Roger, I often think of it as a companion in a way, sort of like on long drives especially, and I’ve listened to your tracks on long drives through West Texas, which is one of my favorite places to drive. And I guess there is a kind of West Texas nexus, if you’ll pardon the word play there. But how was West Texas part of this experience for you?

Roger Sellers/Bayonne: I had been going to West Texas quite a bit with a lot of friends of mine.

You grew up in Spring, Texas, didn’t you?

Roger Sellers/Bayonne: Yeah, yeah. Down around Houston. But West Texas always had a really special place in my heart.

I mean, I’ve traveled there quite a bit, just even by myself. I’ve done writing retreats out there. And in fact, the first song on “Temporary Time,” basically right when I started the record was when I was there doing a writing retreat just by myself for like a week and a half. And the first song just kind of happened.

So, I don’t know, it’s just always had a really special place in my heart. You know, I think it’s beautiful. It’s so quiet out there. It’s serene. It really lets you focus in. So, it’s just one of my favorite places in the world, really.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUTX

Bayonne performs at the 2019 KUTX SXSW Live at the Four Seasons concert series.

You know, when you were talking there about how West Texas has this interesting place in your heart, I was thinking about how many musicians I’ve spoken with over the years who have been from, say, Houston or Dallas, Austin, who have found themselves sort of drawn to West Texas. And how many people I’ve talked with from places like Lubbock who are drawn back more to the East, right? It’s kind of funny the way that these poles sort of pull in different directions.

Nate, have you ever spent much time in West Texas or where are you from? Could you say more about that?

Nathaniel Earl: I love West Texas. I try to go out to Big Bend or thereabouts annually.

I guess I’d say I’m from Austin. My dad was a jazz drummer, so we moved around a decent amount in my early childhood. I think I’ve lived in like six different cities in Texas – maybe 5 or 6, something like that. And then we lived in Boston for a little while. But most of my life has been spent in Austin or the surrounding areas.

Nathaniel, how did you go about sort of making this bigger than, well, what started out as a kind of a very close project. I mean, you’re doing a lot of this in your own studio, but to orchestrate an entire album, were you thinking about, “okay, got to move past samples and synthesizers” and bringing in people who are string players and that kind of thing? That’s got to be somewhat intimidating.

Nathaniel Earl: You know, it was really unique process because this record that Roger put out was really near and dear to me. Like it was something that I really respected and revered. So, I wanted to retain the essence of it as I was working on it.

So, my first step was to ask Roger for the stems. So basically I took the stems and I sort of –

These are those individual tracks from digital music files – the “stems” – that you’re talking about.

Nathaniel Earl: Right. Like the drums and the bass and the keys.

And so, I looked at the sessions and I kind of tried to figure out areas where strings could subsidize things and textures. And we also used some woodwinds. We have a clarinet and a flute, and some vibraphones. So I sort of looked for places to take melodies that were already existing in these songs and reintroduce them in different ways – you know, different kind of harmonic texture.

So, I guess we didn’t really know how big this was going to be when we started. You know, we kind of started with one song, and our original idea was like, “let’s do a couple of songs, maybe, and film it” or something like that. And then as we continued working, I kept finding new pieces that I was really inspired by, and we sort of built out this five-song length thing that we’re putting out.

It was definitely a very collaborative process. I did a lot of the orchestration on my own, but Roger was an integral part of the melodic development. And, you know, he brought in a lot of ideas as a part of that process.

Roger, let’s talk about how these songs developed sonically. Was it hard for you, having completed the album and performed it as it was, to sort of let go of some of that and let Nate pick up and elaborate on it, or what was that like?

Roger Sellers/Bayonne: Yeah, it’s definitely like a new experience for me. I mean, historically, I’ve been the kind of person that kind of wants to do everything myself, you know?

And I mean, I think with “Temporary Time” itself, I learned a lot about handing things off and having other people involved and just collaboration in general. So like, that was a huge learning curve for me.

With this, like the first time we actually met up after the tour and went and had lunch and talked about it, I remember at one point I was ready to take kind of a hiatus for a month or two. It ended up being a few weeks, but I just needed some time off and we kind of got together and talked about it. And I just remember just being, I don’t know, the conversation went so fluidly.

I felt really comfortable just kind of giving Nate the reins, especially in terms of the orchestration, the arrangements. And honestly, it makes a lot of sense for me to do it that way because after a rollout of a record and a tour, you know, I spent 2 or 3 years working on the record itself. So, it’s hard to find inspiration based off of the songs in their original format. So, with this, it kind of brought this new life into all of the songs for me.

And, you know, it was like Nate’s touch with it, you know? I didn’t really have to do too much in terms of the arrangements, except maybe putting them together or just sectioning them off or, you know, we would work on things together. But the music itself that he added, I didn’t have to do too much with it. And I trusted him pretty immediately. And I think that’s really what it came down to. It was difficult. But it was a beautiful process at the same time.

What do you think the orchestration adds to the music?

Roger Sellers/Bayonne: I mean, I guess it just brings like a lushness and like another emotive element to it that just feels more sweeping and just a little bit more – I mean, a lot more – just emotional, I guess. It’s more emotional. And it just feels different. It sounds different.

We stuck with most of the melodies. Like the vocal melodies and a lot of the instrumental melodies we kept arranged the same. But adding all this, all the arrangements to it, just brings absolutely like a total new color to it. It has new life.

I love what you’re saying there. It reminded me of something. I can remember when, for me at least, music kind of took on a kind of new life with – this is going to sound crazy – but as a kid, I heard Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend” for the first time, and I’m sure y’all probably familiar with that song. It’s off of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and it begins with this long sort of prelude before you ever get to the lyrics.

And it was the first kind of rock song, I guess, I had ever heard that had that kind of introduction, and I found myself completely sucked in. And when the lyrics began, as colorful and interesting and, you know, there’s a story there and everything, I realized that already I had completely engaged with the instrumentation to such a level that I was almost creating a story in my mind as I heard that, and it turned me on to a whole new landscape of music and a kind of way of telling the story without the words, you know what I mean?

And it seems like, in a way, what this orchestration adds is that same element. You talked about it as emotion, but it almost becomes part of the story on some deeper level, at least for me. Does that make sense?

Roger Sellers/Bayonne: Totally. I mean, especially within this project, but just broadly, I feel like that’s what string arrangements kind of do – they speak more than I think any other instrument really can.

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I wonder why that is. Maybe there’s something about the sort of the range of the instrument matching the vocal range of something. I don’t know. I don’t know what that is.

Nathaniel Earl: There’s definitely something special about the resonance of a string instrument, and the way that a group of string instruments resonate together. There’s sort of like a common vibrational field that exists that’s really unique to that particular ensemble.

Roger, you think that this is going to affect the way that you approach your music, going forward? Or is this an interesting experiment? How do you see “Temporary Time (Orchestrated)”?

Roger Sellers/Bayonne: I mean, 100% I’m going to be working more with strings.

And, you know, Nate and I have already discussed projects in the future. I don’t think I’ll ever look at being in the studio and recording music the same way again, because now I know the possibilities with it.

Bayonne will soon make these tour stops in Texas:

• March 22 – Austin, TX @ The 04 Center (with Live Ensemble)

• March 27 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall

• March 28 – San Antonio, TX @ Stable Hall

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