March 29, 2019
Jack Victor, previously of art-pop group Midnight Snack, decided to take a break from the spotlight after his band played their final show in December 2017. Throughout 2018, he focused on collaborating with other musicians by contributing percussion and keyboards to their work. “I spent a lot of time in my brother Mike Henry Johnson’s studio, as well as Peter Brownlee’s (the bass player from Midnight Snack) recording studio. I had a big year working on lots of other people’s records, which I really enjoyed, but after a while of doing that I found myself wanting to re-focus on my own original music,” explained Victor. As he began working on these songs, a new musical identity emerged: Slow Packer.
Angel Can’t Swim, the debut EP from Slow Packer, starts out with delicately plucked acoustic guitars and light vocals, instantly reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens. The title track barely rises above a whisper, as Zack Kardon layers guitar lines into a calming, reflective atmosphere. “No Jacket” picks up the pace, with the introduction of electric slide guitar, bass, and Victor on drums. Alexa Rose provides harmonies that fill out the chorus, as they sing about the need to set aside protections and truly feel pain as it comes.
A variety of performers make appearances throughout the four tracks on the EP. Mike Henry Johnson (Victor’s brother and co-producers) played most of the guitar parts and all of the bass while Zack Kardon (acoustic guitar), Maddie Shuler (electric guitar), Alexa Rose (vocals), and Carly Taich (vocals) contributed their various talents to the tracks. Additionally, Katie Richter (Midnight Snack) and Derrick Johnson play trumpet and trombone, respectively, on “When It Rains.” Although not formally in a group, this amalgamation of musicians creates a tight, focused sound like they’ve been playing together for years.
Victor is quite coy about what he is singing about in his songs, explaining: “I generally shy away from stating a specific meaning to my songs because I like to imagine each listener deriving their own meaning.” On “Wrong Again,” the first song that he wrote on guitar, a heavy air hangs above Victor as the tone shifts darker, and the music gets more plodding.
“[It] came from a long drive with a friend. We were driving through the night and I was behind the wheel when my friend gave me some pretty heavy news. It was one of those times when you feel the universe shift a little bit. I was struck by how vulnerable I was as the driver – I couldn’t react fully because I needed to keep my eyes on the road…” he said. “That was where I got, ‘Wrong Again – why’d you have to tell me while I’m driving? (You) caught me with my eyes down the road – I guess there’s no right time for this.’ We had a long way to go so I continued brainstorming lyrics and had a good portion of the song by the time we got to where we were going.”
Sometimes songs can come out of thin air when the right circumstances arise. Explaining the mythological beginnings of the final track, Victor noted that “When It Rains” began with the guitar chords that come in at the top of the song: “I was sitting in my practice space, drinking some whiskey, feeling a lot of things but struggling to come up with any lyrics. I just kept strumming and staring at the wall for a couple of hours. Then, out of nowhere there was a huge thunderclap outside and the sky opened up into a downpour. For some reason the jolt kind of woke me up and words started flooding in. I had the whole song finished before I came home that night.”
Slow Packer is playing a full-band show on March 30 at The Mothlight in Asheville, opening for Massachusetts band And The Kids. Stay tuned for more singles to be released by the band later this year.
Listen to the new EP Angel Can’t Swim by Slow Packer.