Welcome to the weird world of Eugene songwriter Jake McNeillie — a world where black holes suck “the flesh of unwilling girls,” human bones lie “without their meat” and animals have socks on their feet.
“I really don’t know where the songs come from when I am writing a record,” McNeillie admits, “but I don’t question it.”
McNeillie, along with his band Jake McNeillie & Co., are prepping the September release of their latest album, Delirium: A Southern Gothic Fable. Fellow Eugene songwriter turned music producer Tyler Fortier produced the project, and Thaddeus Moore of Sprout City Studios mixed the record.
“Tyler did a tremendous job,” McNeillie says. “He was like a full-time member.”
Delirium also features Eugene musicians Aaron Forman on guitar and Albert Howell on bass. “The record is a multi-instrumental record, so it’s hard to list everyone who is featured.”
McNeillie continues: “The album is inspired by the Jungian archetype of the shadow self, as well as an obsession with Southern Gothic literature and film,” he says, also listing authors Edgar Allen Poe and Cormac McCarthy as influences. “I pretty much grab from everywhere.”
Delirium “is a three-act record,” McNeillie says. “The first act is dark storyteller, the second is more traditional and somewhat lighter and the last act is more theatrical.
“The album is filled with murder ballads, social injustice and desperation,” McNeillie explains. “It’s a fable; it’s a tragedy. I always wanted to write our dark record and this one is it.”
And listening to Delirium tracks like “Killing Fields” or “Deep Dark Holes,” you’re forced to acquiesce to an artist’s vision that at worst is difficult to digest and at best an acquired taste.
But music doesn’t have to be for everyone. And McNeillie is so committed to his vision that you hang on despite yourself, curious to see where his dystopian tone takes you next. McNeillie explores the fine line between original and inaccessible, inspired and unhinged.
McNeillie sings in an impossibly somber baritone, accompanied by Americana-tinged acoustic instruments — frequently in alternative tunings — or echoing keyboards. Tempos lazily creep by in a sweaty, Southern haze, like a country-western Bauhaus, or Johnny Cash imitating Townes Van Zandt with lyrics by David Lynch.
“I am here for you,” he sings on “Be Here for You” from Delirium, “with my tender heart, through the black ‘n’ blue.” With any other singer, this tumbleweed-and-campfire tune might be a sweet love song, but McNeillie imbues it with menace and dread.
“Half of the record was written on guitar,” McNeillie says, “most of which are in alternate tunings, and half was written on piano and organ.”
McNeillie explains his unique style: “I am first and foremost a writer, and music called to me when I was a teenager. I have delved in other forms of art but music hits the sweet spot. The idea is to never be bored with the art you are trying to produce.”
Catch a sneak peek of Delirium: A Southern Gothic Fable when Jake McNeillie & Co. performs with Llorona Friday, July 17, at the Hi-Fi Music Hall Lounge; $5, 21-plus. The official album release on CD and digital download is Sept. 24 at Sam Bond’s with Eugene’s Black Magdelene.