Call me a shameless hometown fan, but I've got a soft spot for musicians from Kansas — specifically Lawrence. To most, the college town is probably best known as the home of Jayhawks basketball, but it's also a cultural oasis. In the last decade or so, it's been a hot spot for indie rock, with Jordan Geiger among the latest to make fellow Kansans proud: He's a veteran of Lawrence bands The Appleseed Cast and Minus Story, and was later a member of Shearwater. (You can actually see him perform with Shearwater in one of our earliest Tiny Desk Concerts. He's the one with the sweet 3D glasses and the melodica.)
With his latest group, Hospital Ships, Geiger is making his best and most personal music yet. While his first album (Oh Ramona) was more or less a solo recording, this year's superb follow-up, Lonely Twin, was recorded with friends from his various other bands (including guest spots by Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg and Thor Harris), making this one-time bedroom project a full-fledged band.
Lonely Twin is packed with poppy folk songs and brash rockers enhanced with instrumental flourishes and bursts of guitar feedback, something Geiger says came from "years of tinkering in the basement coming up with sounds." But even as the main songwriter of Hospital Ships, Geiger says he's most comfortable as a composer and arranger, taking the shells of simple tunes and assembling them into fuller pop songs.
"All of my songs start out as folk songs on an acoustic guitar or piano," Geiger says, "and then I start dreaming up different ways that the song could be embellished. The part that I love the most is when you have the basic track down, and then it's time to put all the extra stuff on it. Like, 'How can I make weird noises and just experiment?'"
Still, at the heart of each song are beautifully crushing words that pack an emotional punch. In "Phantom Limb," Geiger laments the lingering sting of lost love with visually stimulating lines like, "And all the blood that once pumped is now gone / Is lifted up from off the ground like strands of hair into the sun." Elsewhere, in "Carry On," Geiger addresses mortality and finding a place for yourself in the world.
For Geiger, that place is Lawrence. There's something easy to root for about an artist who feels enough pride in his hometown that he'd rather be there than, say, New York, even if it means a greater challenge.
"Everybody should be proud to be where they're from," Geiger says. "Especially, in this day and age, you don't need to be in Brooklyn. I think it's liberating because, without any competition or any hype, it just comes down to enjoying yourself. Like, 'I like these people. We're gonna make our art.'"
In this great, intimate performance in the NPR Music offices, Geiger and Hospital Ships showcase two tracks from Lonely Twin, as well as the newer "Let Me In," a starkly gorgeous song which shows that we can expect a lot more from this promising songwriter in the years to come.
- "Phantom Limb"
- "Carry On"
- "Let Me In"
Filmed and edited by Michael Katzif; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Tucker Walsh/NPR