Nostalgia is a funny thing in the sense that it can make us grow fonder of positive memories and conveniently edit out the not-so-good ones. The former type of triumphant moments of discovery and childhood wonderment lie at the core of A Great Big Pile Of Leaves' long-awaited sophomore full-length You're Always On My Mind, an album that channels nineties indie rock icons like the Dismemberment Plan while still sounding fresh, relevant and most important of all, fun.
Produced by Ed Ackerson (Motion City Soundtrack, Replacements) at Flowers Studios in Minneapolis, You're Always On My Mind sees the band—guitarist/singer Pete Weiland, drummer Tyler Soucy, guitarist Matthew Fazzi and bassist Tucker Yaro—straying from their DIY roots to enter a proper studio and the results are absolutely stellar. "Working with Ed was a refreshing change of pace for us because, for the first time, we were able to sit back and focus on the instrumentation and performances," Weiland explains. "Ed brought a really great perspective to the table and working with him was awesome because we were all on the same page."
This is evidenced in the expanded arrangements and versatility of You're Always On My Mind, which sees the band stretching out sonically and shows how much they've grown since 2010's Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex? "Every other album we've done, we've only used our own equipment, so it was really nice to be able to pick from Ed's arsenal and he really opened up our eyes on getting different sounds," Soucy explains. "One of the coolest parts of the studio for me is when the songs actually come together and take on a life of their own, and I think we achieved that with this album more than we ever have in the past."
From the dreamy, nineties vibe of "Snack Attack" to the deceptively simple feel of "Egocentrism," and instantly catchy nature of "Slumber Party," the songs on You're Always On My Mind are incredibly diverse, yet they all sound undeniably like A Great Big Pile Of Leaves. "I feel like with this record we've finally figured out how to make each song sound different from the one before it but still keep the collection sounding cohesive," Soucy explains, citing tours with veteran acts such as Motion City Soundtrack and the Appleseed Cast not just as adventures but also learning experiences.
Speaking of Motion City Soundtrack, A Great Big Pile Of Leaves' bond with MCS frontman Justin Pierre is so strong that he stopped by the studio to record some guest vocals for the sweetly syncopated anthem, "Pet Mouse." Less of a carefully calculated appearance than a friend stopping by the studio, Pierre nailed his vocals in one take and was on his way. "We emailed him the part the day before and he was there for like twenty minutes; it was cool and we feel really fortunate that it was such a fun and enjoyable experience," Soucy explains. In fact, Pierre even stuck around to add some group vocals to the track while he was at it.
Weiland describes the lyrics on You're Always On My Mind as "a mix of personal experiences with psychological theories," which shouldn't be too surprising considering that he has a Master's Degree in psychology. However that's not to say that the songs here are overly academic (there is a track called "Pizzanomics" after all). If anything Weiland's lyrics give him the unfiltered ability to analyze and reflect upon his own experiences and turn that introspection outward in a way that fans of any age can instantly relate to, making it a truly cathartic experience for both parties.
Equally liberating are A Great Big Pile Of Leaves' legendary live shows which are more of a party than a traditional concert. "Our vocals lend themselves to a lot of sing-alongs so the crowd ends up being a huge part of the show and when they're singing everything back to us it becomes such a fun environment," Soucy says. "The live show is really important to us and we want to make sure that we can play everything on the record live," Weiland is quick to add—and it's not difficult to imagine angular experiments like "Ambiversion" taking on an entirely new life when performed in front of a mass of sweaty bodies.
Admittedly there are plenty of dark moments on You're Always On My Mind, but instead of dwelling on that darkness, A Great Big Pile Of Leaves turn it into something more positive and universal. In much the same way the members are fans of works like Where The Wild Things Are, there's an element of nostalgia to the band's musical musings but there's also something else intangible that you have to hear in order to truly comprehend. Your own childhood may be over, but when AGBPOL sing about "thinking about swimming pools" you'll feel like you're right there with them, wearing itchy swim trunks and feeling hopeful about the future.