Covenhoven’s new album, The Wild and Free, is songwriter Joel Van Horne’s most fully realized effort to date. Van Horne recorded all of the vocals for the album and played all of the instruments except violin and cello, creating a set of songs that reflect his love of the wilderness.
Van Horne has spent large amounts of time away from cities; he spent significant time at his grandfather’s south Wyoming cabin, from which Covenhoven gets its name. In order to peel back the influence of everyday life for the new album, he went to Arches National Park in eastern Utah and then on to the ruins of Canyonlands National Park, alone with only his camping gear, for a week in November 2014.
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“When I was contemplating where to go, I immediately started thinking I should go west, to Utah,” says Van Horne. “The desert is about as desolate as you can get. The solitude and the landscape have long inspired people. I read a lot of Edward Abbey when I was younger, and I was inspired by the story of Everett Ruess. He was a poet and artist and a clearly brilliant person who disappeared in canyon country in Utah when he was really young. He would go out to the desert with a couple of mules and come back with these linocut drawings and these poems and sell them in, I believe, San Francisco, and then he would go back out and disappear for months on end, and he made friends with the Native Americans. I like to think this is what I would be doing if I grew up in those times: vanish, disconnected from society, and make art and return, sell the art and pay for the next trip.”
The songs on The Wild and Free are informed by that isolation, with a psychological clarity that conveys a sense of self-discovery. That is what Van Horne found, after the first day or two of getting out of the habits of everyday life, in the beautiful barrens of Utah, away from modern distractions. And why was this isolation so important?
“I take isolation to be directly related to the amount of time I have to my own thoughts,” he says. “And being able to chase down one idea without any limitations except for my own.... When you take all the factors that life throws at you that limit your creative process, it helps big-time. I feel like the outside world is an endless source of inspiration. Sometimes it’s direct, sometimes it’s literal, and I try to find ways to incorporate those experiences, but in a roundabout way. It’s letting those landscapes seep into me. More often than not, it’s me staring off into the vast, endless spaces. I would hike to where people weren’t supposed to go and hide out on these 2,000-foot cliffs and stare out into that vast nothingness and watch the sun rise and set. Doing that for hours on end, I think that’s when the best stuff starts to come and the ideas start to flow. No cell service or any of that to distract you.”