Something like this: The protagonists are all about two-thirds through their journey, tired with the knowledge that they still have miles to go, but resolute that they will finish.
“I’d be okay with that,” Dethlefs says, adding that he never thinks of his songs in terms of their cinematic readiness. "It's really cool when you're watching a show or a movie and a certain song comes on and it feels really good."
Dethlefs, now 31, adds that loss has also been a big part of his life, including the death of his father when he was a teenage boy. That sense of loss is reflected in some of the songs.
“It’s hard to not feel that or not feel connected to that and wanting to express that thing I was feeling,” he says, adding that that sentiment comes out in the track “Wild Mountain Sage.”
“I was incorporating the idea of being out in nature, something like that, and being out there alone, but also feeling not alone at all and feeling connected to my loved ones — my dad, specifically,” he says. “Maybe feeling like maybe I’m with him more than I’ve ever been, in this weird way.”
“The songs and the overall theme to them is partially of working with the idea of people who have passed on and aren’t in your life anymore but are still a part of your life and still there. If you pay attention to the [lyrics], that was the overall arc I was writing about,” Dethlefs says.
“Still Together,” in his mind, serves as sort of a “pandemic song,” albeit an unintentional one.
“I didn’t set out to write a pandemic song,” he says. “I wrote it with the idea of we're all apart right now but we're still together. ... None of us could be with the people we wanted to be with. We were kind of isolating. The idea is us still being together in some way, or we are all in this together.”
He says that the song pulled from the greater scheme of loved ones who have gone on, a connection to the spiritual side of life.
“Maybe we still are together even though I can’t see you or be next to you,” he says.
Most of the songs on the record were composed during the COVID pandemic. He’d only written a few beforehand.
“We were basically going into the studio to record a couple of songs,” he says. “There wasn’t like a, ‘This is the album we're going to record.' It wasn’t completely thought of yet.”
The pandemic affected the songs in numerous ways. Dethlefs had to take a four-month break in the recording process for safety’s sake. He has a hard time imagining how the songs would have come out without the pandemic.
“Kind of of trying to survive this thing we were all going through did influence the songs,” he says. “These songs didn’t exist when we started the record, and now they do. I don’t know how they would have been if we were just having a normal life.”
As for the sound on the record, he feels like each track he records is better than the last. The new record has more synthesizer elements and keys than his prior output. He also found that the recording process had a more collaborative vibe than some of his previous recordings, and he took input from musicians who participated in the studio sessions.
“I don’t feel like I’m bending genres or anything like that or really going out of my way in that,” he says. “But I am pushing a boundary, as far as what I have done with each release.”
If You Listen drops digitally, and a vinyl version can be pre-ordered at Bandcamp. Dethlefs takes the stage at an album-release party at 7 p.m., on October 2, at Leon Gallery, 1112 East 17th Avenue. Tickets, $15, are available at brownpapertickets.com.