In July 2017, Facknitz contracted viral meningitis and was in Penrose Hospital in isolation for four days. He decided then that he wasn’t going to play the bars anymore, that he'd release a great album and hire some top-notch musicians, put time and money into the project, and then try to make the leap from just earning a living strumming the guitar at the corner bar to actually building a fan base and touring.
But it took a while before he had the energy to do any of that. When he got home from the hospital, Facknitz says, he was easily exhausted, and he’d repeat himself after ten minutes or so.
“I just seemed like a senior citizen, somebody in their eighties or nineties who was starting to lose their faculties,” Facknitz says.
At first he was scared to write songs, and he wasn’t even sure if he could anymore.
“It was kind of naive of me, but with a brain disease, you don't know exactly what's going to happen from day to day,” he says.
About six months after the illness started, Facknitz got up the courage to write “O, Muse!” Then over the next year and a half, he wrote another thirteen songs, ten of which ended up on his new album, From Those Sweet Ashes.
Meningitis, Facknitz says, was like death, and the recovery of it was like a rebirth — an experience that inspired the album title and explains why there’s an Egyptian phoenix on the album cover.
“I just wanted to take people through what I have gone through,” he says.
Facknitz not only endured meningitis, but last year, a friend and mentor committed suicide. From Those Sweet Ashes starts off with “Head On (Suicide, Part 1),” an empathy letter to his friend, and follows it with “Son of A (Suicide, Part 2),” in which Facknitz essentially says, “How the hell could you do this? I'm really angry with you."
While the album opens with brooding material, the music itself is bright and poppy, a juxtaposition he says was influenced by growing up under the influence of Motown. He says his friend who committed suicide was seemingly very happy, loving and available. So in dealing with the anger of his suicide, Facknitz wanted to make “Son of A (Suicide, Part 2)” sound like a Barenaked Ladies song, and that’s what he did.
Facknitz has a knack for crafting catchy pop songs, touching on themes like coming out of your shell (“Watch This Bird Fly”), dealing with the challenges of raising children (“Longest Shortest”), and his disdain for the current political climate in the United States (“Motherland”). The album ends with the love song “The Best We Can.”
While Facknitz was raised on Motown and musical theater, his parents also introduced him to Billy Joel, the Beatles, Elton John, Paul Simon and James Taylor.
“Those were like the primary colors that I was raised on...and a lot of singer-songwriters, but not in the John Prine, Townes Van Zandt arena. It was more rock-and-roll flashy. I call it pop constructionism. It's not just three chords. ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ is a pretty intricate, complex pop song. I think that's one of the most beautiful songs ever written. So that's kind of what was a foundation for me growing up.”
As for From Those Sweet Ashes, he wanted the album to be for everyone.
“I wanted something that was pretty pleasing to the ears — sonically, anyway — for anybody, any age, because life and death is something that you confront and deal with at any age,” Facknitz says.