Sometimes the meaning of a record changes for an artist after it’s already been released. For the Denver-based songwriter Joel Van Horne, exploring that reality has only just begun.
Under his solo project name Covenhoven, Van Horne's third record, A Kind of Revelation, is what he calls his “ocean record." It's his latest and possibly last place-based album, in a series that has taken him from his grandfather's cabin to the Utah desert. Over the course of nine tracks on A Kind of Revelation, Van Horne captures the natural beauty he saw traveling along the western coast of the United States, in Olympic National Park and Big Sur.
Though he admits to have probably only “scratched the surface” of the vastness of the ocean while standing beachside with an acoustic guitar, A Kind of Revelation has some of Van Horne’s best music to date. Songs “Sirens of the Sea” and “Camino Real” exemplify his methodical world-building and ability to craft lush folk music.
As Van Horne was wrapping up A Kind of Revelation in the spring of 2018, his brother, who worked on the record as an audio engineer, died, completely altering the singer-songwriter's world and music.
“I lost my little brother two weeks before I finished the record,” says Van Horne. “He was a sound engineer, so him and I would work a lot together, and he had a lot to do with this on the engineering side. I think that has become completely tied to this record in a lot of ways. The meaning of the words, the meaning of the songs, to me, has changed a bit.”
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Realizing that this was the last record they worked on together, Van Horne’s ocean record has now evolved into something else — a mile marker in his life, and a lasting, tangible memory of what he and his brother were able to accomplish.
“I think the ideas and themes were already in those songs, but it took on a much deeper meaning for me when I got hit with that realization that life is so fragile and that life could be over today or tomorrow, or that you could lose somebody that you love dearly, and they’re just gone. They just vanish. The memory of my brother is captured in this record for me, big time.”
Less than a year removed from the interwoven story of the release of A Kind of Revelation and losing his brother, Van Horne is still trying to figure out what’s left to untangle in his life — including how to resume his work as a singer-songwriter.
“That actually was a huge, huge roadblock in my creative life when it happened. I’ve been writing and working on songs and recording literally nonstop since I started in 2013. That’s what I was doing for years, and then we lost him. I just couldn’t do it, man.
“There was one song that would kill me every time I started working on it, and every time I tried to move past it, I couldn’t," Van Horne adds. "Only in the last couple months have I started working on new music again.”
As things stand now, Van Horne remains uncertain — of how all the moving parts in his life will eventually fit together again.
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“I think these types of things tend to take time, and I’m not sure I’ve really wrapped my head around what that all means and what it’s going to mean, and if I’ll even have enough to really… . Life just kind of unfolds day-to-day, and in a lot of ways, we’re all just sitting there watching it happen.”
Yet even with what has transpired, and with existing doubts about what the next record will look like, Van Horne remains confident in being the type of person to find a way to continue on in writing music.
“It all gives me even more resolve to try to be really mindful of what I’m creating and to try to put as much as I can into what I do," he says. "Because it might be my last song, it might be my last record.”