Trace Mountains Walks Us Through His “House of Confusion” Track by Track
Dave Benton wanders further into the country on his third solo album, out now via Lame-O Records.
It can be hard to distance yourself from your past musical output when your former band was as beloved as LVL UP was within several different pockets of DIY music and beyond. Yet Dave Benton’s made quick work of rewriting his own narrative as Trace Mountains, a project which was only launched a few years ago but which has quickly morphed from an experiment in solo songwriting into a cohesive vision of a songwriter not only straying from his old band the label he helped start, but skipping the city altogether to seek out more solitary pastures and the sounds that suit them. If this wasn’t clear enough on his 2020 LP literally called Lost in the Country, the pedal steel, fingerpicked guitar, and brushed snare ironically make House of Confusion only sound more self-certain.
That same twinge of irony comes through on the record’s opening track “Seen It Coming,” the impressively calm first track written for the record in the wake of Benton getting laid off from his warehouse job at the onset of the pandemic—a series of events which I think we can safely assume he did not see coming. From there the record comfortably weaves in and out of alt-country and more rock-leaning aesthetics until its final track “Heart of Gold,” evidently paying homage to the guy who first wedded those genres so seamlessly. For further analysis on both tracks and all those that fall between, read on for Benton’s track-by-track breakdown of House of Confusion below.
This was the first song I wrote after the pandemic shut everything down. I got laid off from my job and was at home every day with my housemates. It was the feeling of looking out at what’s ahead of you and having a little inkling of what might happen, but really just no clue. I wanted to channel Kath Bloom’s “My Baby Cries…“ in the vocal. JR Bohannon‘s pedal steel really shines here and I think it really works with the vocal nicely. It’s one of my favorites in this collection, which is why I chose it to open the record, though I’ve really been wanting an album opener with some space before the vocal enters—I always jump into the words real quick. Maybe next time!
2. “If You Do”
“If You Do” is a simple song. That’s what I wanted to write and so I left it at that. It’s got a little tinge of melancholy in the words and melody, but I tried to keep it a little light with the AC/DC reference. I’ve been doing my duty as a millenial guy in his thirties and have been jamming the country rock now and then. We still have time for AC/DC, though.
3. “On My Knees”
This is a description of my psychological self-flagellation. Or something. I think I had Tom Petty in mind. He’s got all these great songs about getting knocked down and getting back up, so I was thinking about that in the context of my own experience. I’m always tearing myself down and I have to build myself back up. I’m not sure if my words make a whole lotta sense on this one, but they felt right.
4. “7 Angels”
I felt good that I was able to write an intro for this song. As I said, it’s hard for me to write a song without getting right into the nitty gritty of the words. This is another really simple song that felt right. The words are pretty straightforward and I was pretty pleased with that—over the years I’ve been trying to simplify my songs and get at the essence of the ideas, so I felt like I was able to do that here. It’s about that moment when you move on from something that’s not working in your life, and for a moment you feel totally right and free. There are complicated feelings and they’re always changing.
I don’t know what this song is about. That’s kinda the joke at the end of the song. At a certain point when I was writing I just started singing “I don’t know / I make it up as I go,” because I didn’t have anything else. I just wanted to write a fun rocker of a song and channel those Petty vibes. Our engineer Matt Labozza had us add some Nashville-strung acoustics to get that sun-shiney sound.
6. “The Moon”
This was the last song I wrote for the record. It came together about a month or two before our recording session. I was hosting one of my songwriting workshops and it came out of one of the prompts that I demonstrated for the class. I really felt like Greg killed it on this one with the big alt-country drums. The whole band really did, for that matter—there are some really nice in-the-pocket rhythm guitar licks that Jim wrote, too. I’ve been loving our live rendition of the song as well. It’s a lot heavier and electric, so I’d love to capture it again sometime on recording.
“Late” is a song that I revived from my demo graveyard. It’s a true outlier stylistically on the record, but I liked how it broke up the tracklist and kept things fresh. I just had so much fun writing the synth bass line and seeing how everything could fit together with the drum machines, acoustics, and synths. Matt really brought it over the finish line, though. The first time I listened to his mix I had a big smile on my face and was kinda laughing. It sounds really great in headphones and that’s all thanks to him.
I learned a lot from “America.” In a way, it taught me a new way of singing, which I hope I’m able to explore more in the future. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite song on the record, but I think that it’s going to wind up being an important one for me. It just really showed me I could do things in a different way, especially with the singing. That’s the way things work sometimes. It doesn’t feel like a fully realized vision totally, but it feels like I’m on the way to something new with my songwriting, which is exciting.
This is just a little lo-fi ditty. I loved the words and the story and it felt right to have a song without drums here. The whole record is like a journey on the road, to me, so this is that inevitable moment of desperation and harsh realization.
10. “Eyes on the Road”
“Eyes on the Road” kicks off the final stretch of the record. This and the next song very much embody the long drive home. I wrote this song and was very happy with it as an idea, but I struggled a lot with the recording and production. Jim helped me out a lot, adding the amorphous synthesizer that acts as the bedrock of the recording and other guitar arrangements that helped to keep it interesting.
11. “Heart of Gold”
Once “Eyes on the Road” was figured out, this ending fell into place really easily. I had the idea for that fingerpicking and the melodic pedal steel which pretty easily carries the song. I wanted to end the record on a similar sentiment to its beginning—a vague idea of where things stand existing in this vast open-endedness.