When Jarrod Gorbel began writing new songs for his band The Honorary Title last year, he was exhausted from the trip his musical career had taken. He had dealt with an ever-changing band lineup, label switches, personal demons and crises, and the overall ego battering that comes with the current evolution of the music industry. “It was kind of like VH1’s Behind The Music, minus the fame or wealth,” says the singer-songwriter, whose new album Devil’s Made A New Friend will be his debut release under his own name. “But all of those experiences made me realize how far away I’d gotten from who I really was, as a person and an artist.” Though the past couple years had been a nightmarish rollercoaster ride, they were also part of a crucial rite of passage for Gorbel. By last summer, he knew he had to find a way to create something closer to his own heart: unfiltered, unbiased, produced in a way that didn’t veer too far from the songs’ original intention. The results are Gorbel’s best songs yet, mining classic soul, traditional folk and Americana, and incorporating strings, horns and female backing vocals for a sound more lush and organic than any of his previous work.
A bit of background: Gorbel gave himself The Honorary Title moniker several years ago, when he was playing solo acoustic shows around New York. The project later evolved into a full-fledged quartet known for the unbridled passion of Gorbel’s vocals, his deft pop hooks and keenly observed, poetic lyrics. The self-produced video for their song “Everything I Once Had” became a fixture on FUSE and Mtv 2, and the band earned accolades from Rolling Stone (“a soaring, heart-rending debut,”) Spin (which praised Gorbel’s “winning humor and killer pipes,”) and GQ, among others. They spent the better part of five years on the road – including stints with Dashboard Confessional, Switchfoot, Minus the Bear, Tokyo Police Club and Lucero – and, by the time Gorbel retired The Honorary Title name following a final tour last fall, the band had sold more than 75,000 copies of its two full-length albums.
Gorbel’s deceptively simple melodies, warm arrangements and soulful, soaring voice were always what drove The Honorary Title; his new, solo material brings those qualities into crisp focus in a way that makes the details even more beautiful. At his Brooklyn apartment, Gorbel spent week after week locked away with his acoustic guitar, amassing a collection of laptop demos for Devil’s Made A New Friend. “I’ve always preferred albums with a lot of atmosphere, where production is rich and layered, but you can still identify what each instrument is doing,” When he considered who would be the ideal producer to help achieve his vision, he immediately thought of Blake Sennett, of Rilo Kiley and The Elected. “I spent many hours on tour with both The Elected and Rilo Kiley as my soundtrack, and I knew that Blake was such a big part of both those bands’ sound,” says Gorbel. “I felt honored when he took my phone call and expressed his admiration for the songs I was working on.” Through mutual friends, Gorbel made contact with Sennett and started sending the producer his bedroom demos. After continuous dialogue Blake suggested that they record the record at his Los Angeles home studio.
In addition to producing, Sennett lent his voice and guitar skills to the entire record. He also put together the perfect backing band for the project, including his fellow Rilo Kiley bandmate and Mystic Valley Band drummer, Jason Boesel, Black Crowes’ Adam McDougall on keys/organ, Azure Ray’s Orenda Fink on backing vocals, and the incredible Nate Wolcott offering horns and piano. ” Gorbel explains. “I love the production of old Sixties soul records, where back-up vocals might be panned all the way left and guitar all the way right,” says Gorbel. “The technology available at the time dictated some of it, but I really love that kind of separation of instruments. And yet, it was important to me that the music feel like it’s capturing a live performance, not something pieced together in the studio. It was really inspiring to play with these musicians, who have worked with other artists I admired so much.”
For the first time in years, Gorbel was able to record the songs without the supervision of a record label. He had the freedom to take risks with the more folk tinged-songs and had no one to satisfy but himself. This freedom paired with the shedding of the band name gave way to new sounds. From the Seventies folk- and soul-inspired album opener “Extraordinary,” to the massive string-led “I’ll Do Better,” Devil’s Made A New Friend is set of 10 songs that capture an artist, as he puts it “starting over, going back to the beginning, and re-establishing myself.”
Lyrically, Gorbel has never shied away from exploring the dark corners of his psyche, the fucked-up things people in love can do to each other. On Devil’s Made A New Friend, he does this with even greater nuance and maturity. “Ten Years Older,” he explains, is “essentially about the passing of time and the pain of regret,” while “Extraordinary” describes “the unhealthy necessity for drama and turmoil to spark passion within relationships, and how boredom can become a product of actual stability and contentment.” And the anthemic “I’ll Do Better,” Gorbel says, was inspired by experiences relating to “the never-ending cycle of addiction, the promises that come from someone suffering from addiction.” He explains, “It’s written from the perspective of someone who’s sort of putting together a letter of apology to a significant other.”
Though the songs themselves are often somber, when he’s on stage Gorbel has become known for conveying an almost schizophrenically comic-side “I have the type of personality that creates these super-depressed songs,” he says. “But as much as things get me down, I find humor in all these absurdly meloncholy situations.” Between songs, Gorbel offers almost Tourrettes-like, profanity-laced observations on topics like burritos, masturbation and alien abductions. “I’ve got a ton of nervous energy, and I’m extremely awkward, but unable to supress a lot of my inner ramblings” he says. “It surprises people because the songs are so melodramatic and sad, but sometimes i feel the need to balance that with sarcasm its my method of survival .” Gorbel has also found an outlet for his hilarious outbursts online, and his series of comedic videos on YouTube are as cherished by hardcore fans as their favorite Honorary Title songs.
Devil’s Made A New Friend will be released on August 31st ; after his experiences with traditional labels, Gorbel opted to put out the album as a joint venture with Burning-house records, a new company helmed by a trusted friend and colleague, and his own imprint ‘Gorbel Music’. “At first, it was hard to just accept that I’d have to take a few steps back in order to get where I wanted to go,” says Gorbel. “But I wanted to make the record i had always envisioned, and needed to sacrifice in order to move forward musically, it was risky going solo but it just felt like a truthful and meaningful venture to take.”