Tiny Moving Parts
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” That well-known quote, often attributed to Dr Seuss, could also be the mantra that Tiny Moving Parts live by. It’s certainly a philosophy that the trio – who hail from the incredibly small town of Benson, Minnesota and were formed in 2008 by brothers Matt and Billy Chevalier (bass and drums, respectively) and their cousin Dylan (vocals/guitar) – applied while making their fourth full-length record, Swell. For while it’s an album that’s full of absence – lost love, lost friends, lost time – it looks for the positives. Instead of dwelling on those empty spaces, Swell instead recalls what was once in their place.
“The album is about trying to be the best person you can be,” explains vocalist/guitarist Dylan Mattheisen, “and being as happy as you can in the world we live in. That’s been kind of the overall theme of our band – just trying to find the positive in shitty situations and keeping your head up.”
To that extent, Swell is the next natural step in the Tiny Moving Parts catalogue. But if 2016’s Celebrate was almost unadulterated in that positive outlook, Swell finds the band – completed by Mattheisen’s cousins, drummer Billy Chevalier and bassist Matt Chevalier – a little bit darker, a little bit sadder. Its songs still manage to conquer and overcome those emotions, but there’s no denying that some of the situations described within them are pretty bleak.
Take album closer “Warm Hand Splash”, for instance. It’s about a piece of trash at the bottom of a wishing well that adores a coin, which someone eventually steals away, leaving the piece of trash forever alone and heartbroken in the dark. Of course, as awful as that sounds, there is still a bright side. Of course there is – this is Tiny Moving Parts.
“There’s two ways you can look at that song,” says Mattheisen. there’s two ways you can look at it. A) you’re stuck for life in that well and that’s really depressing and dark after having your favorite thing taken away. But, B) being happy that even happened, that the happiness it brought you through those days could be happiness that certain people – or pieces of trash! – haven’t seen or felt ever in their life.”
It’s not the only song on the record that plays with the idea of conventional narrator. “Smooth It Out” tells the story of an old stray cat in a city who meets a newly stray – and terrified – cat while “Whale Watching” is a story of isolation told from the eyes of a fish that’s been swallowed by a whale and is trying to find a way out. “It’s Too Cold Tonight” is about watching foxes playing outside, the song’s narrator trying to work out – as Mattheisen explains – whether they’re “glowing so bright from the happiness that you don’t have, or if it’s headlights coming towards them.”
Of course, while these songs might not be sung from conventional points of view, a tidal wave of human emotions flows through them and the lyrics are malleable enough for them to relate to the listener’s own life, experiences and emotions.
“I find it fun and interesting to write from someone else’s shoes – or, with animals, I guess it’d be their paws,” chuckles Mattheisen, “but I purposefully write them a little vague. I write about specific things but I give the listener their own paint tools so they can color in their own picture and relate to it the way they want to.”
How they do that – whether they give into the dark or choose to look on the bright side of things – is up to the listener, but the music is so life-affirming, so full of uplifting energy, that they may not have a choice. Recorded in Blaine, Minnesota by Greg Lindholm – with whom they recorded 2010’s The Couch Is Long & Full Of Friendship and Celebrate – its ten songs are a rush of blood to both the heart and head, raucous, desperate songs that are fevered and frenzied but infused with the band’s trademark math-rocky guitar licks and playful, shout-a-long choruses. It’s enough to make you forget all your woes and fill your heart with warmth and love. Which was precisely the idea. Taken from a lyric – “May your brain cells swell” – that’s repeated emphatically at the end of “Wishbone”, the idea of Swell’s title is an incredibly visceral one that the band hopes will have a powerful and positive effect on anyone who listens to it.
“The idea,” explains Mattheisen, “is about following that raw happiness in your brain and allowing it to expand and grow to overcome your doubts. It’s about your brain cells expanding and swelling up and swallowing the negativity in your head to serve an overall better outlook on life. If we can impact people and make them more optimistic in life and be nicer to each other, that’d be amazing. We want to let others know that they’re not alone. Because shit can go wrong and everyone has their bummer days, but in the long run were all going to pass away someday, so we want to make sure we live a good life and do the best we could to ourselves and towards others.”