- Daniel Gill at Force Field PR
Nelson Kempf’s debut release, Family Dollar, is due out on July 24th. While he currently
resides in Kenai, Alaska, these songs were also written and recorded while living in
Tennessee and Oregon; part of the reason why Family Dollar’s strong sense of place
exists on opposite poles being that of the humid South in contrast with frozen Arctic environments.
Kempf’s writing style is very personal and this work catalogs a tumultuous decade
in his life. From performing with artists such as Laura Veirs, M. Ward and the
Decemberists in his late teens, to becoming a parent and working in the oil field during
his early twenties, and eventually moving to the South and trying to raise a family
meanwhile grappling with financial turmoil and mental health issues.
“In 2011 my first son was born. I stopped making music, began working in the oil field, and
relocated from Mexico to Tennessee. Every three weeks I would fly for twenty hours or so, up to
the North Slope of Alaska and weld pipes on the Arctic tundra that was being leased to oil giants
by the Inupiat people. Sitting in my diesel truck at midnight, -80 degrees outside, a local choir on
the radio singing Russian orthodox hymns seemed to harmonize with the constant wind
ripping off of the Arctic ocean. Then, I would return to my partner and three children in the lush,
rolling hills of Tennessee, where people drink sweet tea and get married on plantations. The kids
running naked in the yard; the hot and humid haze embellished by a symphony of crickets,
cicadas, sirens, and traffic.
Over my years of separation from music, I grew increasingly disillusioned with my old creative
processes; the folky song writing of my early twenties didn’t seem to accommodate the illness,
death, mental breakdowns, social alienation, and poverty that had pervaded my immediate
experience. Foreclosure notices and utility shutoffs, pawning family heirlooms to keep the phone
on so that I could call the power company to negotiate an extension so that I could buy dinner.
The more dire the circumstances, the steeper the terms: the opposite equivalent of wealth begets
wealth. I felt intense stress burning through my body most of the time.
The emotional experience of poverty is largely overlooked. The intense pressure that inflates
every moment; the exhausting physicality of stress, the impossibly stacked odds against sound
decision making. There is also beauty in it. A deep, connection to the buzzing grit and gristle of
life; the salves of shimmering evening light, cheap alcohol, and children’s laughter; the over
whelming, irrational ecstasy when a moment of calm pierces through.
I had one of these moments at a local dance performance. As the dancers scurried after one another replicating the murmurations of birds, their shadows stretched across the ceiling over me, and I felt enveloped by the movement. While I was focused on a part of the performance which wasn’t designed, it occurred to me: the periphery of life holds so much more than the curated narratives we piece together.
Family Dollar explores that dark matter surrounding everyday experience. What the light looked
like when my son was born. Leaked oil shimmering in a stream. The granular architecture of
poverty, stress, parenting, and the overwhelming joy and sorrow that wash each other out through
Street Date: July 24, 2020
1. Sweetness And Strife
3. Dream Of Life
4. Make It Better
6. Family Dollar
7. Moment of Clarity
Photos (click for high res)