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photo credit: Cameron Scoggins 

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Occurrence’s swoon-worthy and heartbreaking new album I Have So Much Love To Give wasn’t supposed to happen. But making music is sometimes a lot like binging a television show. When you’ve got a good storyline, it’s hard to stop.

Everyone in Occurrence was a little fried after finishing their second album, Everyone Knows the Disaster Is Coming, and they all have a lot going on in their lives. Cat Hollyer writes for Hallmark and has four children, and her fellow Occurrence singer Johnny Hager teaches high school Spanish in New York City, while composer Ken Urban is busy both writing plays and teaching playwriting at MIT. (It seems like band life and playwriting life are starting to blend together for him. One of his most recent plays is Vapor Trail, which is named in honor of a classic song by shoegaze legends Ride and tells the story of a music journalist struggling with grief.)

“I learned a valuable lesson, that you shouldn’t release an album and have two productions in the same year, because by the end of 2018, I was really sick and just really burned out,” Urban says. “And so when Cat came and visited us to do some recording in January of 2019, I recall that Johnny yelled, ‘We’re not making another album. We’re just going to do a single or an EP.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, totally.’”

Hollyer lives in Kansas, so Occurrence tries to get as much music done as possible during the pockets of time where they can all be in the same city. She visited a few more times, and pretty soon, everyone realized that, once again, they were working on an album. The breakthrough came with “A Parade of Regrets,” a rumbling darkwave ballad that begins with the line, “Happiness will kill you slowly/Better off to make it quick.”

Once that song was finished, Urban realized his band had found a narrative framework for what would become their third album, and they had to keep going. Inspired by Roland Barthes’ book A Lover’s Discourse, Urban decided to structure I Have So Much Love To Give around the journey from a relationship’s start to its end. “Side A is all about the joy of falling in love and the intense desire you feel for somebody else,” he says. “And then Side B is when it all goes to shit.”

So even though it wasn’t the original plan, Hager agreed with his bandmate and partner that they needed to push forward. “I’m very good at doing what is asked of me,” he jokes. “I remember that I said, ‘We can’t do an album,’ but then he shows me a track that he’s been working on, and tells me to do something with it.”

That song ended up becoming the cyborg waltz “The Happy Years,” which was inspired by Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life, which not coincidentally is the book Urban and Hager were reading when they were first getting to know each other. “So I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it,’” Hager remembers. “Sometimes I get stressed. But then I start doing it, and I let go. It’s probably one of my favorite songs I’ve ever sung.”

A musical theater performer and trained opera singer, Hager sang back-up on a few songs for Occurrence’s debut The Past Will Last Forever (2016) and became an official member for the follow-up Everyone Knows the Disaster Is Coming (2018). “I feel like with Everyone Knows we were recording together, but we were still thinking ‘This is a Cat song. This is a Johnny song.’ And this one felt like, ‘Oh, this is like our first album as a real band,’” says Urban. “So even though it feels very vulnerable, it also feels like we have the support of each other.”

The result of that support is I Have So Much Love To Give, Occurrence’s most cohesive album to date. Urban collaborated remotely with producer and sound designer Daniel Kluger via the software program ListenTo, which allowed them to finish mixing the album during Zoom sessions, with Urban bringing in Christian Frederickson from beloved band Rachel’s to play viola on three tracks, and Kluger bringing actor-musician Peter Mark Kendall to play guitar on “The Preferred One.”

“We like the cold and electronic aesthetic, but for some things, like ‘My Eternal Autumn,’ we were like, ‘if we have Christian playing the viola supported by my electronics, then it’ll actually make something feel bigger and more organic,’” Urban says. “Daniel pushed us to think about ways to incorporate more acoustic instruments, which feels like a big step forward for us.”

Occurrence started as an outlet for Hollyer and Urban, college friends who reconnected as adults after going through difficult break-ups. It was a tough time in their life, but friendship and music helped them to heal. Urban is in a happier place now, though he can still appreciate a downer ending. I Have So Much Love To Give closes with “I Had So Much Love To Give.”   

“It’s about that experience when a relationship ends and you feel really broken up. But then my hope is that by the final song it feels like you’ve come out the other side,” says Urban. “You have a total breakdown in order to get through it. That’s how you get over a broken heart by letting yourself feel totally destroyed.”

But you can’t have heartbreak if you’re never in love, and with their newfound band unity, Occurrence has the confidence to write songs like “Boy Joy,” a brisk, pulsating ode to late nights and sweaty dance floors. “I think that doing something a bit more joyful or just having a bigger emotional range is riskier for us,” says Hollyer. “But I feel like this album, it just represents a lot more vulnerability for all of us.”

And that newfound emotional range can be a bit… revealing, especially on the proto-industrial anthem “Your Body Is Made of Flesh.” “Part of what’s an outlet about Occurrence for me is that, lyrically, I can be more salacious than I am in real life,” Hollyer says. “I’ll hear some songs and I’m like ‘did I really want to put this out there?’ But it was a fun release to write these lyrics.”

With I Have So Much Love To Give, Occurrence has made their best, most complete work yet, filled with both their most energetic anthems and tear-jerking ballads. Not bad at all for an album that wasn’t even supposed to exist.

I Have So Much Love to Give will be released on Archie & Fox Records on 20 August 2021.

Current Release

Occurrence
I Have So Much Love To Give
(Archie & Fox Records)
Street Date: August 20, 2021

Track List

1. I Have So Much Love to Give
2. Boy Joy
3. The Happy Years
4. The Preferred One
5. A Plea
6. Drift
7. Flies Dead Midair
8. Your Body Is Made of Flesh
9. Bad Sleep Well
10. My Eternal Autumn
11. A Parade of Regrets
12. I Had So Much Love to Give

Photos (click for hi-res)

 

photo credit: (1-4) Cameron Scoggins