Sound & Vision with Denison Witmer

Asthmatic Kitty artist, Denison Witmer, returned this week with his 12th LP, American Foursquare, after a seven year recording hiatus.

Single, Catalina Love, is one of the record’s most instant cuts – the gentle, spacious piano based track, which turns the death of a friend’s four month old baby into a truly beautiful tribute. And it is like so much of the album – steeped in the stories of friends, family and the local community of Lancaster, PA, which Witmer has returned to and found inspiration in after returning from the city life of Philadelphia.

But as well as being inspired by home, we discussed influences and passions from the world of music, literature and film. These are Denison Witmer’s Sound & Vision picks:


Susumu Yokota – Sakura:

I listen to a lot of instrumental music, though Sakura (and Yokota’s album Symbol) was the first mashup style music that really grabbed me. He has a knack for pulling together familiar samples and making them feel original. There’s everything from Philip Glass to Joni Mitchell to what sounds like Japanese opera mixed with electronic beats and drone tones. It’s playful and hypnotic.  It puts me in a calm trance-like state.  This was the first album I digitised and copied to my first generation iPod back in 2001. I listened to this album a lot on tour… it was my emotional centre during international flights, late night hotel jet lag, or headphones while walking around unfamiliar cities.

Van Morrison – Veeden Fleece:

This album is instant springtime. The lead off track, Fair Play, is one of my favourite recordings.  The band feels cohesive, though also like they are playing the songs together for the first time. The vocals just kind of wander all over the place. Morrison has a way of going for it that’s just so foreign to me as a singer. I am way more reserved. I think that’s what I like most about this record — It feels like the genre my music belongs in, but it is somehow very “other” to me. It’s taught me to be more free in the studio… singing songs differently each take and being less precious about what I think the perfect take is.  I sometimes wait to show collaborators my songs until we are in the studio. I find that very good musicians take more chances when they are trying to figure something out. Then you end up with a lot of happy accidents. Maybe that’s what is so perfect about Veedon Fleece to me. It feels like a 45-minute happy accident.

J Tillman – Year In The Kingdom

My wife and I listen to this record together more than any other. This is our long-drive record. It is our play-cards-late-at-night record. It is our wrap-christmas-gifts record. It is our make-breakfast record and our play-legos-with-our-kids record. It’s really a best friend. It rarely leaves the turntable and that is not out of laziness… we really love it that much.


This is hard for me because I am admittedly not a film buff. I go through phases where all I want are Werner Herzog documentaries, phases where I just want to binge the Jason Bourne series, and phases when I just want to watch The Red Balloon or the original Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.

Regarding Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, I have always loved coming back to this particular film over and over through the years. I think it ages well with its audience in the sense that whatever phase of your life you are in, you can relate to one of the main characters in some way.  As a child, I had a strong sense of right and wrong in the way Charlie does.  Being a parent to young kids, now I see things more from Willy Wonka’s perspective in the sense that I want to help my children hold onto as much wonder and mystery as they can while still having a strong moral compass. One of my favourite parts of any movie is when Willy is showing everyone the flavoured wallpaper and Veruca Salt complains about a fruit she has never heard of. Willy responds sternly, ‘We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.’ The serious tone in combination with such a mystical theme is perfect.


The last book I was really floored by was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It’s masterful storytelling.  It’s one of those books where you put off finishing it for fear of missing the main characters.  What really lifted this book into a higher realm for me was the last third. The main arc of the story is finished long before the end of the book. The last third is dedicated to the main character finding himself isolated and thinking back over what happened. As he replays the story in his mind, he has personal epiphanies and space to view things with distance enough to empathise with everyone else may have been feeling as the story unfolded.


Red House Painters – Brockwell Park

I have such reverence for this song.  I wish I had written it, though I would never cover it. The guitar playing is immaculate, the lyrics are cinematic, and the melody floats in that perfect lilting spot between happy and sad. I love the way it begins with two guitars panned hard right/left and how they meander their way towards each other and lock into place just before the singing begins.  Many years after first hearing Brockwell Park, I was passing through London on tour and my buddy, Neil Halstead, invited me to stay at his place. He was away the night I was getting in, so he left keys for me with a friend, who instructed me to meet him at a tube stop in Brixton. When I surfaced to the street, Brockwell Park was right in front of me. I was surprised because I never knew exactly where it was. I had a bit of an emotional moment. I kind of feel cheesy even admitting that, but whatever, it’s true. After getting the keys to Neil’s place, I dropped my bags there and went back to the park. I must have circled it for an hour or two listening to that song over and over again.

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