“I WANNA KNOW A NEW FREEDOM, GET OUT OF THE OLD AND INTO A NEW WAY OF THINKING” - "SHINE A LIGHT"
For Del Rio, the follow-up to his 2013 solo debut, Everything’s Different, Nothing’s Changed, singer/songwriter Armon Jay realized things couldn’t remain the same any longer… that he had to do something to shake up his own depression. It was only after lifting himself from what he calls his own saudad, a Portuguese term for “a feeling of longing, of something that is missing,” that he was able to unleash the songs that make up his new album. The 10 songs form a chronological snapshot of the last 18 months in his life, in which Armon cured that malaise by letting others in his life, thanks to therapy, sobriety and, more importantly, as he sings in “Playing with Fire,” “a power stronger than mine.”
If Armon’s first record was about breaking away from his former life as Christian artist AJ Cheek and establishing his own artistic independence, Del Rio is a confirmation of the importance of home and being grounded. Named after the street in Franklin, TN, where he lives with his wife, and just a bike ride away from his good friend Jon Howard, a tour guitarist for Paramore, whose state-of-the-art Anchor Room served as the recording studio, Del Rio started as a couple of songs – “Better Off Without” and “Slow It Down” – and gradually unleashed a torrent of new material. With Howard producing, recording, mixing and programming the drums, Armon handled the rest, playing guitar, piano, banjo and even some cello on the DIY effort.
Taking a cue from his recovery program, Armon’s new music is confessional, vulnerable and intimate, though its arrangements are lush, cinematic and even orchestral. From the stark, U2 strains of “Better Off Without,” the gospel-tinged piano chords of “Shine a Light,” the menacing “Playing with Fire” and the decision to “Slow It Down” to the poignant nods to his marriage in the epic “A Little Longer” and the hopeful “Can’t Get Away,” Del Rio shows Armon is honest about his shortcomings, and determined to get better.
“After the year I’ve had, personally, I realized I was wrong that Nothing’s Changed,” he now admits. “Everything’s always changing and everything has changed in my life today. I guess I coined that album title a little too early in my career. That was just the start."
After the release of his first album, Armon went on tour with his friend Noah Gundersen, opening for him and playing in his band, but by the time he came off the road in the summer of 2014, he was physically and mentally drained, down to 118 pounds, and had a hard time readjusting to home life. He decided to seek professional help, which allowed him to realize his compulsive behavior and odd routines were a result of OCD and ADD, conditions that could be controlled.
“I wanted to understand why I was so quirky, why my brain worked the way it did,” he explained. “I went through a lot of personal transformation, with some dark days in between, but I wouldn’t have had these songs and lyrics if I didn’t live through it.”
You can hear that anguish in “Shine a Light” (“I am powerless/Lost in the shadows of discontent”) and “Slow It Down” (“My mind can take me places I don’t wanna go/And when I’m invited I have a hard time saying no”), but there is also light at the end of the tunnel in relationship-affirming songs like “A Little Longer,” the anthemic, Beatlesque “Clean Break” (“All we ever wanted/Was a chance to start over”) and “Can’t Get Away,” a paean to commitment that ends with Armon’s self-admonition to “stay alive… stay alive.” The soothing closer, “Safe to Say Goodnight,” is a wordless benediction, a lullaby to hearth and home, a way for Armon to wind down, lock the doors and tuck himself in.
“Instrumental music is my safe place, my favorite kind to listen to before I go to bed,” he explains. “I smoke a cigarette, drink some orange juice and listen to a nine-minute-long orchestral piece. It really centers and relaxes me. I can connect on a purely musical level.”
Del Rio offers a narrative of Armon Jay’s life over the past year and a half… from darkness to light, from despair to tentative faith, from the glass half-empty to half full. And that progression represents a significant change for the 29-year-old musician. While busy recording the new album, he received a phone call from Chris Carrabba to join Dashboard Confessional as a guitarist – he performed with the band on a co-headlining jaunt alongside Third Eye Blind earlier this year -- which has added some welcome stability, and even more possible new directions, to a suddenly burgeoning career.
“I’ve gained a new self-perspective/It made for one hell of a hard lesson/I learned I can’t keep it if I don’t give it away/I heard you can’t give what you don’t have in the first place.” “Can’t Get Away”
“If we don’t taste the bitterness of life, we can’t appreciate the sweetness,” concludes Armon. There’s a bit of both on Del Rio. Or as he sings in “Can’t Get Away”: “I just gotta take a little action/Keep making changes and whatever happens, happens.”