The Ones Who Wait
Fifteen years and nine albums into his career, Denison Witmer is familiar with the unexpected and often quixotic intersections that can take place between life and musical career. His newest album, The Ones Who Wait, is a reflection of this understanding of self and the growth that comes through life experience. It is an intimate reflection on the meandering path of life, on family and friendships, on death balanced with new life, on endings and beginnings. In Denison’s own words, The Ones Who Wait is about “patience and reverence. Being mindful and open to what you’re experiencing. A desire to take hold of what’s happening in your life, yet trusting the mystery of it enough to let go and participate rather than dictate.”
Much like any one of Denison’s previous eight records, this ninth record started as a collaboration. He and fellow producer/engineer Devin Greenwood casually started working on an EP.
In the midst of this new start, however, Denison found himself pulled back to his native Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His father, who was diagnosed with cancer 3 years previously, had taken a turn for the worse. “My father was never the kind of guy who let people fuss over or take care of him,” Denison says of that time. “But in the last few months of his life, there was this kind of acceptance and he allowed himself to be taken care of. He did it really graciously and generously. It was a beautiful thing to participate in and a gift to those around hm. Those are months that I would never trade for anything. I stopped making music. I stopped doing everything. I just spent time with him.”
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A few months later, his dad passed away. Denison grieved with his family, and remembered.
He returned to the studio with a new approach to the EP he had first started building the previous winter. What began as an EP grew into a full-length album, as Denison added songs that reflected the changes in the intervening year.
Denison’s albums have always been markedly personal, each one a significant milestone in his life. But The Ones Who Wait marks a whole new level of intimacy with listeners. Getting married, starting a business, and watching his dad close the final chapter on his life have helped Denison tell his own story better, to be more delicate, and confident. Bringing things full circle, as he wrapped up post-production on The Ones Who Wait, Denison found out he was going to be a father too.
The sound of The Ones Who Wait indicates a new maturity in Denison’s musical career, a subtle sense of confidence in his voice and music. His guitar and voice sit front and center in the sound, evoking a melodic warmth reminiscent of 70s-era singer-songwriters like Paul Simon and Jackson Browne. Denison reined in his well-established network of musicians to fill out the sound of the record, including CJ Camerieri (Bon Iver, Rufus Wainwright), Devin Greenwood (Norah Jones, Amos Lee), James McAlister (Sufjan Stevens), Charles Staub (Melody Gardot), and Rosie Thomas.
His songwriting, now trademark, is a finesse he uses to balance dark and light in the songs, lament and hymn. On “Hold On,” Denison sings about “How a father always starts out as a son, how sometimes you’re both, sometimes you’re only one. How we manifest things far beyond our means. I do this for you. You did that for me.”
A Lancaster, PA native, Denison first picked up the guitar at age 16, and was writing his own songs shortly after. Mentored by Don Peris (Innocence Mission) and influenced by Neil Young, Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen, Denison forged a compelling ambient folk sound that CMJ called “deceptively powerful” and Pitchfork said was “lavish but restrained.” Rollingstone.com called Denison their “favorite underrated singer-songwriter.”
The Ones Who Wait is also Denison’s first release for Asthmatic Kitty Records, whose employees and much of its roster have been long-time fans and collaborators with Denison. Asthmatic Kitty will also be releasing a “part two” of the record later in the summer of 2012.
Put all together, the album marks a big change for Denison: a life without his dad, a new label, a new worldview as a parent. As Witmer looks forward to the next phase of “the cyclical life” of writing-recording-touring, he is philosophical, as always, but confident about releasing an album in an overcrowded marketplace.
“I don’t really have an agenda when I release my records,” he says. “I just feel like I want to share something and give back to the creative community that I’ve taken from as a listener. My hope is that people can experience the music and it touches them in some way. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that you can’t pick your fans. Your fans pick you. My biggest concern is I want people to feel like I’m being honest with them, and for me, to know that I’ve created something that I really believe in.”