Unless you're making a pilgrimage to Kurt Cobain's birthplace, there's little reason to travel the hundred miles west from Seattle to Aberdeen, Wash.
Once a booming logging town, Aberdeen never quite recovered from the Depression, which ravaged its lumber industry in the 1930s.
But for Matt Sheehy of Portland indie-rock group Lost Lander, Aberdeen was a destination for a new forestry job and a new life in the wake of his mother's death. Sheehy temporarily moved to the town in 2008. More than a decade later, Sheehy has turned his time in Washington into a one-man musical show, which he performed last summer at Disjecta, and an accompanying record called Aberdeen.
The sound of Aberdeen was inspired by '70s-era "dry drum sounds and thick harmonies"; by Sufjan Stevens' 2015 record, Carrie & Lowell, a tribute to his late mother; and by "fun stuff" like the work of Kanye West, who lost his mom in 2007. Sheehy's resulting record features layered vocal harmonies, atmospheric interludes and experimental production arranged to sound the way grief feels.
Though Aberdeen is somewhat of a concept album about dealing with a loved one, Sheehy obscures the details of his internal journey in the stories he picked up from the characters around him, from small-town teenagers to strange neighbors.
Aberdeen is about "looking at mortality in a way that is fun and reflective of the course of a person's life," he says. "It's not all serious, but there are things that kinda make you wonder what it's about, and you catch a little glimpse of the fleetingness and the mystery of it all."
In advance of Aberdeen's release show this week at Doug Fir Lounge, WW asked Sheehy about the locations that inspired and show up on the album.
1. Sheehy's cabin
Sheehy lived in a cabin in timberlands in the middle of nowhere, above eccentric neighbors named Flood and Casey. Through the walls, Sheehy caught snippets of the couple's discussions of topics from polyamory to the paranormal. "Flood believed it was possible to open up a portal to this other world, and he referred to that connective tissue between these unseen worlds as the nexus," says Sheehy. "I also heard my mother talk about [the nexus] in the end stages of her sickness." Questions of the afterlife and the multiverse are central to tracks like "Borderline," which Sheehy considers "the heart of the record."
2. Driftwood Players Theater
At the Driftwood Players Theater, Sheehy saw shows from Cabaret to The Nutcracker to Tennessee Williams plays. "It was, like, a small-town community center for nerdy theater people," he says. His own alt-pop opera production of Aberdeen evolved from his desire to give the music a certain amount of context. Though the show and record came together simultaneously, the record delivers the emotional ups and downs of the show through chords and melodies, rather than direct explanations.
3. The Rock Pit
The record's opener and title track, "Aberdeen," takes the perspective of the town's teenagers, kicking around unlikely gathering places, including an industrial rock quarry. "[It's] where kids go to party [and] to escape the watchful eyes of police and parents," says Sheehy. "[It's a] mix of people growing up together and getting wasted at the rock pit…sneaking around, getting high in the middle of the day because there's nothing else to do."
4. Kurt Cobain Memorial Park
Aberdeen is probably best known as the hometown of Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana. Though the grungy town doesn't exactly capitalize on the connection, there are multiple monuments honoring the grunge pioneer, from the "Come as You Are" welcome sign to graffiti tributes and the black-and-white Nirvana photos decorating the Olympic Gateway Plaza McDonald's. "They're immortalizing this guy who doesn't necessarily feel like he represents the boom time of the town," says Sheehy. "He represents the decay."
5. Mac's Tavern and Cardroom
Mac's Tavern and Cardroom remains a regular haunt whenever Sheehy visits Aberdeen on forestry jobs. He was in Mac's, drinking a Budweiser—one of the bar's three beer choices, he says—when Damian Lillard hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the April 2019 Blazers playoff victory over Oklahoma City. "When Lillard hit that shot and I lost my mind and I was, like, screaming about it, I was completely alone," says Sheehy. "People thought I was a crazy person. It was great."
SEE IT: Lost Lander plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., dougfirlounge.com, with Arrow of Light, on Wednesday, March 11. $10. 9 pm. 21+.