Truckee artist Sam Ravenna has always been a big fan of Motown music.
“It’s a big inspiration,” he said. “But that’s not the only type of soul I’m into. I really like neo-soul, like D’Angelo’s stuff; Southern soul, like Tedeschi Trucks Band; more funky stuff like Earth Wind & Fire.”
Ravenna recently returned from several months on tour with New Orleans soul and roots rocker Eric Lindell.
Lindell is one of several big-name artists with whom Ravenna has collaborated since his time as a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. They include bassist MonoNeon, members of Odesza and local favorites like Mark Sexton of the Sextones.
Ravenna moved to Truckee in 2013, a year after finishing college. His self-titled debut EP came out in 2017. In October, he released a follow up—a full-length album titled Fragile.
“I totally had that idea where I wanted it to start off kind of where my last one leaves off, which is in this Motown soul realm, and then it slowly morphs into ’what is going on?’—you know what I mean?” Ravenna said. “It’s psychedelic, kind of taking you for a ride.”
The tone of Fragile does change. As Motown and soul give way to jazz and psychedelia about three quarters of the way through, it becomes darker and even a bit frantic sounding. According to Ravenna, it’s the result, at least in part, of disparate songwriting techniques.
“I had songs I was writing on acoustic guitar. And then I had songs I’d start in the studio … where I’d start with more of an electronic production—and I’d make a beat. … I was thinking of them in two different ways, and then I kind of wrote a couple, in between, that were not like quite totally organic, live band—but not quite totally crazy, electronic production. So with the introduction of those songs, I was able to tie it all together using some interludes and stuff like that.”
The interludes lend a nostalgic R&B feel to Fragile and help ease its stylistic transitions—but the “ride” the album takes listeners on is more than a sonic one. While the first tracks are series of love songs laid out one after another, Fragile’s later songs deliberate on darker themes like mental illness and relationship strife.
“I was in a relationship when I wrote all of those love songs, you know what I mean?” Ravenna said. “And I was madly in love. And a lot of those I wrote when the relationship was super fresh. … And then towards the end of the relationship, there was a lot of turmoil.”
Ravenna said the album’s latter part was inspired by reflecting on the demise of his relationship, which lasted three years, and on other life events, like a car accident that nearly killed him when he was 16 and a manic episode he suffered shortly after college.
“I ended up in the psych hospital and was diagnosed with a heavy diagnosis—and then, after that point, [had] to figure out whether or not I was actually bipolar or whether that was an acute episode,” he said. “Finding my center again and reflecting on that, I was able to get off meds, and I haven’t had an episode since.”
Now Ravenna’s preparing to take the record on tour in Hawaii and begin work on a new one, which, he said, is likely to pick up where Fragile leaves off.
“Definitely, there are more breakup songs on the next record,” he said. “There are breakup songs that have been written that are not on the first one. … That’s how I reflect on life. I write songs.”