The first new album from John P. Strohm in over 15 years, Something To Look Forward To will be released September 29 via Propeller Sound Recordings. The album is shaped by life-altering loss and the subsequent reawakening of Strohm’s voice as a songwriter. As he coped with the death of his closest friend and creative partner Ed Ackerson (a widely beloved musician/producer), the Nashville-based artist devoted himself to transforming raw emotion into transcendent melody and indelible lyrics (a skill first shown in his role as co-founder of seminal college-rock band Blake Babies). The result: a deeply affecting document of all the pain, clarity, and unexpected beauty that inevitably accompany the passing of time.
Produced by Gregory Lattimer (Albert Hammond Jr, Mya Byrne), Something To Look Forward To came to life in a series of Saturday-afternoon sessions at Lattimer’s garage studio Make Sound Good, with contributions from Ackerson on several songs. In dreaming up the lushly detailed yet viscerally commanding sound of his fourth solo LP, Strohm brought his expansive musicality to a multitude of instruments (guitar, bass, drums, organ, keys, banjo), in addition to joining forces with musicians like drummer Marshall Vore and bassist Harrison Whitford (both members of Phoebe Bridgers’ band) and enlisting singer/songwriters Erin Rae, Courtney Marie Andrews, and Kate Tucker as harmony vocalists. While much of the album spotlights Strohm’s subtly expressive guitar work—an element showcased during his mid-’90s stint as a guitarist for the Lemonheads, after drumming for the iconic alt-rock band in the late ’80s—Something To Look Forward To remains firmly centered on his songwriting.
“Especially with the music I was making in the early ’90s, I was really focused on trying to create strange, disorienting sounds,” says Strohm. “That’s still a fascination of mine, and there’s definitely some experimentation on this album, but I’ve gotten to the point where the recording process is purely about serving the song.”
Mixed and mastered by Paul Mahern (another longtime collaborator of Strohm’s, known for his work with Angel Olsen and John Mellencamp), Something To Look Forward To takes its title from an ineffably poignant track recorded with Ackerson the last time he and Strohm ever saw each other. Having first set to work on the album in 2017, Strohm had shelved the project upon being appointed president of Rounder Records that same year, then recommitted to it after learning of Ackerson’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. In July 2019, just a few months before his friend passed away, Strohm traveled to Minneapolis to work with Ackerson at his famed Flowers Studio (the same spot where the latter had produced for bands like The Jayhawks and Golden Smog).
“I knew it was my last chance to make something with Ed, and it was a real struggle, but we managed to get that song recorded,” says Strohm, who first connected with Ackerson when his band played in Strohm’s Indiana hometown in 1990. Rooted in a beautifully understated arrangement that came to Ackerson in a dream, “Something To Look Forward To” later underwent an essential metamorphosis thanks to Strohm’s pointed revision of its lyrics. “Ed had called bullshit on the lyrics and told me to take another stab at them,” he says. “It wasn’t until a couple years later, when I was looking through my notebooks from lockdown, that I found that line in the chorus: ‘All I need is time away, and something to look forward to today.’ It was something I’d written about being stuck in the house, but it took on a different meaning when I applied it to the idea of someone at the end of life—especially someone like Ed, who was so optimistic up till the end. It was my way of trying to draw attention back to him, to celebrate his music and all the ways he inspired me.”
Although Something To Look Forward To opens on another track capturing the unmooring nature of loss—“Ready For Nothing,” a bittersweet but brightly toned track written after the death of his stepfather—the album also finds Strohm musing on the complexities of human behavior. To that end, the sublimely catchy “Don’t Tell It to Your Heart” explores our tendency toward self-deception, bringing sugar-coated melodies to its often-acerbic lyrics (e.g., “I’m running out of ways/To make the world revolve around you”). In a particularly brilliant twist, the song peaks with an exquisitely loopy theremin solo from Kuba Kawnik, a cruise-ship entertainer Strohm met through his running group.
Partly informed by Strohm’s experience in working closely with a great number of musical visionaries in recent years (both in his role as a music lawyer and in his recent five-year tenure as President of Rounder Records), that heightened sense of dedication ultimately traces back to his deep-rooted desire to keep Ackerson’s spirit alive. “Ed had a really strong work ethic and always inspired me to work harder than I would have otherwise—he never let me do anything halfway,” he says. “He helped me get to the point I’m at today, where success is primarily about knowing that I did the best work I could possibly do. Right now I already have a whole other album written and demoed and put away, and I’m sure when I come back to it I’ll scrap a bunch of it and rework it until it’s up to the standard. It feels really good to know that I’m able to do that.”
Track listing for Something to Look Forward To
1. Ready For Nothing
3. This American Lie
6. Don’t Tell It To Your Heart
7. Something to Look Forward To
8. When The World Sang Along
9. Counting Backwards
10. A + B = Y