Time Capsule by Particle Kid Track by Track

by Greg Prato

Micah Nelson goes track by track through Time Capsule, his 2022 Particle Kid album.



Just who the heck is "Particle Kid," you ask? Why, it's none other than Micah Nelson!

Micah is one of Willie Nelson's sons, and is already an accomplished and talented musician in his own right, having backed Neil Young as part of the band Promise of the Real, along with his brother Lukas.

And with the arrival of Particle Kid's double album, Time Capsule on April 22, 2022, listeners will be taken on a true musical journey that is equal parts psych, experimental, rock, and folk. Additionally, it features quite a few special guests dropping by: J Mascis, Jim James, Sean Lennon, and... his pop.

Micah was up for going track by track on his sprawling effort, discussing the inspiration and lyrical meanings for each song.

Little Fish (Deep Pond)

I hardly even remember writing this song, it happened so long ago. Maybe 2016? Seems long ago at least. All I know is that at the time I was thinking a lot about koi fish in a pond... and about how that pond is their entire reality. They are totally unaware of all the things we experience all the time, things we consider mundane, like strawberries or itchy clothing tags.

If someone stuck their finger in the pond and one of the fish saw the finger, to them it would be like a UFO sighting from some other dimension! They would be right, too. I get the feeling our reality isn't much different. We are like little fish in a deep pond. Maybe someday we will crawl out!

This song, like many of my songs, has gone through a few evolutions. The version on Time Capsule is I think the third recorded version and the only released version. I think it's the best. To me songs are like paintings; they are never really finished and you can always revisit them with a new mind if you want.


Velocirapture (The Serpent Flew)

One night I ate a weed edible and got really, really high. I was up all night and couldn't sleep because there were all these weird movies playing in my head. Sometime around 3 a.m. lying awake in bed, this whole story just flashed in my brain about a lonely velociraptor. It was a very human story.

He is misunderstood by his parents and friends and becomes an outcast in his community and is exiled. I started thinking about dinosaurs, but as if they had very human egos, complete with fears and doubts and dreams and culture. The story of this velociraptor became like an epic personal journey in which it is forced to face those fears and doubts and psychological delusions (or maybe they are real?).

His whole family thinks he's losing his mind, and maybe he is. I started thinking about what he must have felt during his own extinction event and how surreal and psychedelic it must have been... like a prehistoric rapture/apocalypse. It was as if I lived his life story in my mind as I wrote the lyrics down frantically. There was no melody or music until a day or so before we recorded it.

I believe the version on the record is our second or third take ever, just running through it trying different arrangements live in the studio. It's got plenty of great fuck-ups on it. I feel like it captures the flawed and tattered spirit of our lead character, the velociraptor.

Steve Chadie, the engineer, always gets such great sounds (especially his drums sounds!). Sean Ono Lennon's brilliant sonic painting and Mickey Raphael's dinosaur screams on harmonica really fleshed out the world of the story.

I heard on the radio the day after we recorded it that some archeologist discovered the ancient fossil remains of a previously unknown feathered dinosaur! Weird.


Original Glitch

Culture is a virus. That's more or less what this song is about.


Someone Else's Dream

I remember writing this song in about five minutes sitting on a couch one day. It was one of those rare songs that just happens, and sort of writes itself. It started out with a more swingy, folky, acoustic guitar feel as a little voice memo and then, as a studio recording, it evolved into more of a fuzzed-out shoe-gazy thing, or kinda somewhere in between.

Paul Bushnell and I did all the basic tracking together at Hen House, and then later Sunny War sang beautifully on it. I met J Mascis from the band Dinosaur Jr. in Amsterdam when he came to see the Neil Young show with me and my brother and POTR [Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real] at ZiggoDome.

We have been occasional pen pals ever since and he was nice enough to play some electric guitar on the track, which was very cool because Dinosaur Jr. is one of my all-time favorite bands and has influenced many of my sounds, especially on Time Capsule.


The Hole Time

When Particle Kid was on tour with Flaming Lips last summer, the band lineup included Tony Peluso on drums, who played on many songs on Time Capsule. Tony is from Connecticut and his mom and stepdad live there still, so we stayed with them on a day off. His stepdad Dave has a big round tree stump in the backyard where we spent hours doing knife-throwing!

Once Dave showed me the ropes and I got the hang of it I became kinda obsessed with the art of knife-throwing, at least for a few days. It's way harder than it looks and takes a very focused awareness of your entire body... and the feeling of nailing it is extremely satisfying and grounding.

Anyway, I don't know why I'm even talking about any of this. Maybe it affected me somehow because that night as I was drifting off to sleep and I was in that liminal lucid half-dream state, "The Hole Time" appeared in my mind and would not stop, the whole melody and most of the lyrics. I wrote it right then and there in my mind, in a half-dream state. I thought, "Hmm that's a fun catchy tune and lyric, where the hell did this come from?"

I kept telling myself, "You have to remember this when you wake up," because I was way too tired and too far out of my body in the dream state to get up and sing the melody into a voice memo or something. Fortunately, I actually remembered it all the next morning, which almost never happens, so I felt very lucky. I later recorded part of it at an AirBnB in Las Vegas, and then later finished it on my 4-track cassette machine (Teac 144 Tascam Series).

It's a very weird, catchy song. The end section lyrics are just ridiculous things my young godson Tiago (The Nerfs) would say and I would write them down. He was probably 6 around the time of these quotes. I couldn't think of any more lyrics at the end, so I just read off random funny Tiago quotes and it felt correct somehow. So technically, he gets partial writing credit for this song!

I played the recording for my brother once a while ago on the tour bus really loud. I said, "It's just a demo version, I might rerecord it hi-fi." But he was like, "I don't know man. I wouldn't touch this version." So the lo-fi bedroom-y "demo version" is what is on the album and it suits it just fine.

It had been through many combinations of cassette tape transfers and Logic sessions even at that point, so I don't even know what parts of the final version came from where, but I think it's cool whatever it is. I like how there are no drums or cymbals on it, just that little drum machine and the stupidly blasted-out guitars and bizarre warp-y 4-track cassette tape sounds.

It's a very weird song. It could just as soon be about meditation, some sort of romance story, or knife-throwing.

Micah on the Time Capsule Collaborations

I feel mystical about every one of the collaborations. So many great artists who have become friends. I see us all as interconnected stars in the constellation of music... the Particle system expanding!

Maybe the most profound collaboration to me was with my father. I have lived in his world and played his music my whole life, but this is the first time I've fully allowed him into my sonic dimension - the first time I've felt like I've understood it enough myself to have an open door for him to enter organically and grok the language.

The first time I've even begun to truly earn his company in my songs, and to have felt it to be thoroughly real and honest. Matters of the art should never ever be forced, no matter how expected or predictable they may be, perhaps most especially if they are expected. I'm so lucky I got to have this time with him preserved in the capsule!

All One Day (Shadow Of The Sun)

I wrote most of this song maybe four years ago, but never finished it or recorded it until 2020. This was one of the songs I recorded with Tony Peluso and Aroyn Davis in Austin in March 2020, right when COVID happened and we were basically quarantined in the studio for a week. I cut the session a bit short and sent the band home early because shit was about to hit the fan and I didn't think they would be able to fly home at all if we waited much longer (which turned out to be correct).

I stayed in Texas for two months, during which I recorded a lot of music with my folks as well, and my dad sang and played his guitar Trigger on a couple Particle Kid songs, including "All One Day."

Jim James from the band My Morning Jacket hit me up at one point feeling kinda isolated from quarantine life. He and my dad and I all share birthdays in the same week, so I invited him to sing on this song, which he did beautifully. It was nice to feel connected through this music, even at a distance. I liked the idea of all of us sharing a birthday week, singing a song together about the illusion of time and how your whole life is your birthday.

Because it's all one day and the change from night to day is a subjective experience, relative to our confinement to a finite object rotating around a star. Our entire lives are one long day from the time of our birth to the moment we die. It's cool.


Along The Timey Road

This could be a song about a difficult LSD experience... or about being taken down a few notches by someone who it turns out is much smarter and more experienced than you, or beaten down by life in general. But really, it could just be called an "ego-death song" and the transformation and growth that can come with that. It's a real ball-breaker.

Sometimes it's hard to cope with realizing almost everything you've stood for with such conviction turns out to be nothing but a concept or a flawed, outdated program running in the background of the mind. I think if we are lucky we will each have this experience more than once in our lifetime. Having our egos crushed into nanoparticles and splattered across the void every now and then, or somehow faced with our own immortality I think generally makes for wiser, more empathic, compassionate, open-minded people.

I've always loved the idea of writing a letter to your future self and putting it inside a time capsule and reflecting back years and years later, realizing how much you've grown and maybe what you've lost and must try to regain. This song is kinda a twist on that; the idea is essentially a letter/transmission from the future-self to the present-self, in hopes the message to stay humble will be received somehow.

It kinda reminds me of the Voyager golden record sending information through the depths of space to make contact with extraterrestrial life and represent humanity, and so I love this idea of actually sending information through the depths of time, to make contact with ourselves here on Earth... and perhaps remind us of our humanity. What better way to do it than via songs?

The video was shot on a phone by Alex [Micah's wife] in the living room, with me lip-syncing (badly) to the song. We then took it into Photoshop and frame-by-frame rotoscoped (digitally painted) every goddamn frame of it in a long stream-of-consciousness process. Took forever, made tons of mistakes, learned a lot, came out what it is. It could always be a bit better to me but that's what keeps me going, doing the next one and the next after that.

For the background stuff, a lot of it is stock imagery I just collaged in there, but some clips are these numinous aleatoric hyper-machines, 3D animated pieces I sampled from the creative geniuses at Strangeloop Studios. They were generously gifted to me a while back since they were unused content and I was happy to provide some of them a home in this video!

Rotoscoping is an animation technique I started experimenting with while making parts of the upcoming film I did with Neil Young, TRANS: The Animated Story. I had never done it before and hardly knew what I was doing so there were many happy accidents, which led to discovering new techniques or creative ideas. I think I've gotten better at the process since then, but there are definitely some choices I would tell my past-self now to avoid doing to save time and aches.

I always love the way it ends up looking though, fuck-ups and all. Handmade, old school frame-by-frame animation is a very meticulous and taxing process, but it's totally worth it, as there is no app or plug-in that can achieve the same movement, look and feel it does. I will say, however, that all these fancy digital creative tools available nowadays certainly quicken the process and provide limitless creative potential for frosting and sprinkles, but as far as the cake batter goes, to me nothing still tops the resulting look of doing it by hand, frame by frame. On the next animated project I will hopefully make all brand new fuck-ups!


Thurxzday

This was another song I originally recorded at an AirBnB in Vegas. I was there for a couple weeks playing in my dad's band. I only had my acoustic Martin, Gretsch 6112 electric, tiny pocket-sized Teenage Engineering PO drum machine, and Logic X. I'm not really sure what the lyrics are about, I just had this cool chord progression and melody idea, and then added a bunch of stream-of-consciousness words that seemed to feel right when I sang them. It all came together very quickly.

That original version stayed just a demo and I recorded the album version with Tony and Aroyn during the Austin COVID quarantine sessions. The lyrics are about a lot of different things all mashed together and can be interpreted any way you want.

It's called "Thurxzday" because I didn't have a title and Logic X wanted me to name it something when I went to save the session. That day happened to be a Thursday so I tried to type "Thursday" really fast, but it came out as "Thurxzday". It was a typo, but I thought, "OK. That's the name of this song then." Probably I was too lazy to think about changing it at the time so I never did and it just stuck.

A more obvious title would have been "Crack The Riddle" since that's the repeating lyric, but that would make far too much sense for this song.


King Of Ashes

I started writing this one a couple years ago at Hen House. Sometimes I pick up Harlan's acoustic nylon string guitar and just start strumming/stream-of-consciousness singing whatever comes out, and if I'm lucky it sounds cool and a new song idea appears. I believe that's how this one started, and then it evolved from there. We recorded a version just outside of Austin at Pedernales studio during the covid quarantine sessions, but it didn't quite feel right. A few months later, I tried recording an alternate version using the vocals from the quarantine sessions, but with a new funky Afrobeat-inspired drum rhythm I played in my little garage home studio, the Crows Cave, but never quite finished it.

Sometime later, we recorded a session for the 4th of July picnic show out at Tony's house in the middle of the California high desert - me, Tony, and Aroyn... and also Sunny War played guitar. For whatever reason that version out in the desert really grooved and had the right vibe. Even though the fidelity wasn't as sharp as the Pedernales studio version and my singing is all pitchy and raw and whatever, I just seemed to have the right feeling for the song. So I ended up using that version for the album.

Much, much later I realized I sang an incorrect lyric on the second verse! Lo and behold, I was able to splice in the second verse from the older version I did in the Crow's Cave that had the funky drum groove, layered with the vocals singing correct lyrics from the Pedernales version, and it actually lined up and worked.

This album is a big sonic collage of different times and places. It's like a journal. And journals are never clean and organized (at least mine aren't) - they are scribbled pieces of half-ideas and doodles and whatever from all over the place.

I really like that the Time Capsule version of "King of Ashes" is a collage mashup of three different recorded versions from different times and locations. It fits right in with the sewn-together aesthetic of Time Capsule. I thought, "Fuck it!" It's something I think quite a lot in fact. Sometimes I even say it out loud.


Rumpelstiltskin

A few winters ago, Alex and I spent a few days with Harlan and Randi (Steinberger) at their place up in Eagle River, Wisconsin. It was December and freezing cold and snow was on the ground and the river was frozen over and it was beautiful. I brought my Tascam 424 cassette machine on the trip and recorded a demo version of this song with the firewood cracking and popping in the background.

I later recorded a full-on punky electric version with drums and bass and all. It was cool, but the lyrics seemed to get kinda lost amidst the "rock." Later, I re-recorded this album version at Hen House with Paul Bushnell producing. We wanted it to have the studio fidelity and make it sound epic, but without losing the intimate campfire vibe of the original cassette demo.

We went overboard at first and had all sorts of big percussion sounds and strings and everything, but ultimately stripped it back down to mainly acoustic guitar and voice. I sampled sounds of a classic toy space gun for the choruses and Paul sampled a ship cannonball blast. It seemed to give that epic feeling we were looking for without losing the minimal lo-fi bedroom vibes.

My old pal Nikita Sorokin (who I played with for years in the band Insects vs Robots) played some beautiful violin on it at Hen House. This was another one of those songs where I picked up my acoustic and the chords just came out, and the first lyric and melody just sorta happened. It's always a great gift when it goes down like that.


Mycorrhiphone

I think this song is about... having consciousness? Being a... person? Whatever place it's coming from, it makes me feel super good when I hear it! It's also fun to play. Uplifting. I think it would be a good way to kick off a live show. I look forward to that.

The Lovely Eggs

The Lovely Eggs, who appear on the Time Capsule track "WTF (No Somebody)," are the English duo of Holly Ross and David Blackwell. We salute them for taking a stand against fake encores. Says Micah:

"At the start of 2020 I had never heard of the Lovely Eggs until in a random interview which popped up on a Google Alert thing in my email they praised 'Everything Is Bullshit' as a song that has helped them through the pandemic or something.

I checked them out and immediately fell in love with their music and DIY aesthetic/ethos. We started bullshitting over the interwebs and have become great pen pals. Not only did we collaborate on a song from Time Capsule, but we have even begun scheming some potential UK/US tour adventures for 2023! Check out their album I Am Moron and make sure you play it loud as fuck."

WTF (No Somebody)

This is like two songs in one, or a medley - if you can call it that. I think the WTF part is sorta maybe about humans being fucked with by aliens with fancy technology pretending to be gods? Or something. It's all just subconscious abstract-feeling stuff.

The Lovely Eggs did a lovely vocal and cool weird lovely guitar thing. I guess the "No Somebody" part is about Hollyweird vampire sycophantic mosquitos or somethin'. Holly Ross (from Lovely Eggs) and controversial alien stoner rapper Ramen Steve contributed some hard-hitting freestyle rhymes. It's a mega-ton-master-blaster! Parental advisory explicit lyrics!! I love how stupid the song becomes during that part.

It's kinda obnoxious and terrible and weird. Like modern mainstream culture. That was the idea. I think we nailed it. Recorded on Tascam 388 in my garage studio, the Crow's Cave.


Smart People

This recording was from the Window Rock sessions a few years back with Tony Peluso on drums and Jeff Smith on bass, but didn't make it onto Window Rock for some reason, so it's on Time Capsule now. I don't think we ever played the song before or since. It's about smart people who think about stuff and things... and do stuff.



Love Is Worth

Jeremy Ivey, Margo Price and I were at a friend's wedding some years back. Jeremy and I decided to write together, so I sent him this song that was all rhythm chords and melody, but no lyrics. So Jeremy wrote some great lyrics for it.

This was another song we originally tracked during the Window Rock sessions, but it didn't end up on that album so it sat around for a while and then kept evolving over a couple years. Margo sang backup vocals and Jeremy laid down some harmonica. My friend Eric Sullivan played pedal steel. For a while it had this fuzz guitar on the whole song, but last minute I replaced it with two layered acoustic guitars so it has this folky country Ojai vibe now.

In the sequence of the album it feels nice to break out of the electric guitar grittiness of the last few songs and into the airy woody mountain forest-y feeling of the acoustics. It's got all this nice space now. Space is the place!


The Pages

This is a song I originally wrote about 10 years ago and released on my debut lo-fi album Shapes, which I recorded in my old van (and put out on digital and cassette through Teaching Machine/Alpha Pup and Dome of Doom). I recorded a very different version with Jake Bloch (Moskito) a couple years later that I think we just released as a single.

The Time Capsule version is super different than both of those versions, but I like it the best. Maybe someday I'll record a totally different version. I like watching songs evolve and change their faces over time. I don't believe in the idea that a song has to always be played exactly like the version it was first released as on an official album, or even the version that's the most popular.

Songs are constantly evolving entities because the people who sing the songs are evolving entities too. Consciousness is in flux all the time (or at least it should be). I like songs that can be reimagined many different ways and take on a new layer of meaning each time. They also provide a vehicle to experiment with different sounds and styles.

The sound of this version of "The Pages" was definitely new territory for me at the time, and I thought it came out pretty cool. It's definitely one of my more pop-influenced recordings/arrangements even though it's got a fairly lo-fi production quality to it.

How would you describe the sound of Particle Kid?

Prehistoric post-Madonna

Algorythm

I wrote this song in the back of the tour bus when we were on tour with Neil in 2016, rolling down the road after we had spent a week in Telluride, Colorado, shooting the film Paradox. The initial tracking of this song actually happened months later at Hen House studio (on the night Trump lost the popular vote, but won the electoral college vote for President of the United States). So the sentiment of the song quite accurately fit the general feeling that night.


Don't Try

One night I was laying on the couch with my amazing wife Alex kissing my cheek and our little sphinx cat Zelda snuggling. I had an acoustic guitar in my hand and I was feeling so lucky to have such a cool beautiful little family and feeling so much love for them, and these chords and melody started happening, it was like I was scoring the moment and capturing the sanctuary of that space in melodic form so I could always have it. I later wrote these random lyrics down to fit the melody.

The words came from pure feeling, I didn't stop to analyze them too much, they just felt right. I don't really know what they mean exactly, but maybe someday I will. Or maybe I never will, but that is not important. The feeling of the song comes across via this combination of phonetic sounds. The feeling makes sense, so that's all that matters. I think the "Don't Try" lyric came from a Charles Bukowski poem.


Amerikan Lyfe

I remember my brother and the band POTR were in a meeting with their manager, Jeff Kramer, when I walked into the other room and picked up my acoustic for no particular reason and started playing these chords - and this melody appeared. And then I suddenly had the whole framework for this new song. It just sort of slipped out. It's funny how that happens.

Then later, we were on tour with Neil leading up to Farm Aid, I think it was Indianapolis (hometown of Kurt Vonnegut!) where I wrote the lyrics. The next year when covid hit, I was recording with Tony Peluso on drums and Aroyn Davis on bass with Steve Chadie engineering at Pedernales studio outside of Austin, Texas, so we were sorta quarantined in the studio for a bit.

The version of "Amerikan Lyfe" that's on the album is the first and only take we did during that session. Shit was hitting the fan all around us in the world and there was an increasing existential anxiety about everything, so there was an odd comfort in being not only stuck in a recording studio and able to focus on making new music as a sort of temporary escape from it all, but it was especially very cathartic/therapeutic to have a reason to collectively scream "LIFE! LIFE! LIFE!" over and over again as loudly as possible.

It was also very cool that my dad wanted to play Trigger and sing on it. It's a notably weirder song arrangement than he's used to, and I could tell he had a lot of fun doing it. His laugh at the end was something that I immediately knew had to be the last sound we hear to end the album. It sums the whole thing up. Having these great memories with folks I love to help offset such darkness during what was an otherwise very stressful time is a true gift.

April 20, 2022

Order Time Capsule at fanlink.to/particlekid

For more Particle Kid, visit particlekid.com

Further reading:

Willie Nelson Songfacts
Psychedelic Lyrics Quiz
Fact or Fiction: Neil Young Edition
Bob Dylan Lyric Quiz

Photos: Randi Malkin Steinberger

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