Purr - Who Is Afraid Of Blue?
New York duo Eliza Barry Callahan and Jack Staffen, together known as Purr (fka Jack + Eliza), are announcing their sophomore record titled ’Who Is Afraid Of Blue?,’ which will be released on June 2. To make it, the duo teamed up with producer Jonathan Rado (Weyes Blood, Father John Misty, The Killers) where just the three of them hid out in his small North Hollywood studio.
The focus track “Drift,” a song about wanting someone you love to help themselves, replete with driving guitars and locomotive drums that have a touch of ‘The Bends.’ Father John Misty drummer Dan Bailey plays drums on the track and is the only musician on the record other than Purr and Rado.
Between 1966 and 1970, the American artist Barnett Newman painted a series of four large scale paintings titled Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue. They’re simple, but produce a whole register of feelings, emotions — the color is the subject, the paintings do not represent anything, but only express themselves. How can a canvas saturated in red synthesize something as complicated as fear? It just does. That painting series’ title was a reference to Edward Albee’s 1960’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which was in itself a reference to “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?“, the song from the 30s immortalized in Disney cartoons.
These Newman paintings are like a conceptual backdrop of ‘Blue’ as it is in many ways a record about these abstract registers of fear — saturated with emotion, introspection, and that very sense of overwhelm.
Callahan and Staffen started writing this record in late 2019, shortly before the release of their debut album ‘Like New.’ But just as they began writing, Callahan started to suddenly and rapidly lose her hearing. She was diagnosed with a rare condition and told she could be deaf in a year’s time. It did not seem like there was a cure. A few weeks later, the pandemic began. In the following months, it seemed improbable that they’d write music together again.
“Music became a live wire,” she said, “it wasn’t physically bearable.” These events took their own toll on Staffen too and the duo had a reckoning with their art. They shelved the few things they had begun to write. Callahan focused on finding a way to get better. A year later she entered a medical trial and months later, against odds, entered remission. Then the pandemic started to lift. They got back to work. “We began working together again, intensely and quickly,” the pair says, “It was a life leveling moment, an opening moment. Time suddenly felt way more valuable.” They made what would become the record from start to finish in half a year.
‘Who is Afraid of Blue?’ is not a record about Callahan’s confrontation with a loss of a sense, but it is a record about fear, about trying to outrun loss and longing— it’s knotted up with love. It’s also about the inverse — finding liberation in the blue, in the great wide open, in beginning again. Just as with the title, the lyrics across the record often ask questions of the listener. Callahan says, “This record ended up being more about writing a sensation than telling a story. Each song has its own specific entry point.”
A departure from the band’s previous releases which saw a light tether to 70s rock with the duo singing in harmony, ‘Blue’ is admirably placeless and timeless, often featuring Staffen and Callahan’s vocals individually. The record doesn’t sit still, spanning a gamut of sonic influence: from the cult songwriters of the 90s, to driving rock, a contemporary spin on ambient shoegaze, and downright country, the record manages to arrive at something so completely whole and so completely its own.