Built to Roam: 9 Songs About Leaving by 9 Austin Artists

Earlier this week, Ovrld Co-Founder Carter Delloro and his partner-in-crime and longstanding Ovrld contributor Bailey Cool left Austin for the greener pastures of Los Angeles, where Carter landed a job at Occidental College. While we’re all sad to see Carter and Bailey go, we’re sure they’re going to do great in LA, and in their honor we’ve compiled nine songs about leaving by nine Austin artists.


Okkervil River- “Song About a Star”



Okkervil River’s “Song About a Star” is abstract enough that it could actually be about the plot of Titanic, what with its “He cut your strings so that you could float” opening and all the talk about numb limbs, but I’ve always perceived it as a song about a friend who went to realize his dreams of being an actor and now you only see him when he’s waving down to the happy crowds from parade floats. A lot of Okkervil River songs hinge on regret, and in this instance it’s regret for stifling someone’s dreams as well as regret for the sacrifice made when you finally let go. Most people have gone through the experience of having to say a regretful goodbye to a friend or lover or family member who has had to move on and that process always involves a lot of grief over things you could have said at some point. Maybe you never said sorry, maybe you never confessed your true feelings, maybe you never properly expressed your gratitude for all they did for you. And when you only see them from afar, talking about all the success they’re having and all the good times they’re experiencing, it’s understandable to be a little morose.


Spoon- “Stay Don’t Go”



Technically, Spoon’s “Stay Don’t Go” is a song about trying to get someone not to leave. But that’s a big part of the leaving experience too, isn’t it? Set to a beatbox loop and reverse guitar licks, “Stay Don’t Go” has undeniable swagger, particularly once Britt Daniel’s Prince-indebted falsetto enters the picture. But peel back the inherent coolness and there’s a lot of desperation– and what’s more unattractive than desperation? Making a move takes more confidence and strength than staying put, which is why the song’s chorus emphasizes that the “Confession is/Stay don’t go.” It’s an admission of weakness, a reversal of the cocksure swagger the song sonically has, but it’s also an easy sentiment to get behind– no one wants a friend or partner to move halfway across the country. “Stay Don’t Go” is an easy sentiment, so the song is fittingly simple in structure, but all that complexity is just a tease of the real complexity in the conflicted emotions surrounding a move.


13th Floor Elevators- “You’re Gonna Miss Me”



On the flip side of “Stay Don’t Go” is the 13th Floor Elevators’ garage rock classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” a vicious takedown of somebody who doesn’t realize what they’ve got until it’s gone. The song is specifically for a girl who didn’t recognize how great her boyfriend was, but you could apply it to anyone who never understood how awesome you were. The grim history of the 13th Floor Elevators themselves, specifically Roky Erickson’s forced electro-shock treatments and struggles with mental illness, adds further weight to the song’s lyrical fixation, but when you get down to it, it’s a simple but powerful track perfectly suited for expressing any frustration you have with a lack of proper recognition. That’s conveniently a frustration us bloggers have in spades.


American Analog Set- “I Must Soon Quit the Scene”



Anyone who has lived in Austin for more than a year has their own take on how the city is changing for the worse, complete with their own idea of when things went wrong. So it’s not too surprising that American Analog Set’s “I Must Soon Quit the Scene” is just as relevant today as it was 15 years ago, with its short, concise lyrics about a scene gone bad and why it’s time to go. The band’s melancholic instrumentation fits the quietly exasperated lyrical tone perfectly, the vibraphone melody echoing the cadence of the song’s statement that “You remember when nothing was wrong,” the dreamy background texture escalating as the band breathes a sigh of relief and declares “You’re tired of the scene/And you’re leaving.” Of course, the fact that AAS stuck around Austin long after the song was recorded provides another point of view: they’re tired of everyone saying this same thing but never leaving.


White Denim- “Come Back”



Not every goodbye has to be final is the message at the heart of White Denim’s “Come Back.” Off of the band’s ZZ Top-leaning Corsicana Lemonadethe track has the vocals matching the repetitive guitar riff on the chorus with the repeated declaration that “You can come back/You can come back anytime,” a fittingly comfortable and nostalgic message for a song that embraces the band’s excursions into classic rock territory. Just as song’s from our youth can make us feel at home, “Come Back” wants you to know that going all around the world is fine, but if you’re ever feeling lonely it’s there for you to return to. Austin’s status as a city of transplants makes that an easy sentiment to get behind, because as great as the city is to live in, its citizens undoubtedly all know homesickness pretty well.


Black Angels- “You on the Run”



Just as not every goodbye is permanent, not every goodbye is by choice. The Black Angels’ “You on the Run” is a perfect example of the Texas tradition of outlaw songs, with this particular case focusing on someone who’s been on the run “Since 1981″ thanks to some fooling around with a senator’s wife and now has the FBI on his trail. I’m not sure how an affair is a crime worthy of the attention of the FBI, but regardless, it’s got this poor SOB living a life of solitude, doing unsavory acts just to avoid Johnny Law. The legality of the pursuit might be questionable, but the musical menace that drives “You on the Run” makes it easy to see why the song’s anti-hero would be too terrified to ever return home. Whatever these anti-cheating FBI agents have in mind for him isn’t worth a visit home if those sinister guitars are anything to go by.


Daniel Johnston- “Some Things Last a Long Time”



Few songs are as heartwrenching as Daniel Johnston’s “Some Things Last a Long Time,” a simple piano and vocal tune about remembering someone who’s only around in pictures. Though it’s a beautifully aching song full of emotion, it’s not melodramatic, instead it’s a celebration of sorts, focusing on how pleasant memories last long after someone has left us and the little items– be they pictures or trinkets or otherwise– that allow us to keep those memories fresh. Just as a picture is a relatively straightforward personal artifact, the lack of clutter in Johnston’s recording gives “Some Things Last a Long Time” even more potency, removing any distractions from the raw, unfiltered emotion of Johnston’s fragile voice and those tender piano chords. The song has taken on a life of its own with a number of covers by acts like Built to Spill and Beach House. It’s not just photos that last a long time, after all.


Shakey Graves- “Built to Roam”



Shakey Graves’ early road ode “Built to Roam” has a lot in common with equally bearded predecessor Devendra Banhart with its shambling group vocal and shuffling beat, though it’s categorically a rejection of Banhart’s more metropolitan audience. “Built to Roam” is a ditty about “this lazy livin'” that “sure tastes good,” but it’s also a rejection of life in cities that people flock to simply because of their stature in the pop consciousness. For Shakey and his ilk, he’d rather “Spend all my money on some elbow room” than be cramped in an NYC closet apartment or a dingy San Francisco loft. It’s easier to move around these days than it was in the dust bowl era Shakey Graves tries to recall, but less people seem to be “built to roam,” as Shakey puts it. It’s a romantic notion, but the track has an authenticity to it that lets it theme develop into more than the audio equivalent of that guy at a party who brags about not owning a tv. Shakey doesn’t want to brag about the roaming life, he just wants to defend his stance.

Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City, the multimedia collective he co-runs. When he isn’t doing that, he plays drums for Denise and gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.