Local folk-pop duo Builder of the House is moving to the big time. Robert Cimitile (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Elliot Heeschen (drums and electric guitar) are set to release Ornaments, their first full-length work, with eight new tunes and a couple of reworked songs — “There Is No Hourglass, Only Sand” and “My New Eyes.”
An early peek at one of the new songs, “Look at the Man,” has been making rounds via YouTube, garnering widespread praise as a poignant look at former Maine celebrity Conor Leigh Tubbs (who recently moved to New York City). It’s a sublime video narrative, similar in tone to images by local photographer Smith Galtney, who captured Tubbs's vivid transformation to the drag artist Cherry Lemonade for a documentary film project for the Salt Institute.
The band’s music videos have always been their hallmark. “This Is No Hourglass,” directed by Cimitile and co-directed by Derek R. Brigham, won best video at the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema and CutOut Fest. “A Plot in Falmouth” won best music video at the MOVE Music Festival and is based on the story of Cimitile's great-great grandparents, “on a ship that sailed from Liverpool to Maine” in 1895. He researched the history of it at the Portland Room of the Portland Public Library. The video plays like a silent film and is set in southern Maine.
“It’s super personal, and seemed like an excellent story to be a song,” he said. “Writing lyrics is a lot more challenging for me than the music. On that album, a lot of the songs were introspective. I was listening to a lot of Bright Eyes, mirroring that style. When we started writing tunes for the new album, we were trying to break away from that.”
So they moved from public research for private songs to domestic inspiration for more accessible hits. “When writing lyrics, I pace around my house thinking about a song. Then a phrase will come to me. I write it down, then keep pacing, over and over,” he said. “A lot of songs on the new album are based on sayings, for example ‘you are who you are when no one is looking’. Writing this way, I’m able to pull myself away from singing about myself; it’s not so personal.”
For Ornaments, the duo worked with Todd Hutchisen at Acadia Recording Company. The Lucid’s Dominic Lavoie provides whistling for the new work. Colleen Clark, Clara Junken and Ashley Storrow add vocals. Bass duties were split between Andy Scherzer of Jaw Gems, and Drew Wyman, who also plays with Pete Witham.
Dan Capaldi helped them arrange the record. “On some songs he was super-involved,” Heeschen said. “Others not so much, but he listened to every track and throughout the album was able to come up with something we had not thought of that made the songs complete.
Forward to Go Back
Builder of the House may have expanded their repertoire, but their music has always retained that creative element. They both played in the Maine Marimba Ensemble — “a fun enterprise where there’s not as much pressure as playing your own stuff,” Heeschen says. When the two began playing with the MME, “Rob was already working on the first EP and he was looking for someone to drum live. He was playing with a lot of local musicians, and I seemed to be the common denominator. Then it became more like we were the band.”
Their name comes from a meditation retreat Cimitile once attended. A recorded recitation of Buddhist scripture was playing, and he was particularly moved by the story of Siddhartha sitting under the tree, awaiting divine revelation.
“He refuses to get up until he achieves enlightenment,” Cimitile recalls. “When he finally does, he opens his eyes and says ‘Ah, builder of the house, I have seen you and you can no longer build a house for me because I’ve taken all your mortar and smashed all your bricks.’ I was in a rough spot at the time, and whenever I thought of this phrase later, it reminded me of trying to be better.”
And the band is. A little bit Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, a simmering blend of story and song. And a new album for the new year.
Watch "Look At The Man" here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkdPkizADUk
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