We'd been talking about the emo band Ueland fronted in high school. Less the band itself, really, than what being in an emo band in high school is like: tormented and lovelorn. He'd written a lot of songs, he said, during and after a relationship that, in hindsight, didn't feel authentic. "The relationship created all this angst, which was perfect for the band," he says, "But now I'm all out of angst."
In place of that, then, he writes primarily about religious themes and struggles with faith. And if metaphysical exploration is what fuels his songwriting, those days in that emo band are what keep it on course. "I'm overly judgmental about my work. I'm scared of being cheesy or too obvious -- I used to be really cheesy."
So he dives inside his head and begins the tortuous process of, in his words, "finding something that feels unique to me alone." Something he's never heard anyone voice before. That ain't easy to come by. It's absolutely necessary, though: He's been so traumatized by the cloying love songs and affected angst of his adolescence. Lately, it seems, the most unique thing about the Whitworth junior is that, while he's consumed with issues of faith, he's one of only a tiny minority at the Presbyterian university who doesn't actually believe in God.
Not that he wouldn't like to. His song "A Big Sound" -- heartbreaking in how it evokes suffering and resignation -- finds Ueland hoping there's a heaven so his long-suffering aunt can go there.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he result of Ueland's constant self-referential psychoanalysis is that his music comes out a little like James Joyce's prose: heady, mystical, alien, frustrating. "My Wayfaring Queen" compares his experiences with a femme fatale to those of Adam and Eve, twisting the biblical narrative into an allegory of misperception, not temptation.
"The Columbia Is Lost" is a song about the space shuttle that broke up upon re-entry in 2003. Though it plays well into his childhood astronaut fetish, Ueland says the song is less about space travel than about failures of good-faith ambition. "I think of it as a Tower of Babel-type thing," he says, "Reaching for something and being knocked down. How does faith survive through that?" He honestly doesn't know.
The song's point isn't immediately apparent on the first listen, or the second, or the tenth. Ultimately, though, if you give them time, Ueland's tougher songs unfold themselves -- pretty things with dynamic vocals becoming rewarding meditations on faith and mortality and sexual dynamics.
And really, giving Ueland time isn't any great chore: One of homeboy's natural talents is writing a crisp hook. He feels guilty about that too, shying away from obvious rhythms and melodies and instrumentation the way he shies away from sappy lyrics.
It's all so tortuous, second-guessing one's way through dense metaphors and idiosyncratic arrangements, that you sense that Ueland wouldn't mind some divine intervention. That's when his song about hoping there's a heaven so his aunt can go there glints with another facet of meaning. "I'm hoping for that big sound moment," he confides.
Dane Ueland with Karli Fairbanks, at Empyrean on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7 pm. $3. Call 838-9819.