Paul Kwiatkowski’s And Every Day Was Overcast includes elements you wouldn’t expect to find in a novel. There are photographs, dozens of them from the author’s teenage years in South Florida during the 1990s. They include snapshots from family photo albums, landscapes of derelict homes and stripmalls, and portraits of hunters with their kills and of teenagers in love and full of angst. There are also hand-written love notes, artifacts through which confidants try to feel out their emotions, learning how to say “I love you” and “Let’s fuck.”
And then there are sounds. The iPad edition of Overcast includes hyperlinks within the text that, when clicked on, play interviews Kwiatkowski conducted with women from South Florida. These conversations complement the coming-of-age experiences of the novel’s unnamed male narrator, helping us further explore Florida while increasingly blurring the line between reality and fiction, memoir and novel.
Even more surprisingly, there is an original soundtrack. Not songs culled from the author’s youth or a mixtape of the 1990s South Florida scene or even interpretations of the book by various musical acts, but a 15-track soundscape created by Kwiatkowski and Black Balloon Publishing specifically for Overcast. On the iPad edition, you can choose to play a track at the start of a photo gallery, then swipe through the images while hearing sounds of the encroaching swamp, sirens of late-night ads for phone sex hotlines and songs that you feel too wasted to make out. It’s enveloping, in turns hilarious and terrifying — and the special edition of Overcast even comes with the soundtrack stamped on a clear vinyl record.
Wanting to know more about where the soundtrack came from, we interviewed Kwiatkowski. This is what he had to say:
Arvind Dilawar: What inspired you to do a soundtrack? And Every Day Was Overcast already has photography and text; what was it that sound could capture that writing and photos couldn't?
Paul Kwiatkowski: I'll read you a little something that I prepared: “Sections of the record are an audio-based narrative of the Cobain character tuning out his traumas of abuse by slipping between sonic dimensions of radio interference, much like when the little girl in Poltergeist is trapped inside television static but her family can still hear her in different rooms within the house.”
Was the soundtrack always supposed to be part of the book?
Yeah. From the beginning I was really inspired by sound design, and I tried to include as much text-based descriptions of sound as I could. Most of the sound is emitted from two-way radios, but you don't know where the other one is. You track it — or the main character tracks it throughout his life.
Is it like hearing one side of a dialogue?
It's really subjective. The narrator never really gets a specific transmission from the radio, but he imagines what it is, and it becomes as real as if he were getting actual messages from it.
How did you go about producing the audio?
The year leading up to the book, I had taken a lot of ambient sound recordings from my hometown in Florida — from the beach, swamps and a lot of the locations I had based the stories on. I had also taken some samples from home videos on YouTube. We had compositions based on Erik Satie and Arvo Part — this great composer with these minimalist piano compositions that are … they're really spare and poetic. Those were my main musical influences. I really wanted it to function the way Swans’ Soundtrack for the Blind works, like a narrative piece of audio. I was also inspired by how people used to play Pink Floyd with Fantasia, and they would be like, “Dude, if you take acid, it syncs up perfectly.” I didn't really buy into that, but I liked the idea of it, so I thought it would be cool if I could make my own thing that you could play while reading the book and get this third dimension out of it. It's written into the book, but you can also listen to it as its own piece of ambient music.
There are bits of composed music. Where did those come from?
A guy named David Kanter. I basically worked with him, and we just came up with pieces of music that kind of sounded like the stuff that I liked, which is those two composers and a couple of other things that are on that Largehearted Boy playlist. But, yeah, a lot of it is original.
Marlan Berry, a composer, a cellist who plays in symphonies — he had also given me two small pieces of original music. But everything people had given me, I changed. It's layered through processors.
So there are a lot of different sources, but it was all processed by you?
Yeah. I didn't want it to be like, “Well, here's the piano part, and then here's the sample.” I wanted it to feel like one cohesive piece of sound design that sounds like it’s coming through a radio.
If the narrator of Overcast was a proxy for you, what did you listen to during that time in your life?
When I was in high school, I was really into death metal. I was really into Ministry. I discovered Ministry and William Burroughs at the same time, and Ministry wrote their songs a lot like William Burroughs wrote his narrative: this kind of cut and paste method. I discovered those two things at the same time as acid. Those three things combined really helped me experience art in a different way, but it also opened my mind to music outside of death metal. Otherwise, I was really into Pantera and Cannibal Corpse.
How much of that was an influence on the soundtrack versus what you're listening to now?
I wouldn't say any of the stuff I listened to in high school was a real influence on the soundtrack. I'm writing this text in hindsight as a 30-year-old guy; I didn't want the music to sound like some sort of reconstruction of things from my childhood. You know, outside of Ministry, a lot of bands that I discovered later on helped me realize — because I'm not a musician — how I could compose these things, how I could put them together. But the music I listened to in high school, the best thing it did for me was help me pull my head out of my ass.
So what were you listening to while you were working on the soundtrack?
I was listening to a lot of ambient music, a lot of piano compositions. There's a band called The Dead Texan that I really love, and another band called Belong from New Orleans and an artist called Tim Hecker. He has an album called Radio Amor. Dead Texan, Radio Amor and Soundtrack for the Blind were my three main inspirations while I was putting this together, although it doesn't sound like any of them.
Do you think this is the future of storytelling? Are more novels going to fall into this space where not only do they include text, but they include photography and they include sound and maybe there will even be video?
The logical conclusion everyone has is, yeah, it's going to include video. I don't know if it's going to go quite in that trajectory, where they're going to turn into little movies. They might, but I think, because we have so many frameworks for the way we experience images, the way we experience sounds, the way we process music that I think we are, in a weird way, taking a step back and trying to figure out: Does this book really need sound? Are we just putting sound in here so it has a cool soundtrack? Or does it add another dimension to what the narrative already is? I think in that sense, we're moving forward with the ability to produce these experiences. But I think we also have to take two steps back and figure out what we're really trying to say and what is the experience that we want the viewer or the audience to have.
KEEP READING: More Interviews
- Geography Doesn't Exist Anymore: An Interview with Scott McClanahan
- Death as an Obstacle: An Interview with Stephin Merritt
- Unwinding The Unwinding : An Interview with George Packer