A couple of years ago, in the disorienting wake of a divorce, Andy Eppler found himself in his garden, pondering the transience of life.
His friend Dave — “my garden mystic,” Eppler says — convinced him to grow a big bed of “Crystal Palace” lobelia, these little clumps of dark blue flowers that merge to form striking, delicate carpets of color.
He captures that moment in the garden early on in his new album, Broke-Down Deluxe.
“My life burned down this year / And I did my best to quench you,” he croons in “Losing The Lobelia.” “And just as trauma passes from me now / So my lovelies / Went you.”
“The flowers will always remind me of that year and all the hardships and trauma that eventually passed away from me,” Eppler writes in the 116-page art book he created to accompany Broke-Down Deluxe. “The flowers, no matter how much I cared for them, eventually passed away. The lovely things and the terrible things, they all pass away. That makes them sacred.”
His voice versatile (Tom Waits here, Tom Jones there), his musical proclivities eclectic, Eppler transverses rugged musical territory with ease, offering slinky, lounge-tinged love-lost songs (“Winter On The Moon”) alongside crunchy, anthemic rock cuts (“Much Less Under”) and spacier psychedelic missions (“Hits The Floor”).
The book pairs watercolors, acrylics, liquid light, photography and digital design with song lyrics and explications to create a kind of journal from a past self to a future self: This pain is temporary, and it will open your mind.
“It was a traumatic thing for me,” Eppler says of the divorce during a phone conversation recently from his home in Longmont. “And so it’s, for me, way more vulnerable to write a love song now than ever. I consider being vulnerable part of the job description. If you want to have an idea that someone lets into their mind and heart, I think you have to earn that.”
Eppler earns it by baring his soul over and over.
“I’m not an easy guy / I guess you’re noticing,” he sings on “Winter On The Moon,” only one of two tracks on the album that features any production or songwriting by someone other than Eppler (in this case, Greg Benton; Tim Ostdiek co-wrote the honky-tonk-influenced kiss-off track “I Wanna Get High Forever”). “You read me like a sign / With neon vacancies / I hope I find my place / I hope you’ll stay for weed / I hope you’ll stay for weeks / I hope you’ll stay for me.”
Eppler’s willingness to bare his soul seems rooted, oddly enough, in his history with religion. Raised in Lubbock, Texas — his parents both church employees — the first thing Eppler wanted to be in life was a worship leader.
“I saw [our church’s worship leader] doing all this great work that really seemed to reach people,” Eppler says. “And after that experience was done, those people seemed happy and fulfilled, like they had just eaten a good meal. I wanted to do that for people. I wanted to show up and cook them a meal of art and love and have it give them a little sustenance in some way.”
But Eppler grew uncomfortable making money through religion and found himself more drawn to connecting with people through his art.
“I discovered people like Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder, and the idea of Bob Dylan being this poet who happened to also be a musician really reached me,” he says.
Musically, it took years for Eppler to tap into his own vulnerabilities.
“In my 20s, especially because I was very depressed and in a bad relationship, I didn’t want to talk about myself — I didn’t necessarily like myself,” he says. “I wanted to tell stories that meant something, parables, you know, things that would help people think and maybe access new, beautiful ideas for themselves. It’s totally a great, noble idea, but also sort of obviously avoids the thing that most songwriters write about, which is themselves.”
The end of his marriage provided a chance for Eppler to take a hard look inside and figure out who he was, and what he wanted to do. In the book, Eppler writes about baring more than his soul after the divorce by appearing in an erotic short film. The track “Can I Give It All Up To You?” — a dewy-eyed song that leans into romance for its eroticism — was written to soundtrack the film.
“That’s not even the most offensive thing I’ve said or made,” Eppler says of the film. “It’s only offensive if you think sexuality’s offensive, and that’s exactly why I said yes to that project. I’ve been experimenting in that world since I became single again at, like, 30, and that has been a really engaging and growth-oriented part of my life.”
Eppler believes in the power of saying yes; not in a hedonistic way (no matter your thoughts on erotic film), but in a soul-searching way. Less manic episode, more productive brainstorming. It’s another divine message he discovered in the garden: the “yes voice.”
Of course there was a little help from some psilocybin.
“It was a mystical vision I had where I was chatting with my flower garden in my backyard,” Eppler says. “Roses, pansies, petunias.”
Over the course of the “conversation,” Eppler found himself wondering — or rather, the flowers asked him — what’s the greatest truth in the universe?
“I decided that if you follow the timeline of the universe all the way back, you get to a place that is like, ‘Will there or won’t there be a universe?’ And here we are in the ‘yes’ version of that.”
In the six years since, Eppler has held on to that revelation: An idea is a universe just waiting to be born. Just get out of its way and let it happen.
“When I do my work and I follow my own creative impulses, I’m actually evolutionarily tuning in,” he says. “There’s not a functioning idea — it’s happenstance, but the fizz being created in the universe is called creation and it’s a naturally occurring thing. And when I [create], it is exactly the same.”
Natural is a fitting term for Broke-Down Deluxe. This is Eppler in his natural state: creating, learning, re-framing, wash, rinse, repeat. While sadness may have been the catalyst for the album, it’s not the binder that holds it all together — that’s love.
“This album is dedicated to my lovers, my friends and my cat who all save me all the time,” Eppler writes. “I hope you will say ‘yes’ to the art, hope and love that is inside you. The world needs your unique medicine.”
Broke-Down Deluxe is Eppler’s medicine, for himself and for others.
“In the past it has felt to me like the universe picked on me and chose me for special suffering,” he says. “And nowadays I think of it more like the job of the universe to do exactly that function, to cause me to grow. And I hate that Tony-Robbins-kind-of bullshit, but that’s how I think of it now. Now it’s more like, ‘Can the clown get through this sad story and still make a joke?’”