Residency is a two-part journal entry brought to you by one of our favorite creatives.
This week, the Brooklyn-based artist Nick Zanca, a.k.a. Mister Lies, reflects on a death in his family.
I’m not exactly sure when my fascination with the concept of death began. Perhaps it was when I was in the sixth grade and I would walk through the graveyard about a mile away from the house I grew up in. Much to the chagrin of my mom, I would waste hours there after school and skim through surnames on the headstones. I used to convince myself that I didn’t believe in ghosts; that I would return there every other afternoon because it was all that the cafeteria of Saxe Middle School wasn’t: tranquil, open-spaced, the pond in the back always resembling glass. I don’t believe that anymore. In retrospect, I realize that I’d always find myself stopping at the graves of those who died young—kneeling to grab their decaying roses and picking off the pedals. It took me a long time to realize that it is within these moments of deep reflection—especially meditating on how a life can come and go so quickly—in which a spirit can surround you.
If you look at the liner notes of the album I’m releasing at the end of the month, you’ll notice I dedicated the record to a Richard Roy who passed away last year. He was my grandfather. I could boast of his many accomplishments: that he was a beloved pediatrician and an avid stained-glass artist; that there is a hockey rink in Rochester, New Hampshire named in his honor—but most crucially to the story I’m about to tell, he restored my belief in ghosts.
The last time I saw him alive was about a week after finishing a long co-headlining tour with Giraffage last year. It was late July, and between a long summer of European and North American tour dates, I was exhausted. I was on the way up to my family’s place in Vermont to sketch out new ideas for the next record. On the way, my mom and I stopped by his retirement home about an hour away from where he grew up in New Hampshire. The last few years of his life came with much suffering, and without going into much detail, it was very clear with that visit that he was on the way out. When we got back in the car, my mom and I were silent. It must have been about ten minutes on the I-89, passing through New England foliage, before we began reminiscing about the man we used to know. He always whistled wherever he went—a one-note sound, always shrill and out of key, but that I still associate with some of my best memories of him. His spirit was kind, energetic and full of love, which only made it more tough to feel it become trapped inside his slowly failing body. I don’t remember what was said on the rest of the trip up, but at some point she said something along the lines of “He’ll come back as a dragonfly.” I wasn’t sure how to respond. It felt like a strange thing to say.
The three weeks that followed were met with some of the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had. I found myself staring at a blank Ableton screen every morning, nothing but tunnelvision. After playing the same set every night for the past nine weeks, I had no idea where to start. Besides, I was hesistant to dive into any idea because I knew that there’d be a funeral I’d have to attend soon. Inspiration was at an all-time low. I was only focused on spending time with my family, celebrating a life.
I woke up to the news on a Friday morning. My mom’s voice on the phone was almost vacant. After I hung up. I made my bed and started packing for New Hampshire to meet up at my aunt’s place and prepare for the service. It rained the whole ride up; I played a Grouper album on repeat as loudly as my speakers could handle. In the late summer, the roads of Vermont are America’s best kept secret—especially driving through a storm. With flowing greys, blues and greens, you feel like you’re traveling through a Miyazaki film. All I could think about was that Richard’s spirit had finally come up for air; that, the scenery and the music was all I needed to get through the bad news.
Early in the morning of the wake I walked with my mother in the parking lot of the funeral home. Right as she put her hand on the door, a dragonfly landed on her hand. It sat there for two minutes. She became incredibly still, tears stuck in her eyes. “Hi, dad,” she whispered.
Mister Lies’ forthcoming sophomore album, Shadow, will be available on October 28th via Orchid Tapes.