I grew up in a town of about 6,000 people in rural Kansas back in the '70s and '80s. I've never romanticized it much, though it was certainly a simpler time and, for better or worse, it's where I learned to make some sense of my life. The world you inhabit when you come of age in your teen years has a way of digging its claws in you. As the years pass, no matter how far you try to get away from it, it stays with you. The people, the places, the sounds and even the smells become a part of your DNA.
On Okkervil River's latest album, The Silver Gymnasium, lead singer and songwriter Will Sheff looks back at his own childhood in Meriden, N.H., a town with 500 people and not a lot to do. He describes himself as an awkward kid with thick glasses and asthma, and his childhood wasn't particularly remarkable. But, in many ways, it was uniquely American, and his memories offer an intimate portrait of a place in time.
You can hear the majesty and wonder of these songs by listening to the full album in our First Listen series. You can also take a virtual journey through Meriden with a fabulous, hand-drawn, interactive map that pairs intimate stories from Will Sheff's childhood — narrated by Sheff — with photos and locations in the town.
All Songs Considered's Bob Boilen and I talked about these stories, and the music that grew out of them, with Morning Edition. You can hear our chat with the audio link at the top of this page.