Hallowell is the musical alias of Joseph Pensak, perhaps better known as the minister of the Presbyterian church Redeemer Burlington. Pensak is preparing to release his upcoming full-length debut as Hallowell on Great Comfort Records — the New Jersey label responsible for Sufjan Steven's Seven Swans. To raise awareness (and money) for the album, Pensak has unveiled a music video for the album's first single, "Follow (ft. Elin Smith)."
The minister is also head curator of Redeemer's satellite studio, New City Galerie in downtown Burlington. That space's warm and welcoming atmosphere is certainly a reflection of Pensak. Although the gallery generally focuses on visual arts, Pensak's cozy office reveals his great love of music. A beautifully maintained piano lives in the corner, shelves of records flank the walls. Pieces of musical equipment peek out from almost every nook.
Pensak's interest in music has long intertwined with his faith. In fact, one of his early projects was Bifrost Arts, an ecumenical music collective formed with sacred music producer Isaac Wardell. Elements of Pensak's spirituality are woven throughout "Follow."
Visually, the video takes influence from both "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and Tim Broad's iconic direction of the Smiths' video for "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before." The latter is a depiction of aimless youth, featuring the band cycling around Manchester's damp and littered brick alleys, led by a brooding Morrissey. Directed by Ashley Ziegler, "Follow" borrows the image of a roving bike pack of friends, changing the setting to Burlington's summer streets — and a brooding Morrissey to a blissed-out Pensak.
Sun-soaked images of a supremely perfect day drift by as if in a dream. Through the heavy filter of the camera lens, Burlington appears as a personal heaven, or haven. Sonically, the composition of "Follow" matches the calm joyfulness of the visual.
"Follow" is lush and warm, blending chamber folk and indie pop with hints of Tropicália. Christopher Hawthorn produced the track and adds instrumentation alongside Vinny Marksohn and Louie Kiley of Burlington art-pop band Bleach Day. Elin Smith of Great Comfort and the indie collective Danielson provides background vocals, which are barely detectable in the balanced flow of the track.
“I wanted to write a sort of modern hymn reflecting both my place and the music I’ve been soaked in for the past 25 years," writes Pensak. "It’s Bjork and Lambchop and the Sea and Cake as much as it’s Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa. I’ve listened to it all so much, it’s in my bloodstream.”
The Studio @ 150 provided an initial grant to Hallowell for the album and is hosting a pre-Kickstarter giving portal to support its completion. The single for "Follow" is available via Bandcamp.
(Disclaimer: Amelia Devoid was an artist-in-residence at New City Galerie and is in a relationship with Vinny Marksohn.)