Princeton native ‘let go’ and ‘cut loose’ as he releases fifth studio album


Princeton native’s new album started from “a blank page” and reclaims a bit of freedom “lost along the way” from his childhood.

Jonah Tolchin, a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, released his fifth studio album, Lava Lamp, on Yep Roc Records on July 15.

The album features seven original compositions and two covers: “Car You Drive” by Josh Flowers and Tom Petty’s “Grew Up Fast.”

Lava Lamp is what Tolchin describes as “a raw and emotional reckoning with alienation and escapism in a modern-day world defined by 24/7 stimulation.” More sonically diverse than his previous releases, the album’s lifeblood is built around the energy of loose, live-in-the-studio performances steeped in Tolchin’s folk-blues stylings and fueled by grunge guitars and a robust rhythm section.

Co-produced with producer and multi-instrumentalist Nic Coolidge, the album was recorded with a three-piece set that included Coolidge on bass and drummer Kevin Clifford, Tolchin’s longtime friend and collaborator.

“I wanted to let go and cut loose with this album,” Tolchin said. “I wanted to explore new terrain without any kind of rules or restrictions. I was a pretty rebellious kid, and I mostly listened to alternative rock and hip hop and punk growing up. Somewhere along the way, though, I feel like I lost that part of myself. These songs are my way of reclaiming it.”

While Tolchin’s previous works had often been “weighty and deeply introspective,” for his fifth studio album Tolchin penned more “coy and irreverent songs, drawn from freewheeling, uninhibited, stream-of-consciousness” writing sessions, an evolution inspired by The Pixies.

“I decided I was going to just let myself write without caring about what I’m ‘supposed’ to sound like or what anyone else would think,” Tolchin said. “I wanted to see what would happen if I started with a completely blank page.”

From “Black Hole,” the opening song that he wrote in complete darkness and explores his fascination with cosmic outlaw blues, to the punchy “Aliens,” inspired by Julian Casablancas with its angular guitars and lo-fi vocals, Tolchin wraps his deeply personal revelations in metaphors throughout the record, conjuring up characters and storylines that contain multitudes beneath the surface.

“I felt boxed in with my career until I started working on this record,” Tolchin said. Starting his career with Americana music, Tolchin had felt an urge to branch out and explore other genres he enjoyed.

“This record was something of an awakening for me: I developed a level of confidence and maturity from this album to just not care about the reception of it, because my music is coming from a genuine place in my heart.”

A defining aspect of his album is his reflection on his childhood which is represented in the song, “Lava Lamp.”

“I’ve had this lava lamp since I was a kid, and I’m always reminded of my childhood when I see it,” Tolchin said. “It’s this feeling of nostalgia, oscillating between feeling at peace and feeling depressed and anxious, that led me to write the song.”

As a teenager, Tolchin struggled with depression for years, and making music with his guitar was an avenue to let his emotions flow.

Born and raised in central New Jersey, Tolchin began his career as a DIY (do-it-yourself) artist, hitting the road as a teenager and self-releasing his own music until signing with Yep Roc for his critically acclaimed 2014 label debut, Clover Lane.

His debut album was recorded in Nashville, Tenn. with a slew of special guests including Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin and Deer Tick’s John McCauley. The album prompted Uncut, a London-based music magazine, to rave that Tolchin “demonstrates the finesse and maturity of someone like Jason Isbell” and NPR to proclaim him “a promising new artist who artfully occupies the gulf between old-school tradition and contemporary appropriation.”

Tolchin followed it up in 2016 with the similarly well-received Thousand Mile Night, which racked up more than 10 million streams on Spotify with its title track alone, and 2019’s Fires for the Cold, a bittersweet meditation on loss and redemption that featured appearances by Jackson Browne, Rickie Lee Jones, and Sara Watkins. Along the way, Tolchin toured the U.S. and Europe extensively, sharing bills with the likes of Mandolin Orange, Chuck Prophet, Gregg Allman, Chris Smither, Dave and Phil Alvin and Tony Joe White.

Tolchin is currently on tour. He played a number of venues in July. He will come home to perform at Hopewell Theater on July 29. His next tour date is Yellowstone Harvest Festival in Livingston, Mont. on Sept. 25.