With fingers on keyboards ready to trigger slashes and hyphens, music journalists invent genre names daily. So, here’s another one for the pile: slumber-pop. It’s the best way to describe Book on Tape Worm. And it doesn’t hurt that the folksy Provo chamber orchestra’s best-selling merchandise items are pillowcases.
The first run of the navy cotton fabric utilized the band’s signature Olde World font to display the lyrics and guitar tablature to “Defcon 5,” a ballad about hunkering down with someone and waiting for the apocalypse.
“When I first started playing, I learned songs mostly on my bed reading paper or a computer screen. So, I thought the pillowcase was fitting,” says songwriter and guitarist Scott Shepard.
It’s a coincidence that the band’s lush music could easily lull someone into slumber. Not because it’s boring—the instrumentation, beyond guitar, draws upon piano (Julianne Brough, currently; Emily Brown, formerly), cello and upright bass (Ciera Black), vibraphone, glockenspiel and assorted percussion (Gavin Ryan)—but because the tempo is mellow and the sounds are supremely beautiful.
It’s as if your mother were reading bedtime stories—an experience that Shepard had in mind when creating the physical copies of the band’s debut album. The packaging for All the World’s a Stage is composed of navy felt paper with depressed gold font, resembling an antique hardbound book.
“I love packaging and those records that you get and there are secrets inside,” Shephard says—like the crushed penny found in Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F# A# ∞, or Explosions in the Sky’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, which can be constructed into a house, to name a few.
When All the World’s a Stage is opened up, it comes to life as a pop-up book, with three-tiers of pop-ups to show the four-piece band playing in a forest and framed by theatrical curtains. It is one of the most beautifully designed and thoughtful albums—locally or nationally—that I have ever seen.
The art was created by Maddison Colvin, and resembles her work on Book on Tape Worm’s “Shadow Puppets” video for Occidental Saloon. The magical, surreal video showcases the band’s former lineup playing while surrounded by books hanging from the trees in an orchard.
This overarching aesthetic is fitting, considering Shepard’s deeply rooted passion for the written word. The band name comes from the exorbitant amount of books on tape that Shepard listened to at a previous job, but he prefers the physicality of books.
“I love the smell of paper. I love the smell of bookstores. It has a strong connotation for me—sort of like magic,” Shepard says. “You know when you smell books, you’re going to find something nice and interesting [inside].
“My mom used to read to me all the time—primarily childrens classics, but also science fiction, like Ender’s Game,” he continues. “That one was big, because, like most kids, I would put myself in the stories.”
That’s exactly what the protagonist did in the album’s first song, “To Mock a Killingbird.” In listing classic books most children grow up reading and hearing, the protagonist questions why now, in middle-age life, he can’t be any of these great heroes he was told he could be; ultimately, he takes his own life.
Shepard’s songs, in general, pull more from authors than other lyricists. He wouldn’t compare himself to wry, sometimes crass and sarcastic science-fiction novelist Kurt Vonnegut, but he acknowledges an overriding similarity to his favorite author.
“There’s always an undercurrent of hope or, at least, wonderment,” Shepard says. “Most of these songs are sad—there’s not a lot of happiness in the stories per se—but there’s that undercurrent. There’s a feeling of redemption or a silver lining to it all.”
The songs are strung together in four acts (as opposed to the typical three-act play). “If we say life is a play, what comes after the third act? [The fourth act] questions what happens after the ‘resolution.’ I don’t think resolution always happens in life,” Shepard says. “You live your life in little moments, forever.”
All the World’s a Stage is a concept record in that the acts are organized based on theme—as well as tempo, tone and key—but the listener does not follow characters through a narrative. That doesn’t mean that Book on Tape Worm’s devoted Provo contingency doesn’t connect to the music or the characters whom Shepard has invented.
“People tell me all the time that they saw someone, or they themselves were, crying—maybe bawling—at one of our shows,” Shepard says, adding that despite the packaging and the art of the record, Book on Tape Worm is definitely a live band foremost. “I don’t want to make anyone sad, but I think that that connection—it’s more than the normal show experience—is really, really profound.”