Louis DeFelice ’19’s apartment is wired like an underground concert venue. Cables connect a series of speakers to each other, a keyboard and a record player, with string lights hung above the wires for added atmosphere. But DeFelice creates most of his music outside of his apartment. He’s played shows around New Haven, including the bar Stella Blues, as well as in New York City over the summer, and he’s recorded every one of his albums in the basement of Jonathan Edwards College.
“There’s a little L-shaped, soundproofed, windowless room with padded walls and a gray door. I’ve spent more time there than any other place on campus,” he told me. “No other place has held my body for that long.” As he prepares to release his fourth, and final, album as an undergraduate, DeFelice seems acutely aware of the role of spaces like this, as well as time itself, in his songwriting.
Each spring while at Yale, DeFelice has released a new album. The first, “Take Me By My Words,” was written mostly during a gap year at a Russian ballet conservatory in Washington, D.C., and includes his most popular song, “Windows, Faces, Cigarettes,” which uses almost cinematic imagery to describe the very first-year feeling of intensely missing a friend in a new place. His second year, he released a longer record, “Tin Stars,” before releasing “Morning Airs,” a darker and more melancholy album as a junior. Now, with “Songs for a Pseudonym,” DeFelice prepares to leave Yale uptempo, swapping in a saxophone for a trumpet and focusing on more lively percussion.
In “Spinning You Around,” the album’s first single, DeFelice sings about falling in love with a friend and being unsure of whether to pursue the relationship. “There’s something about your skin/I’m fantasizing about coming in when you’re cooking/And spinning you around,” he sings. For the accompanying music video, which DeFelice made himself, he asked three friends (two of them bandmates) and their partners to share the stories of how they fell in love. DeFelice sings over the silent footage, the video a sort of hopeful response to his lyrics, or a time machine to a future when his love has been requited. Two of the couples are filmed in a kitchen, and sometimes literally spin with each other — past tea kettles and an empty stove. DeFelice perfectly captures what he called “undergraduate love” the uncertainty of the feelings themselves combined with the first steps into adulthood indicated by having a kitchen to spin around in at all.
In the standout “When We Meet,” he imagines an emotional reunion after a yearlong absence, sung in the future tense. “I wrote it when it hadn’t happened yet,” he said, having been struck by inspiration during one of Langdon Hammer’s poetry lectures earlier this year. Although he only rewrote a few lines after the fact, the song has a haunted quality that makes it clear that, as DeFelice put it, “that’s not how it went down in the end.” The listener stands at a point outside time, both before and after the anticipated reunion, listening to DeFelice’s voice while seeming almost to know more than he does. DeFelice more explicitly plays with this dual consciousness in “Cross Legged On” when he sings, “Anyone but me sees that I’ve been blaming anything that I can put my finger on,” existing, at once, inside and outside himself.
At some points, DeFelice turns backwards. Many of his songs, including nostalgic fan favorite “Ross (They Renamed the Park),” from his sophomore album, reference friends from before Yale. “Most people talk about their college friends, but for me, it’s my high school friends,” DeFelice told me. He explained that attending boarding school gave his high school friendships the intensity that many relationships don’t acquire until university. “There’s just a length and a sense that, alright, we’re together now,” he said. “This is it. I can’t go back and swap out someone else for you. You’re the one I lived with when I was 15, 16, 17, 18.”
On this album, inspired by singer-songwriter Joe Pug’s “Hymn 101” and “Hymn 35,” DeFelice included two songs titled only “Hymn 1” and “Hymn 2,” both parts of what he hopes will become a series. In the first, he makes a plea to high school friends to stay close after the death of three classmates, and in the second, he imagines his own deathbed, wishing plainly “beyond my words, I hope my actions speak.” By connecting these songs, DeFelice reinforces the strength of his old friendships, implicitly carrying them with him from high school all the way to death, whenever it may come.
Now, as he prepares to leave his apartment, the basement room in JE, and Yale itself, DeFelice isn’t sure he’ll manage to keep up his album-a-year schedule. “I’ve gone through a lot, and here I’ve been able to process it at this rate,” he said, but next year, when he’ll be living in New York, the practicalities will be very different.
His band still includes two of first-year suitemates and one hallmate, but DeFelice writes every song himself, and anticipates a very different experience once he’s playing with new people. Referring to his current bandmates, he said “I think they are happy to participate and do a good job, but then they have their own lives and sources of things that make them happy.” After college, with a different band, DeFelice anticipates his music will change, too. As he put it, very simply, “time speeds up.”
“Songs for a Psuedonym” will be released on May 2; DeFelice has already released two singles.
Noa Rosinplotz | firstname.lastname@example.org .