Once he started writing the songs, however, the album took on a life of its own, and took him to places he hadn’t even imagined – specifically a black hole called Messier 87 that’s over 53 million light years away from Earth, which is also the first black hole that scientists have ever been able to take a photograph of. It's kind of ironic, given that the album title takes after something much closer to home, namely a swamp in the south of the USA. As Nicky – an existential guy at the best (and worst) of times, no doubt a large reason he didn’t want to smoke that joint during this interview – explains, the scope of this fourth record was never mean to be so epic. It just ended up that way.
“When I came up with the title of this record,” he says, “it was very much about the swamp down south, the Great Dismal swamp. Since this record was so nostalgic to me, I had this correlation between the swamp and Philadelphia: how easy it is to get stuck, how people are able to survive there, but also how easy it is to have the conditions dismantle you. But then as this record moved along, that broadened so easily on its own. The music started to envelop the world; I was inhaling and exhaling this world that we’re in right now, watching this title and this album’s material just take on all of it. By the end, The Great Dismal was bigger than Philadelphia – the Great Dismal was this country, the Great Dismal was the world, and now, to me, existence is the Great Dismal. Every waking moment of existence, of all life, of everything that exists, is the true Great Dismal to me. That peacefulness of not existing, for me, is true peace.”
That might sound like a dreary, pessimistic and, yes, nihilistic worldview, but that’s kind of missing the point. Because although Nicky has suffered his share of trauma and tragedy in his life and thinks that the winter is going to see more of the same, especially among musicians and artists whose livelihoods have been decimated by the pandemic (“I have a real keen eye for this kind of shit,” he says. “I know tragedy, I know disaster and it’s on the horizon. This winter is going to be really rough and we’re going to lose more people guaranteed and there’s nothing we can do about it”), he doesn’t plan on going anywhere.
“I’m here,” he says defiantly. “I’m not going to kill myself. If I was going to do that it would have happened a while ago. I’m here, so while I’m here I write about the things that I’m feeling and stuff. And you know, I smile, man. I’m not like this cynical miserable person because I think this way. I still get up out of bed every morning. I walk around, I eat, I do things, I write a fucking record. That doesn’t take away from the fact that I can think what I want to think about this existence, and I think it’s a really absurd joke. So what do you do? You laugh.”
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