The Welcome Wagon is thrilled to announce their new album Esther is set for release on November 4th via Asthmatic Kitty Records. The indie-folk duo is comprised of Vito Aiuto, a Presbyterian minister who pastors a small church in Brooklyn, and his wife Monique Aiuto. Esther is their fourth full-length album and marks the return to Asthmatic Kitty Records, the label on which they began their musical journey. Fittingly, it is a record that explores the idea of home in all its beauty and complexity. Esther is as much about homecoming as it is about making peace with—and a home in—uncertainty. In this TCB Exclusive, Vito and Monique share the heart behind their new record with a focus on the very personal album title, the impact of the pre-release track “Isaiah California” and how they define success.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Esther! Do you recall when the first seeds of this project came to you?
Vito: We are a band, but we don’t function as a band where we are out touring all the time. We both have full-time jobs, but as we write music and get a collection of 15-20 songs, you begin to take a shine to some of them. We like to create music together, so we talked to some friends we’ve recorded with before and wanted to start having some rehearsals. And it was March 2020. We had one rehearsal before COVID hit pretty hard, and then it got shelved. All through that time I kept working on the songs and weaving some in and out. And the name of the record is ‘Esther,’ and that’s Monique’s grandmother’s name. As we were putting the songs together, Monique was spending a lot of time painting and using a collection of things that her grandmother had given to her. It all became of one piece – Monique’s paintings and her grandmother’s voice. Her grandmother used to send Monique cassettes of her reading the Bible, and we actually still listen to them, and all of these things started accumulating together into this quilt.
There is a lot of different art forms that have influenced and become a part of this larger project. Can you share more?
Monique: One of the ways it comes together is that when I paint, I listen to music. Sometimes I will listen on repeat until each song has a painting and vice versa. I’ve finished three of the paintings, and I’m still working on the others. I intentionally tried not to illustrate the songs, so I tried to be intuitive, and by being intuitive it was the idea that it wasn’t the song that came first and the picture was a secondary expansion. It’s possibly an expansion in its own way.
Vito: We work artistically independently. I like to write music and listen to songs; Monique is a painter and also contributes to the songs. And it’s just our life. These two things live together in the same space, so it comes together intuitively. I know there are some artists and people who have a very clear idea of what they’re going to do, and I’m not one of those people, and I don’t think the band is like that. I had 20-25 songs written and as I began to choose from them, it is this dreamy kind of logic. And some of it isn’t even logic, it’s pragmatic; we recorded some of these songs and they didn’t turn out.
Monique: We also are doing some things that aren’t conventional as well, by including my grandmother’s recordings, and putting forth some of my paintings. And in some of the merch bundles, you can actually buy one of my prints, and we recreated a mixtape of just my grandma. So we are trying to be intuitive and approach things in an unconventional way, and hopefully, the rewards will be exciting for others.
What impact do you think time had with all of this since you mentioned you started to rehearse two years ago?
Vito: It had some pragmatic and logistical impacts. We recorded with some people and not others, just because of availability when we regrouped after rehearsing early on. But it also had an impact in that our world has gone through a great trauma with COVID and in other ways. I think the shadows of those traumas and reckonings are implicitly in some of the music too. I think the record is somewhat about time – waiting and time stretching back to the home you came from and toward the home you’re trying to get to. The Israelites wandered; God’s people are a pilgrim people, and in some ways COVID and the span of time we are in right now isn’t that different from the ways that Christians are called to live. This is a world that is lovely and beautiful but also broken. And I hope this is reflected in the music.
Monique: It’s interesting you brought that up because as you listen to my grandmother’s audio tapes, you get a sense of her room. At different times you can hear her microwave and her cuckoo clock. It’s a very quiet room that she is in, and because they are audio tapes, it transports you a little bit. There’s a sense of going back in time and hearing that space and her.
What inspired the pre-release track “Isaiah California”? How does this track reflect the full project?
Vito: It’s the first song on the record, but we chose it as the first single because it is a thesis statement for the whole record. It has Monique’s grandmother’s voice right at the front. We sing back and forth on a lot of songs, but we’re singing together in this one. The song was written about a time when we were looking for a home and in a time of transition. We went on a long trip, and it was a time of tumultuousness in our families and lives where we didn’t feel very at home. But by the end of the trip, we did. It’s a little bit about that – refinding a home you are already in. It’s a gift to answer this question because we do think a lot about these things, but we also are very intuitive people. We are not as intentional when picking lead singles and why; it’s more that we feel it’s the one and then it happens, and I can answer the question better now than when I initially made the decision.
With this being your fourth full-length project, how are you looking to define the success and impact?
Vito: When you put on music, there are certain albums and songs that are your comfort food. You put them on when you’re cleaning or jogging or in the car. I have things I go back to over and over. And this will sound weird, but in some ways that is what I aspire to. Some people have told us they listen to our record with their daughter every night before bed, or someone told us they went to a wedding and the bride walked down the aisle to one of our songs. That’s why we do this. We get to participate in moments where people take our music and make it part of their life. When you can create something that God uses to bring some amount of peace to somebody, then that’s what it is about for us.
Monique: It is challenging at times, but for the most part we both enjoy participating in this lifestyle of music and art making. There are certain things that are lacking in our lives, but everyone has to make choices.
What are you most expectant for in the remainder of 2022?
Vito: I like having people over to our house – all of these holidays and parties. This time of year I always look forward to it because of those things. You can make a big pot of stew and have people over.
Monique: I’m excited because I found out recently that I have a studio for three months for free. So the next three months, I’m looking forward to finishing these paintings and having my own space.