Growing up in Long Beach and Orange County, Ethan Luck experienced the quintessential California Christmas: “In Southern California, you could get a surfboard for Christmas and go surfing that afternoon. I got a skateboard one year (A Christian Hosoi deck) and went outside to ride it…in shorts and a t-shirt!” But since moving to Nashville, not only has Luck’s winter weather changed by 30-40 degrees, his musical landscape has shifted as well.
Luck originally came up through the punk rock ranks with a variety of notable bands, but in the last few years he has added a little solo twang to his repertoire. His newest release, Cold Music, combines festive holiday music, amazing alt-country instrumentation, and a strong dose of DIY ethics. Luck played and recorded everything himself, making this ever-growing album a personal affair and it definitely comes through in his performances.
Traces of Luck’s punk rock roots shine through beautifully on his rockabilly romp through “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and his tumbleweed take on “We Three Kings” showcases his instrumental talents and his refreshingly laid-back voice. I can’t wait to see what songs Luck will continue to add year after year, but I’m putting Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” or the Stevie Wonder/Jackson 5 classic “Someday at Christmas” on my wish list to Santa.
I recently spoke with Luck about his plans for Cold Music, his experience recording the album himself, and his personal connection with Christmas music.
NoiseTrade: You’ve participated in Christmas releases with a couple of your previous bands, but this is your first solo holiday offering. What sparked the idea for your Cold Music EP and what are your continuing plans for it?
Ethan Luck: I was on a couple of the Happy Christmas comps that Tooth & Nail Records put out, as well as, recording a few songs for the Relient K Christmas record (Let it Snow Baby… Let In Reindeer). Christmas songs are always fun to record. I wanted to start this (what will become a) compilation because I’ve always liked Christmas time – the weather, lights, fire pits, etc. – and a lot of the music that comes along with it. Speaking of fire pits, the cover art is actually the fire pit in my backyard.
I wanted to start recording my favorite Christmas songs the way I wanted to hear them and sort of make them my own. Maybe there’s someone out there that likes Christmas songs, but not the way their grandparents do. Hopefully they’ll grow up and realize how good Bing Crosby is though. Anyhow, I didn’t have a ton of time at home to record a bunch of songs before December, so I picked my 2 favorites to start with. My future plans for this release are to keep adding to it each year. Hopefully, in a few years time, it will be up to at least 15 songs. Who knows, I may try to squeeze another one in before the 25th!
NT: You recorded “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and “We Three Kings” for this initial installment. What specific draw do those two songs have for you?
Luck: I’m 35 years old now and I’ve heard Christmas music as long as I can remember. Those 2 have become favorites of mine and they never got old to me. My old…old…old band, The Dingees, did a dub version of “We Three Kings” back in 1998. I love how light the content is and how dark the song sounds. I really attached to it back then. I did my best, with the help of a lot of spring reverb, to keep that dark sound to the music.
I’ve always preferred the old Christmas stuff, for the most part. They’re like old hymns. The old stuff is great and most modern stuff is so bland and formulaic to me. “Go Tell It On The Mountain” has also become a favorite. I love Dustin Kensrue’s version, but I didn’t want to do the same thing. I kept it somewhat traditional sounding, made up my own melodies a bit and turned a verse into a pre chorus. Confession: I watched a bunch of videos of Dolly Parton singing it before I made my arrangement.
NT: What are some of the major differences in the recording process between the full-band releases you’ve been a part of and your DIY solo output?
Luck: Well, DIY is the best way to describe it. All the solo stuff I’ve recorded so far has been about 99% DIY. I’ve had friends record background vocals and upright bass on a few tracks. I record all the rest of it myself. In the future, I want to incorporate more of my friends on songs. One of the exciting things for me is to be back on guitar. Some people may know me as a drummer from my 5 years in Relient K. Guitar is actually my first instrument. I started when I was 10 years old and picked up drums sometime around Jr. High.
The recording process can go a number of ways. Once I have a song done, I usually start with drums. It’s weird to record drums by yourself. I just have to know the song well enough to track it to nothing. Other times, I’ll record the acoustics and vocals first and just keep layering from there. It’s weird to not have someone next to me to bounce ideas off of, however, I’ve been doing home recordings for so long that I’m used to it now. If I get to a point where I don’t know if something sounds good, I’ll show it to a friend or two for criticism. No matter what, all the songs have been recorded, in my garage, between the hours of 7am and Noon or 8pm to 2 am (Sorry, neighbors!). For some reason, I feel most inspired and driven at those hours. A lot of the songs I’ve done so far have been written (or at least halfway) on the road, in hotel rooms. Some I’ve written with the help of close friends in Nashville.
NT: What’s some of your earliest memories of the mixture of music and the holidays? Any creepy children’s choirs or Christmas plays in your past?
Luck: As a kid, my parents always played Christmas music starting the night of Thanksgiving. In my opinion, there’s no reason to start it earlier. It’s the kind of music that reminds you that it’s THAT time of year. They always played great stuff by Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, just to name a few. Fortunately, they were never playing the latest rendition of “Santa Baby.”
To my memory, I never participated in choirs or plays around Christmas time as a kid. I guess while the Christmas music was playing, I was just playing with my Transformers, hoping I was going to get Castle Grayskull that year. As a side note, I knew where “Santa” hid the presents, in our garage in Long Beach, and saw that I was getting Castle Grayskull one year. I was still so excited on Christmas Day; mostly, because He-Man could finally go home. Thanks Santa.
NT: Finally, as horribly clichéd as the question is, what are some Christmas songs that you look forward to hearing every year and which ones make you grinch out?
Luck: Let’s start with the ones that make me grinch out. As I mentioned before, “Santa Baby.” It’s terrible and usually sung by a pop star dressed in a “sexy Santa” outfit. Also, “Funky, Funky Christmas” by New Kids On The Block. Come on, mid 30′s girls…Yeah, they were a catchy boy band when you were young, but there’s nothing “funky” about NKOTB. Unless your name is James Brown, there’s nothing “funky” about you. I’m sure I could think of others, but again, I mostly like the old stuff.
As far as, Christmas songs I look forward to… the old classics, as I’ve over-mentioned. As far as modern-ish Christmas songs go, I guess it depends on who does it. “Last Christmas” is a really cool song. Do I like the original version by Wham? Not really, but Jimmy Eat World’s version is great! I really do love old songs done by current bands, in a unique way. When U2 did “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” I thought that was a perfect version of that song. Who knew that such a great version would come out when it was released in 1963? I also like when a band does a good original for Christmas. The main one that comes to mind is “Oi To The World” by The Vandals, of which No Doubt does a really great cover.
You can download Cold Music, as well as Luck’s Wounds & Fears EP, here on NoiseTrade: http://noisetrade.com/ethanluck
Photo credit: Jered Scott
When writer Will Hodge isn’t sailin’on, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Both great songs and big hits come out of Music City, and the two categories aren’t mutually exclusive. By putting his craftsmanship front and center, Trent Dabbs echoes the Nashville ethos that the song always comes first. Dabbs’ artistry, though, digs deeper than most big hits ever dare to. He isn’t content to sing about drinking beer and driving trucks. On The Way We Look at Horses and, in fact, all of his previous efforts, Dabbs explores the emotional depths of love and loss, spirit and sacrifice. He wants the listener to fall into this record, to be fully immersed in it, and to come out the other side somehow changed.
A record that draws you in from the opening strains is a rare gem these days, especially if it’s not full of smoke and mirrors like so many overwrought pop productions. The Way We Look at Horses forsakes the smoke, as well as the mirrors, in favor of ethereal guitars, haunting melodies, compelling lyrics, and lush strings in order to seduce. And it works. But that’s just the first song — the mesmerizing title track that cuts and soothes, evokes and veils all at once. Dabbs has employed the strength and tenderness of horse imagery before, but not to such a great effect as he does here.
Come the second cut, Dabbs ups the ante and the tempo in the closest he’ll get to a straight-forward, all-out country song. In truth, “She’s My Destination” seems more like a piece of levity than anything else. It’s a three-minute respite for the listener to regain their composure and get their bearings before moving on. It’s also a wink and a nod to the iconic musical history of Dabbs’ adopted hometown of Nashville.
Indeed, though he hails from Mississippi, Dabbs’ sound is present-day Nashville through and through, as evidenced so perfectly in tunes like “Mountain Song” and “Midnight Walls”: It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll. In both, big-sky drums open everything up while barroom guitar riffs keep things firmly rooted. Even when a track floats off on a blend of processed percussion and orchestral strings, as in “The Last of Its Kind,” a high lonesome whistle gets tucked into the mix as an almost subliminal signpost pointing toward home.
The second half of the record leans more toward classic singer/songwriter fare, and is no less appealing for it. With its subtle layers, tasteful instrumentation, and shuffling groove, “Confetti Girl” wouldn’t have been out of place on a days-past Shawn Colvin album, either Whole New You or A Few Small Repairs. It just feels like a John Leventhal production, which is never a bad thing to feel like. Further in, a dark, baroque piano adds a tender, new color to the palette with which Dabbs paints the poignant “Time Decides.” Then, on the very next cut, “Start Tomorrow,” he slinks it all up with a Wurlitzer and an R&B-infused vibe.
When it’s all said and done, Dabbs uses pretty much every tool in his very artistic box to build this thing, but it never sounds strained and never feels effortful. Truth be told, it sounds exactly like the way most people look at horses — filled with wonder and longing.
Writer Kelly McCartney spent her formative years spinning the Stylistics, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, and Alabama. All grown up now, she prefers the musical stylings of Katie Herzig, Lord Huron, and Jason Isbell, although the old Stylistics tunes still sound pretty good.
“There’s a point when the looking and the observing isn’t enough.”
This thought from Jars of Clay frontman Dan Haseltine perfectly encapsulates the band’s ethos, as well as their proactive response to last week’s devastating typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. As of the last official count, almost 2,500 have been confirmed dead and over 22,000 people are still unaccounted for. In response to the immense destruction and the sustained great work that lay ahead, the band is offering their song “Fall Asleep” with 100% of tips going straight to the relief efforts of the Philippine Red Cross.
While artists afixing themselves to a cause is certainly not a new thing, it’s still a bit of a refreshing anomaly to see artists actually aligning themselves with the people and places behind a cause. Jars of Clay is no stranger to this approach as they have been maintaining a long-term, long-distance relationship with Africa through Blood:Water Mission for the last 10 years.
Over the last few months, an interesting relationship has been forming with the band and the Philippines as well. Before a recent show in Manila, video director Luis Daniel Tabuena contacted the band and asked if they wanted to make a music video for “Fall Asleep” with his crew. The gorgeously stunning video was shot entirely in the Philippines and it was given to the band as a gift. The video premiered in September and less than a month later the Philippines was pummeled with 195 mph winds and 20 foot high walls of water.
But the story doesn’t end there.
I recently spoke with Dan as he shared about the partnership Jars has formed with The Philippines, what the relationship between art and activism looks like, and how “The songs are ours when we write them and they cease to be ours when they enter into somebody else’s story.”
NoiseTrade: What inspired the writing of “Fall Asleep” in the first place?
Dan Haseltine: I was actually inspired by the illustrator Carson Ellis. I was flipping through some of her work as we were talking about Inland and what we wanted for the record. I was drawn to these images of trees that were equal parts whimsical and melancholy and I thought it was a great setting for a tragic love story. So the song was first launched from just looking at a piece of scenery and wondering what might happen there. It turned into this guy running away with a girl and her being disillusioned by the whole idea of running away and growing old together. “I wonder what other people are doing right now and what life is like in a different place.” It’s also the first time we’ve ever put a piano ballad on a Jars’ record and it was nice to do something different on this record after so long.
NT: The music video for “Fall Asleep” was shot in the Philippines with an entirely Filipino crew. How did that situation come about?
Dan: We were scheduled to play a concert in Manila and a couple of months before we were supposed to go we got an email that said, “Hey, my name is Luis and I do production here in the Philippines. Would you be interested in staying an extra day to shoot a music video?” Our initial reaction to that was obviously a bit skeptical. Those situations don’t usually turn out so great (laughs). We started talking and he said, “I want to create, as a gift for you guys, a nice, museum quality video.” When we got there, he had this incredible crew and a great idea for the concept. We shot it all on RED cameras. We were completely floored. It turned out to be a stunning video. Probably the best we’ve ever had as a band.
It was really just such a gift. We didn’t have to spend a dime on the video; they did it all. After the storm, that’s what gave us the idea to now use this same song and this video to, in essence, try to return the favor as best we can.
NT: As a band, you guys have never shied away from fully immersing yourselves in humanitarian efforts: founding Blood:Water Mission, partnering with the One Campaign. What fuels your drive to get involved and stay engaged?
Dan: For me, it’s really two-fold. A friend of mine gave me the definition of an artist as someone who looks at the world and describes it. We, as a band, have really taken that seriously. You have to look at the world, keep your eyes open, and see what’s going on around you. That’s where the great stories are and were the great songs come from. We’ve found a few of those stories that have really captured our hearts where we knew we could do more. That’s really our connection to Africa with Blood:Water. It’s a story that we felt we could give more of ourselves to than just simply writing a song about it.
As artists, I think we have to stay connected to good stories. If we’re not connected to the places where people are overcoming great odds or fighting against strong adversity, I think we tend to lose our perspective. The path of an artist can go a couple of different ways. One of those ways is to use your wealth to pad yourself from the suffering of the world. We try to control our environment and keep those things away. However, those things that we’re keeping away are the people and the places were all the good stories are.
NT: Do you feel that the relationship between art and activism is inherently integrated or do you think it has to be learned through practice?
Dan: It really is an immersive thing. It takes being involved in it and it takes practice. Humanitarian efforts and getting involved in causes is really about people and relationships. You can write about something, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily know it. You just know about it. If you really want to write from an honest place, you’ve got to immerse yourself in it and become committed to it. Artists are infamous for jumping from cause to cause. “What’s the hip thing to care about right now?” They’re very nomadic in that regard. The reality is, the stories that we stay invested in, those are the ones that yield the most natural and true relationship between art and social justice.
NT: What specifically can your fans do to partner with you and join in the relief efforts for the Philippines?
Dan: We’ve tried to make it really easy. We’re trying to raise $50,000 for the Philippines. We’re offering “Fall Asleep” for free via NoiseTrade and if you download the song, we’re just asking you to offer a tip and all proceeds are going to relief efforts in the Philippines. It’s just a part of the continuing story of them offering us a gift and us collectively trying to give a gift back.
We don’t all have to feel overwhelmed that we’re the only ones doing something, but together we can do really great things. We’ve learned that over the years with Blood:Water. $1 can give an African clean water for an entire year and over the last 10 years we’ve been able to serve over 900,000 people from small donations. That’s what matters: everybody feeling like they can do a little bit, because a little bit can help a lot.
Here are some additional photos from the set of “Fall Asleep” with the band, the director and the crew:
When writer Will Hodge isn’t much afraid, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
In the heyday of 90’s alternative music, Toad the Wet Sprocket was always a bit of an enchanting outlier for me. Foregoing the detuned guitars, sludgy riffs, and head-scratching lyrics of the majority of their musical counterparts, Toad the Wet Sprocket relied heavily on poetic imagery, chiming guitars and Glen Phillips’ crystal clear croon. The first time I saw their video for “All I Want” on MTV, I immediately asked my dad to take me to Blockbuster Music to pick up their CD, Fear. I still remember popping the CD in when I got home, hearing the opening track (“Walk on the Ocean”) and wondering why that song wasn’t on the radio yet. I got Fear just a month or two before I graduated from sixth grade and I used those last few weeks to feverishly memorize the lyrics and attempt to make everyone think I was wise beyond my years and ready for high school.
Fast forward a few years, a few grades and a few more albums and right before the summer between my junior and senior year, Toad released Coil. The album seemed a little heavier – both musically and emotionally – than their previous work and I was along for the ride. It seemed that each time around, they matched my ever-changing world with changes of their own. However, almost exactly a year after the release of Coil (I remember the specifics of both timeframes because of them being around the beginning of summer), I heard on the radio that Toad had officially broken up. To me, it was a humorously ironic (and slightly poignant) thought to realize that one of the bands that had faithfully ushered me through my middle school and high school years went splitsville just a month after I had graduated.
Needless to say, I was one of the many fans who was just a tad excited when it was first announced a couple of years ago that the guys were recording new music. It’s been 16 years since the release of Coil and their new album New Constellation has turned out to be a beautiful addition to their catalog. To help mark this new chapter in their career, Toad has released Something Old, Something New here on NoiseTrade. This exclusive EP features two songs from the new album, “New Constellation” and “California Wasted,” as well as three re-recorded classics: “All I Want,” “Fall Down,” and “Crazy Life.”
To coincide with the release of New Constellation and the Something Old, Something New EP, I talked with Glen Phillips about where the band is now, what inspired them to get back in the studio, and what it meant to them to hit their Kickstarter marketing goal the same day they put it up.
NoiseTrade: While there have been sporadic Toad the Wet Sprocket appearances here and there since the official breakup in 1998, your fans have been fervently waiting for the full-on “we’re putting the band back together” moment. What were some of the main sparks that finally ignited this year’s return to the studio for New Constellation?
Glen Phillips: There were a few milestones. A big one was when I wrecked my left arm falling through a glass table. The ulnar nerve was severed, so I was unable to play a lot of my old parts. It was humbling for me, and the rest of the band had to come together to cover for me. I think it was a great opportunity for all of us to be a little more grateful and show up for each other.
We also did a greatest hits re-record album, and that broke the ice in the studio. At some point it just got to where nobody was interested in having the same old fights, and everyone was interested in making things work.
Also, as much as we like the old songs, it was frustrating to be locked into a catalog that was fifteen years old. We were dying to play new material. So, it’s been good. Nobody’s taking it for granted this time around.
NT: As a songwriter, you’ve continually put out new music as a solo artist and with Mutual Admiration Society/Works Progress Administration and Plover. What was it that made this new batch of songs feel specifically like Toad songs?
Glen: Some of my songs were written specifically for the band – two electric guitars, three part harmony and countermelodies, drum grooves. I’m usually writing songs that I’ll be able to play solo acoustic easily, so it was great to throw that out the window and write for Toad. The Todd and Dean songs are the other big part of the band. Todd has such a particular tone and melodic sensibility, and just having him play guitar makes things sound like Toad.
NT: The last Toad studio album Coil was released back in the summer of 1997. Were there any changes in the studio atmosphere between then and now or did it feel like things picked right back up where they left off?
Glen: We were able to take a lot more time in the studio for this record. Everything was still on tape when we did Coil, so there wasn’t quite as much freedom to experiment. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
As far as the personalities, we have our ups and downs like anybody, but when we get in the studio we’re all pretty serious about getting down to work.
NT: Playing out as really nice exception to the rule, Toad still maintains the same four members that recorded the band’s 1986 debut Bread & Circus. Apart from genuine friendship and mutual respect, to what do you attribute this cohesion and longevity?
Glen: I don’t know, really. We definitely needed to get some experience outside of the band to appreciate how lucky we were. We’re about as different as four people can be, but I think over time we’ve learned how to appreciate the differences instead of fighting over them.
NT: Your initial Kickstarter goal of $50,000 was hit within the same day it posted (ending up at over $260,000 pledged overall). What does that kind of fan response mean to the band?
Glen: It means the world to us. We were floored that so many people were willing to have faith that we could make a record that would be worthy of their support. It was great to see that, for them, after all this time, our music still meant something.
NT: Between Toad and your solo work, you’ve had years of major label experience. What has been the most refreshing and the most hectic parts of doing things independently on Toad’s own Abe’s Records?
Glen: The most hectic thing has been getting everything manufactured. None of us has done anything like this before. We have a great new team, but this is our first time both working together and doing a Kickstarter campaign, so we’re having to learn quite a lot and at great speed. Once all the packages get out the door we’ll all need to go off in the woods and play paintball. Or go to a spa. Or both.
NT: Finally, you recorded the closing lyrics of your 1991 hit “Walk on the Ocean” – “Don’t even have pictures, just memories to hold, grows sweeter each season as we slowly grow old” – at just 20 years old. When you sing the line now, has it transformed into having any different significance or do the initial seeds of that song still resonate the same for you?
Glen: I still just want to know what the chorus of that song means. If you find out, please tell me. It’s an odd line – it’s pretty nostalgic. I want my best days and best work to be in front of me, regardless if the greater world takes notice. My job is to try to be a good friend, try to make good art, and not waste too much time looking backwards.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t sensing a change in the weather, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Full Disclosure: While Derek Webb just so happens to be the president of NoiseTrade, this feature has been written independently and without edit.
If you’re reading this article, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re already aware that Derek Webb’s enthralling new album, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You, will be released September 3. It’s been 10 years since Derek embarked on his solo career and he has referred to this new album as somewhat of a follow-up to his debut solo release, She Must and Shall Go Free.
In honor of Derek’s new album and his decade of solo creative disturbance, I have fashioned an album-by-album reflection on his career I’m calling a Webbtrospective. Instead of just waxing poetic about what each of his albums has meant to me personally, I thought it might be more interesting to look at each album through Derek’s own recollections.
Back in February, I sat down with Derek, threw out the standard interview type approach and just gave him a few specific prompts to run with. For each album, Derek opened up about many of the influences and inspirations that fashioned his writing, unpacked his creative process, detailed some of the finer production points and told some amazing stories. I also bookended each section with Derek’s own word association for each album and his own personal choice for a mix tape.
President or not, it would understandably be questionable at best to saturate the NoiseTrade blog with over a week’s worth of this Webbtrospective. So starting today and running right up to the release of I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You, I will be posting each day’s feature on my own site, My So-Called Soundtrack. Derek’s musings on She Must and Shall Go Free are already posted today, with I See Things Upside posting on Monday, and so on.
Also, if there are any holes in your Derek Webb collection, NoiseTrade is here to help. You can still download She Must and Shall Go Free in its entirety, with samplers of I See Things Upside Down, Mockingbird, The Ringing Bell, Stockholm Syndrome, Feedback and Ctrl available as well.
A variety of cool pre-order packages for I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You (including immediate digital download) are available HERE.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t goin’ out west, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Leave the edges wild.
While this fatherly piece of advice was given to Over the Rhine’s Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler regarding their spacious Nowhere Farm in rural Ohio, it has certainly taken on a larger significance in their lives and in their music – as evidenced by its multiple inclusions on their newest release, Meet Me at the Edge of the World.
This sprawling 19-track, double album paints a beautiful sonic landscape that somehow refuses to stay put or stray too far, creating just the right amount of musical depth and breadth to get sufficiently and satisfyingly lost in. Over the Rhine’s music has always managed to convey humanity and spirituality from both individual and intertwined viewpoints and their new record certainly continues the tradition of blurring the dividing lines between the sacred and the secular with a deceptively deft hand. In their lyrics and in their music, Over the Rhine has managed to carve their own trail of jazzy, bluesy, folk songs, while simultaneously celebrating the untamed fringes.
If the thought of a double album feels like a bit of a daunting introduction, Karin and Linford have compiled a free 5-song sampler entitled Five Good Reasons to Meet Me, featuring songs from the new album. It can serve as both a wonderful stepping-stone to purchasing their new album and a fantastic backdrop while checking out their eloquent and insightful interview below.
NoiseTrade: If I remember correctly, your new album was initially going to be called The Farm, based on your experiences of living on the breathtaking Nowhere Farm. How has your farm informed the songwriting on this album and what spurred the title change to Meet Me at the Edge of the World?
Karin Bergquist: It’s kind of funny, but we found out The Farm wasn’t the name of the record when we started working on the art for the front cover. When we saw it in print, we realized it was the wrong title! But we had already been haunted by the alternate title Meet Me At The Edge Of The World. All of the songs on the project revolve loosely around this place, and are connected to this piece of unpaved earth in some way.
Linford Detweiler: Yeah, Karin and I have lived out here at Nowhere Farm now for over eight years. Sometimes when the fog rolls in real close and hushes everything, we would whisper that it felt like we were living on a little farm at the edge of the world.
We also realized when we moved out here that we didn’t know the names of much of anything – the birds, the trees, the wildflowers, the weeds. My father loved this place and was always a bit of a birdwatcher. And he knew his trees too, and helped us find names for some of what was surrounding us. When my father passed away, and was no longer around to do the naming for us, we began the work of learning for ourselves. Once we started calling things by name, they began appearing in our songs.
We realized that we had one lone tupelo tree growing on the edge of our woods. When Karin walked the dogs past that spot, she often felt like she received something: some words, some tears, something like a prayer perhaps. One day the words that became this song sort of poured out of the tree and Karin wrote them down on her walk (thankfully). The music arrived later, and this tune became the title track of the project.
NT: There’s a phrase that has recently shown up in your songwriting and in band newsletters that has really intrigued me – “leave the edges wild.” Where did that phrase come from and what does it specifically mean to you?
Karin: Linford’s father gave us the gift of that bit of advice when he first visited Nowhere Farm. And you’re right, it shows up in at least three different songs that I can think of: “Called Home,” “All Of It Was Music,” and “Against The Grain”…
Linford: But yeah, when Dad Detweiler saw Nowhere Farm, I think he really fell in love with the place. He said he heard birds singing that he hadn’t heard since he was a boy on the family farm in Delaware. There were bobwhite quail here and indigo buntings and song sparrows and gold finches and house finches and meadowlarks and the occasional owl holding forth at night (to name a few). He encouraged us to leave the edges of our fixer-upper-farm wild so that the birds could have hidden places for their untamed music. The phrase “leave the edges wild” immediately became an important metaphor for Karin and I – for our songwriting, for how we wanted to live our lives.
NT: Sometimes when a band releases a double album, they get the pessimistic “would’ve-been-a-stronger-single-album” criticism. Even The Beatles had to deal with it. For you guys, what was the point at which you felt that Meet Me at the Edge of the World was going to be more than just one record?
Karin: Again, we were haunted by the idea that Meet Me… might be a double album, but we weren’t married to the idea. It had to be revealed in the studio. Same with the double album we put out a decade ago, OHIO. We didn’t know that we had made a double album until it was revealed in real time.
We began recording Meet Me At The Edge Of The World on the Thursday before Easter and by Saturday evening we had recorded 10 songs and it felt like a record. Linford said, “Let’s come back Monday and see if we can make a better record than the one we just made.” We took Easter Sunday off, and by Tuesday evening, we had 19 tracks. We spent Wednesday listening back to what we had recorded. Jay Bellerose added a little percussion here and there and we had a double album.
Linford: We knew we had approximately two dozen songs that were connected to our hideaway farm, and I for one, was happy for the extra musical real estate, so that we could get a lot of these songs into one place. And I love the idea of two short records as opposed to one long one. Makes it more palatable. And that way our listeners can argue about which one is better!
NT: Your last record, The Long Surrender, was your first foray into fan-funding waters and you swam out even farther with Meet Me at the Edge of the World. As independent artists, what have you learned through both of those experiences and what does it mean to have such an engaged, appreciative fan base?
Karin: It means the world to have an audience that, in the words of Joe Henry, our producer, “Listens with a capital ‘L’…” And the key to fan-funding, assuming one has an audience that wants more music, is to try to have fun and give people more than their money’s worth. We never ask for something for nothing. If people are willing to give us $15, we’ll send them a beautifully packaged CD at least a month before the official release date, plus three bonus tracks, plus list their name on the band website, plus send regular updates from Linford or I about the project, and include a small treat when the CD ships (in this case, Linford took the time to include for the donors a song-by-song commentary). So that’s worth $15 to a fan of our music, hopefully more, right? And we take the same approach with people who are able to give more.
Linford: The other thing we did with this fundraiser for the first time was to host two concerts here on the farm. We had about 500 folks on a Saturday evening, and another 500 on Sunday. It was magical to have the people that helped make the record come to the farm and take a look around at the sky and the trees and the dogs and the old pre-Civil War brick farmhouse that helped inspire these songs.
NT: Linford, I read where you said that, specifically in regards to your own singing, that this new record “felt a little bit like starting a new band.” Since you’ve actually been in the same band for over 20 years, what does that newness actually feel like for you?
Linford: Yeah, part of the story of Meet Me… is that Karin and I are singing together much more on this record. I married a small town girl with a big voice, and for years I was happy to let Karin do her thing – it’s great, and if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have spent the last two decades in a band with her. But I would usually chime in on one or maybe two songs on any given project. But my voice felt a bit unwieldy. I could sing low and I could sing high, but the middle part seemed to be missing. And I had some physical (and emotional?) pain when I sang. But Karin kept encouraging me, and I think I had a bit of a breakthrough a few years ago. And yes, now that we’re singing together more on these new songs, it definitely feels like we’ve started a new band. It’s so fun to put the two voices together.
NT: I love the way Aimee Mann’s background harmonies compliment Karin’s vocals so gorgeously on the song “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down.” How did that pairing come about?
Karin: I met Aimee last summer on an independent film shoot. A number of songwriters were involved in the project: myself, Aimee, Louden Wainwright III, John Doe, Joe Henry… We’ve been fans of her records for a long time so it was a real treat to sing with her.
NT: Finally, you guys crafted a wonderfully touching cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” for the new album. What drove the decision for its creation and its inclusion on the album?
Linford: We did the Cayamo songwriters’ cruise this past January with some great songwriters we look up to including Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller etc, and someone on the boat came up with the impromptu idea that we should all offer an evening of music in memory of Levon Helm. We performed a very quiet simple duet version of this tune, and we kind of felt like we were hearing the song again for the first time. We don’t do many covers, but it felt right to include it on a double album.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t noticing that the people here are not shy, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Listening to The Dark of the Morning - the debut EP from UK singer-songwriter James Bay - you may think you’ve stumbled across a lost classic from the late 60s/early 70s. With beautifully simplistic acoustic guitars, soulful, bluesy vocals and a songwriting pen that defies his young years, Bay channels the talents and emotions of the legendary singer-songwriters that have come before him through his own raw, fresh-faced filter.
Without question, the most impressive element found on his EP is his dynamic voice. Blurring the defining lines between fiery passion and reserved wistfulness, Bay’s voice commands attention without every veering into overpowering territory. Each fluid note works hand-in-hand with the lyrics to provide a rich emotional experience throughout his songs.
For a taste of his stirring sonic style, here’s a fantastic live performance of his first single “Move Together” from The Dark of the Morning:
I recently interviewed the UK native about his debut EP, his formative musical years in his hometown of Hitchin, and what his introductory experience to the States has been like.
NoiseTrade: Your first single “Move Together” seems to either be an intensely personal story or a fantastically deceptive work of fiction. Did you write it to be creative or cathartic?
James Bay: My best songs are always the most honest ones. I try and stick to things that are going on in my life; all the feelings and emotions that I really need to express. So yeh, I definitely had something to get off my chest when I wrote “Move Together.”
NT: In your music, I hear a lot of 1970s mixed-genre influences, like laid-back folk and funky R&B easily mingling together. Were you raised on that style of music or did you discover it on your own?
Bay: I sort of raised myself on that whole sound. My folks had some of the ‘classic records’ from that era, which they played a few times, but it took me stealing them away into my room to dig deep and really become obsessed. Some of them have been played so hard they barely make a sound anymore..
NT: Was there an exact moment that motivated you to first pick up a guitar and a notebook to write songs or did you slowly fall into it over time?
Bay: One night, when I was about fourteen our next door neighbours came round to the house to complain (it wouldn’t be the last time) about me playing my guitar too loud, because on the other side of my wall their kid was trying to sleep. Of course that really pissed me off, I just wanted to play all night. So, I don’t remember the name of it, but I do remember that fuelling one of the first songs I ever wrote.
NT: Tell us a little about what it was like growing up in Hitchin and what the music scene is like there.
Bay: It was cool growing up in Hitchin, a pretty easygoing town. But you need to plan of how you’re going to get out, or before you know it you’ll get stuck. Between my own solo stuff and the bands I was in, we must have made up about a third of Hitchin’s music scene. It was great because although there’s only one proper venue in town, we were creating new ones all the time. Back gardens, upstairs at Pubs and peoples living rooms became part of our own little self made gig circuit.
NT: As an Englishmen, are there adequate words to describe the feelings you had while opening up for The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park earlier this month?
Bay: Oh My God Wow.
NT: Your first U.S. show was at Mercury Lounge in New York. What was the experience like for you and how did it compare to club shows back home in England?
Bay: Mercury Lounge is an awesome venue. It’s got a great ‘back room-rock n roll’ kind of vibe. But it’s also very intimate, which is great for my solo acoustic set. For my first show there the room was packed and it couldn’t have been a better introduction to playing in the States. They run a pretty tight ship at club venues in America, so the sound at Mercury Lounge was great and the audience really gave it that ‘pin-drop silence’ atmosphere. I’ll always remember that one, for sure.
NT: Finally, while listening through The Dark of the Morning, something about the poetics of the line “Before our hearts go up in flames, let’s go throwing stones and stealing cars” really jumped out at me. Could you unpack that line a little bit and give us a peek behind the songwriting curtain?
Bay: It’s a song from the point of view of a guy who knows his relationship is going under, but is willing to try absolutely anything for one last shot at keeping it alive. ‘Throwing stones and stealing cars’ are just two of the millions of things he’s willing to try, because that’s how much it means to him. I wanted to reach outside of the usual “I’d go to the ends of the earth for you” type of line, and do something different, but keep the sense of desperation.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t waiting for Everyman, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Andrew Belle’s new album ‘Black Bear’ comes out August 20th (iTunes pre-order). In preparation of Belle’s new album which takes a dramatic turn from his previous release ‘The Ladder,’ here are a few questions to get behind the music. Be sure to check out the newest single “Pieces,” as well as his previous music available on NoiseTrade.
There has been a good amount of time between the release of ‘The Ladder’ and the upcoming ‘Black Bear,’ was that deliberate or did time just slip by?
In a way, time really just flew by. But also, I just took a while to feel like I had something worth writing about again. I enjoy writing and recording albums but it takes so much out of me that I can really only muster up the energy to do it every few years – and then just give it all I’ve got.
What does the song writing process usually look like for you?
I actually changed my writing approach for this one and demoed all 10 songs at home before bringing them to the guys at Blackwatch. I spent a few months just having fun and experimenting with lots of different sounds and midi-instruments. It really opened up my previously semi-limited songwriting and helped to rejuvenate my enjoyment of the process.
How is this album different from the previous effort, The Ladder?
I wrote the Ladder in 2008 and so there’s 4 years of musical maturation and taste change represented in the production we chose, however, I approached the songwriting the same way I always have – with an emphasis on quality lyrics and memorable melodies. The difference lies in the way it’s being presented this time. It’s much less acoustic – much more electronic/ambient.
What’s the background of the album title, Black Bear?
There were a few themes that surfaced upon my setting out to write ‘Black Bear’ last summer. I had just gotten married and so my relationship with my wife played a large role in the inspiration – as well as my relationship with my family. But more importantly, the most consistent and overarching theme found in this album is that of a God that pursues a man until he inevitably succumbs to his persistence. I am not a Christian artist (in the sense that I operate in that genre) but this was my experience; a juxtaposition of free will and unavoidable foreordination. For sometime I resisted and I wrestled but, much like the relationship between a Bear and his prey, I had no choice but to be swept away by the overwhelming beauty found in the person of Jesus.
Any new songs that stand out and you’re particularly proud of?
It really depends on what day of the week you catch me, honestly. I’ve listened to this thing about 100,000 times now and it seems like every time through it, another song becomes my front runner for a different reason. I’m really into the last track, ‘I Won’t Fight it’, right now because I was aiming for this sort of ‘the National’ meets ‘Beach House’ kind of feel and Chad and Jarod at Blackwatch did a really good job of capturing that for me.
Which song do you see connecting the most with listeners?
I would guess ‘The Enemy’. The song mostly describes the human condition; the idea that we are imperfect and flawed creatures, desiring to do good but struggling with our pride and selfishness at the same time. I think that is something that most everybody, if being honest, can relate to.
How has the experience of being independent been from the release of The Ladder to this new one with everything in-between?
Honestly, I’ve really enjoyed being label-less thus far. I have really specific vision for all of the things I want my music to be about and to stand for, and so being able to, prayerfully, make all those final decisions and follow my gut on certain things has been really exciting…scary, at times…but very rewarding and fulfilling.
Tyler Hayes also contributes to Fast Company.
When you record an album inside of a home-made spaceship (while wearing a custom built spacesuit no less), it can seem a bit anticlimactic to approach your next batch of songs with just a blank notebook and a willing musical spirit. Singer-songwriter-studio wizard Andrew Osenga knows this experience all too well as his last album, Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut, was crafted under such creatively constructed conditions. So for his next release – or should I say releases - Andrew is writing four separate EPs, all approached from 4 separate musical genres.
Heart & Soul, Flesh & Bone is an exercise in experimentation, allowing Andrew to fully dive into some sonic spaces that are near and dear to his musical heart. The cliff notes version is as follows: Heart will be acoustic singer-songwriter, Soul will be blues, Flesh will be rock and Bone will be ambient instrumentals. As fan of both Andrew’s music and the EP format as a whole, I’m pretty jazzed for the whole thing.
You can check out Andrew’s hilariously informative Kickstarter video below:
NoiseTrade: The first question that comes to mind after watching your Kickstarter video is… are you really that bad of a bowler or did you just sandbag for the camera?
Andrew Osenga: Dude. I’m a horrible bowler. It is true that I go every week, but it’s purely for the hang. I’ve started working on a spin, but I don’t think it’s helping. There’s a reason guys like me picked up guitars in the first place, sports were not for us.
NT: Your current Kickstarter campaign is to help record Heart & Soul, Flesh & Bone - 4 brand new EPs themed around specific musical genres. What sparked this creative approach and why the EP format?
Andrew: With the EPs, I’ll have both a lot of musical freedom and the sense of an assignment. Both are necessary. Indie artists don’t have bosses, someone to tell us what to do each day, so I’m looking forward to having a year’s worth of songs to write and record on my To-Do list. And the imperative to go further into musical genres I’ve only really dipped my toes in.
Having built a spaceship for the last record, I knew I couldn’t just make a regular old album of songs. I first wanted to do something simple, maybe an acoustic record, or a collection of soul songs. Maybe a live rock album? An extension of the instrumental stuff I started into on Leonard (my last record). I basically had those four records on a revolving list in my head and finally realized if I did EPs I could do them all. This would be a bit more fun and ambitious, but revolving around music and writing and not story or set pieces.
NT: You’ve made your 2003 EP, Souvenirs and Postcards, available for this week only here on NoiseTrade. From your perspective, what similarities and differences can listeners expect between your first EP and these new ones?
Andrew: Souvenirs and Postcards is one of my favorite things I’ve ever recorded. It’s very raw and simple and has some of my favorite songs. I think the first EP of this collection, Heart will probably fit in nicely with this. I’d really like to be back in that headspace of just finding and telling great stories. A lot of those songs were based on novels and so I’ve been diving back into the classics on our bookshelf.
NT: Sticking with the EP-themed questions… what were some of your favorite EPs growing up?
Andrew: I’ve thought about this question for a while. I really haven’t had many EPs on my radar until recently, but I cut my teeth on Beatles, Dire Straits and Pink Floyd albums. In the old vinyl days, albums couldn’t be that long. A lot of those classic records are not much longer than what EPs are nowadays.
Also, so many of those records utilized the two sides so creatively. I’ve long said that my favorite Beatles record was the Side B of “Abbey Road”. It is so incredibly and staggeringly brilliant. I just listen to that half of a record over and over. I think that’s a whole lot of the reason I’ve had so much fun with EPs throughout my career.
Plus, there’s a heft and weight to a full album, at least to me. It has to say something, has to accomplish something, has to earn its right to exist. EPs, by their nature, just seem a little more casual. I feel like you sometimes have more room for fun and personality when the expectation of THE NEXT BIG ALBUM are lifted.
NT: One of the coolest backer rewards on your Kickstarter campaign is one of your gorgeous, heavily-used guitars. Were you surprised with how quick it got snatched up and what are some of your favorite memories with it?
Andrew: I was surprised. And a little sad. I had thought we might have a tough time getting to the budget I’d set. I want to do this project badly enough to make some sacrifices for it, and that guitar seemed like it hadn’t gotten as much use recently so it ought to be the one to go. As soon as I put it up there, of course, I started playing it again and fell in love with that dang Strat all over. Oh well. It’s not the first Strat I’ve owned and it probably won’t be the last. And I know the new owner and I’m glad for who it is. That guitar will be going through a custom Leonard overdrive pedal that was a Kickstarter reward for the last project. Almost worth it right there.
NT: Since your last album was conceptualized lyrically and these new EPs will be conceptualized musically, which boundary lines do you think are harder to create within?
Andrew: That’s a tough question. Kind of feels like another way of asking “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?” The answer is, writing is rarely easy and good writing never is. It takes time, time and more time. It takes turning off the internet and putting away the phone. It takes setting goals and then moving, ever so slightly, in the direction of completing them.
As to which is harder, musical boundaries or lyrical, I’d say this time it will be those lyrical lines. The last project trained me to write from this one angle and try to explore it completely. It’s going to take work to break out of that.
The boundaries are a gift, though. They inspire creativity. If you come to a wall and you have a truck full of ladders, you’re just going to use a ladder and climb the wall. Now when you’re not allowed to use a ladder? That’s where it gets fun. That’s where you start seeing creativity rear its head. Those are the kinds of records I love to listen to and so I always give myself rules for each project. I want to figure out how to get over that wall! Creativity never happens if you don’t give it space to start growing.
It’s always amazing what happens when you finally give yourself the time to make some horrible first drafts, to write some terrible songs and clear the pathway. Once the muscles are flexed you almost can’t keep the songs in, they just start showing up all over the place. Or at least, the first couple of lines. Then it’s back to the work.
I’m glad I love the end product enough to put up with the process, which is rarely any fun in the moment. But man, do I love the feeling of knowing a song is done and it’s good. One of the best feelings in the world. And I’ve just taken a few hundred people’s money and promised to dig up that feeling a whole lot this next year. I can’t wait.
With a week to go, Andrew’s already 4/5 of the way there. You can help make this project a reality by visiting the link below:
When writer Will Hodge isn’t wide awake in America, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
When a band has been plugging away for close to 20 years, there’s always the risk of unintentionally shifting into auto-pilot. The better you get at your craft, the easier it is to rely on what you’ve already accomplished and what has already proven to be successful. One sure-fire way to gauge where a band falls on the cruise control spectrum is in the way they approach their live performances and in what directions their new songs are headed.
For a fantastic example of a band that has destroyed the cruise control function, thrown the map out the window, and pressed the pedal to the floor, look no further than Jars of Clay and their new NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Sessions EP.
With the release of their new album Inland (out August 27) cresting the horizon, Jars entered the eclectic Eastside Manor to record a few of their new songs in an intimate, uncluttered live setting. These versions of “Age of Immature Mistakes,” “Loneliness & Alcohol,” and “Fall Asleep” showcase a band who is full steam ahead in their continuing pursuit of writing good songs, penning rich lyrics, and taking risks with each new batch of songs. They also created a stripped-down version of fan favorite “Dead Man (Carry Me)” for inclusion as well. Rounding out the EP is the album version of “After the Fight,” the stirring opening track from Inland.
As an additional bonus, the guys set up outside the studio for a whimsical run-through of their cover of Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.” We all did our best not to audibly sing along, but I’m pretty sure you can still hear a couple of extra background singers in the video below.
Although the final product speaks to Jars of Clay’s talents and their ambitions for their new songs, there were also multiple incidental moments throughout the day that showcased their forward momentum and camaraderie from years of playing together. Whether it was the impromptu romp of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” that telepathically bounced between each band member while everyone was getting set up or the nonchalant (yet jaw-dropping) acapella harmonies of “Fade to Grey” they used to warm up their voices so early in the day, the guys really created a beautiful musical atmosphere that is tangibly evident on the EP and the short behind-the-scenes/performance film. So make you sure you check out both!
Jars of Clay will be releasing their new album Inland (produced by Tucker Martine) on August 27.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t enjoying a little front yard luge, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack