Let the Imperfections Live

From Chris:

The process of taking the raw takes of music out of the studio and turning them into a coherent sound is one of the most important and tricky aspects of making an album. In my mind, there is a balance between striving for absolute perfection vs. allowing the idiosyncrasies of the recording to create something unique. With this album, although we did a lot of the standard editing and in depth mixing that we had to, I’m proud that we let a lot of the little perfect imperfections live.
 
Unexpectedly, one of the most satisfying parts of the album was the mastering process. I had always had a view of mastering as sort of sending off the mixes to some guy with good ears and getting them back a little louder and a little more even. With David Glasser at Airshow, that was far from the process. He invited us up to his studio just to listen to the tracks and give us notes. We came back a month later with updated mixes and told him what overall sound we were going for. We were fully involved in the process the entire time. To give the tracks the overall quality we were looking for, we decided to run all the mixes through the tape machine. The difference was amazing. In Glasser’s words, the tape “glued everything together nicely.” The Fremonts always wanted a natural, live sounding album. Up until that exact moment running the tracks through tape, I was never absolutely sure we were going to achieve that quality. But we did.
 
I’m incredibly proud of The Fremonts. They have come a long way as songwriters, musicians, and performers, and I’m glad I can be part of their career.  I’m also incredibly happy I was able to work with Cameron Mannix as our engineer. He joined the team and put his all into this process just like the rest of us. Thank you to everyone involved in this project. The album comes out in June!
 

From Badger: 

And then you let it go.

As I write this, it is about four or five days until we get a few boxes with 1,000 copies of our first full-length album. It’s been a weird few weeks since we put all the finishing touches on it up in the mountains at Airshow. I’ve gone in and out of a heavy depression. It’s been a little manic to say the very least. Some days I’ll sit down, listen to the album and go into a litany of critique: could’ve played that better, sang that stronger, written a better lyric for that line. Other days, the litany is replaced with a physical sensation: my eyes are suddenly closed, head bent down almost as if my chin will break through my breastbone and every hair down my arms bristles as what I’m hearing hits just the right tone. A self-congratulatory biological reaction as if to say, “We got it.”

It seems to me the reality is that the statement, “We got it,” couldn’t be further from the truth. As I continue to push forward with this band, with these songs (shit, if you want to get all existential about it, with life) it becomes glaringly apparent that I’ll never really “get it”. There will always be further to go. More space to explore. Yes, the album is recorded, mixed, mastered, cover art designed and sent off to the printer for replication. Yes, I am incredibly proud of this piece of work that we are about to throw up into the wind for anyone to catch. Yes, this album is a wonderful representation of the hard work and love put into it by all those involved. Is it finished though? I’m not so sure about that. 

I don’t think it ever will be finished. Perhaps that’s where my deep-blue brain space of late originates. Historically I’ve always thought that at the end of the rainbow lies a pot of gold. You give blood, you get a cookie. I’m now thinking that the product may not be the point. Perhaps the greater lesson to be learned from this process has nothing to do with playing the right chord, writing the perfect line or singing in tune. Instead, it could be that the work is NEVER done… and that’s okay. It can’t be done. If the work ever gets to a point where it is “done” then maybe that’s where death awaits. I don’t mean to be morbid about it, I really don’t, but maybe that’s a positive thought. When the outlook is for growth as opposed to accomplishment, then maybe that’s where purpose lies. I really don’t know, but it’s a pretty exciting thought.

As I finish writing this, it’s about four or five days until we get a few boxes with 1,000 copies of our first full-length album. It is an awesome step in the right direction. 

From Steph: 

With any luck, this blog post will read like a low-rent version of the Song Exploder podcast.

The album is currently at the printer, which means that it is fully mixed and mastered and the artwork is complete. It’s been a long road since we recorded this music over Thanksgiving with many re-records, long mixing/drinking/popcorn eating sessions with Chris and Cam and two especially lovely trips up the mountain to Airshow where the album was mastered.

I’d like to tell you the story of the most difficult track, in my opinion, Back to the Mountain. We started out with the idea of creating an extremely clean “pop country” sound. I struggled a lot in the studio with this track, but Cam (our engineer) assured me that he could make my vocal recordings work. And he did. Most of my work on this album could really be co-credited to Cam. He straightened up my piano licks, tuned my accordion and pulled my best vocal takes together to get a polished and relaxed sound.

Over the last few months, I’ve been obsessed with this album by the Austin band, The Deer, called Tempest & Rapture.  The first and last tracks on that album contain these beautiful vocal bird sounds that remind me of the story of Back to the Mountain. Our protagonist is leaving a bustling urban setting and driving a long distance by herself to her rural home in the Rocky Mountains. I wanted the moment she turns up the mountain road to include the sounds of birds and the epic Colorado winds. Justin and I recorded a demo of the idea in our trusty apartment closet studio that really captured that essence, but as much as we tried, we never made it happen at KMG. So, Chris and Cam ended up weaving our original closet recording into the final mix.  It was such a team effort and the result is really transporting.  

During mixing sessions, I listened to Chris and Cam work through tracks from the back of the room, usually with a glass of wine. The writing is where I can help.  The fine tuning, I leave to the experts.   Watching them shine as they polished up and brought out the essence of these songs was just astounding. We’re incredibly lucky to have such a great team in Boulder. I guess Justin and I will have to stick around here a while longer to make another album with these guys.  
 

Finally at Airshow, we watched David Glasser run these tracks through an old school tape machine. To give it dust, according to Justin. It felt so satisfying to hand these long-loved tracks to a master for the final touches. And now we wait. And soon we will celebrate this album and the collaboration it took to create it.  

 

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Studio in the Rearview

From Steph –

4 Memories

  1.  We were working on the instrumental track for Tillman’s Wall.  Chris said, “I think you need to change up the piano fill in the pre-chorus.  It’s too repetitive.”  Ugh.  I had been practicing it that way for months.  He encouraged me to fiddle around with it while he chatted with Justin about the guitar part.  I noodled.  Not much came.  I looked over at Zac, who was messing around with the bass line, and tried to listen for what he was playing.  He’s an incredibly musical human and I’m usually better at stealing than writing something new.  He played a little phrase and I half played it back.  It was basically a triplet a little higher than the rest of the fill.  It caught Chris’ ear.  “That’s it.”  He sang it back to me and we worked it out.  This new little part ended up changing up the whole rhythm of the pre-chorus, including the vocals.  We tried it with everyone.  It breathed new life into that section and suddenly, I was all fired up about it.   This is a huge key to Chris’ genius.  He hears the littlest phrases and pulls them together in an immensely creative way, saves them, reorganizes them, gives them meaning. His ideas and ability to incorporate others’ ideas have enhanced every single one of these songs.
  2.  We were on what felt like the thousandth take of the chorus of Back to the Mountain.  I was in the studio alone and all of the dudes were listening from the control room.    Silence came through the headphones every time I finished a take.  I assumed they didn’t like it.  I wasn’t finding the right sound.  The song originally came out of a little joke.  Justin and I were talking about how we really needed a country radio hit that sounded something like Chris Stapleton’s Traveler and I decided to give it a try.  The chorus needed that tight harmony you hear in those kind of songs when the voices sound really bright and connected, almost metallic.  Justin’s harmony sounded great, but my voice was not filling the space above it in the way we wanted.  I finished another take.  This time the guys chimed in from the control room – make it bigger, be more open, relax more, belt it.  Shit.  My mind filled with the damaging words of casting directors from a lifetime past…”You just don’t have a musical theatre voice.  It’s not big enough.” “You’re going to need to lose weight before anything happens.  You’re never going to get cast as an ingenue with those thighs.”  “I know you can act this part, but can you make a bigger sound?  We really need to to be able to belt this.”  “We think you’d be more convincing if you shaved your head.  You’re just not conveying enough strength.”  I was not enough.  I didn’t have it.  I couldn’t do it.  I was a disappointment.    I walked into the control room and announced, “I’m in a cage of self-loathing!”   The guys gave me big hugs and tons of encouragement and we decided to leave the song and try again tomorrow.  The next day, we were in the same spot, on the thousandth take and still not getting it.  I was frustrated and a little pissed. “Can you listen harder?”  I barked at the control room.  “You guys are terrible at this.”  We were all annoyed and at a loss, so we just kept doing take after take.  Finally, not on purpose, I happened sing it with no vibrato “That’s it!” they said.  After all that turmoil and self-doubt, all I needed to do was take out the vibrato.   So many feelings.  I went to the car and ugly cried, but at the same time I was completely relieved because there was a small chance that we got that country harmony radio sound.  We’ll find out in mixing. To be continued…
  3.  I was sitting in the control room with Chris, Cameron and Justin listening to Matt play his track for Tell My Mother.   In a rehearsal a few weeks back, Cameron had added this brilliant little drum break to the last verse.  Matt, in a moment of studio inspiration, suddenly played this amazing banjo riff over the top of the drum break.  It was a few seconds of total triumph with this great energy that moved the song forward perfectly.  The control room erupted, all three guys dancing and cheering like they were watching football and their team just scored the winning touchdown.  “BANJO!!! YES!!!”
  4. We were joined by the Ars Nova Singers (and a few of their friends), Braden on fiddle and Maggie on cello to perform a beautiful choral/string arrangement that Chris wrote for Joanne.  While everyone was still around, we asked them to sing the chorus of Tillman’s Wall to give it a little extra oompf.   We made a circle in the lobby around a few microphones and Justin counted us in.    This giant, messy, stomping, powerful sound came out of the group.  I felt so connected to everyone.  We were all having a blast and singing our hearts out.   As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I’m not a person of faith, but if there is some higher power, it must exist in those sound waves bouncing from person to person, vibrating our beings, creating a mysterious whole greater than all of us combined.  Hail to the She-Jesus!

From Chris-

After spending 42 hours over 4 days at KMG studios I can look back personally and say that that session was undoubtedly one of the most fun and fruitful learning experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve always thought about producing as sort of filling in the gaps to make the album happen; If there’s no drummer, you hire one. If there’s no studio, you find one. If there’s no piano solo where there needs to be, you write one.. but until this last weekend, I hadn’t thought too much about the role in the actual recording process. It ended up being very similar; when the engineer is also the drummer, you’re the engineer.

There are certain things as a producer that one can only learn through experience. The balance between taking charge and letting things flow naturally in a session is one of them. On one extreme you have the tyrannical and the other you have the wet noodle, your style is what lands you somewhere in between. I hadn’t thought about that balance until confronted with some unexpected moments where I realized that I needed to relinquish some control and be a passive supportive presence so my artists could do their thing. There are going to be moments in the session that are emotional and very challenging. How do you navigate a situation where a vocalist is struggling to find the sound they want? Do we do 5 more takes, or do we take a little break to breathe? Are we managing our time well enough to get everything done? These are questions that can only be answered by intuition, which is honed by experience. I’m hugely thankful for this experience.

I’m thankful that so many people came together and worked passionately and professionally to get this session done. The mixing process is going to start very soon and I’m looking forward to revisiting the songs and getting them radio ready.

From Badger –

It’s been a week since we finished our forty-two hour recording session. I’m still tired. Not so much because the recording session was exhausting (which it was) but because my body & my brain are still comprehending the last eight months of preparation. It has been a time of extremes. At one moment joyous from the musical discoveries being made. At another dark and desperate due to a healthy weakening of ego.

In the couple of months leading up to recording I wasn’t sleeping very well. I was tossing and turning through the night while my brain ran at 100 mph, constantly thinking of all that could go wrong, questioning if we had prepared enough and doubting that all the pieces would come together. As soon as we got into the rehearsal space with the full band however, my fears began to be replaced by an unextinguishable excitement. Hearing these incredible musicians help Steph and I breath even more life into the songs we had been sitting with for some time (twelve years in some cases) became both addictive and reassuring. By the time I went to sleep on the eve of our first day in the studio there wasn’t a nervous cell in my body. I was completely surprised by how calm I felt driving to the studio. It was a crazy combination of both eagerness and willingness. Eager to put all of this preparation into practice and willing to allow the songs to grow and evolve even more in the studio.

With a fridge full of beer, some boxes full of wine, a copious selection of tea and six bags of delicious pre-popped popcorn we gathered with Chris (our producer), Cam (our engineer & drummer), Zak (on bass), Matt (on banjo), Braden (on fiddle), Maggie (on cello) and Janet & the Ars Nova singers to finally make this record happen.

It was a trip. Even though we have yet to really hear all of the pieces together at once, I am filled with an otherworldly confidence that we accomplished what we set out eight months ago to do. We Don’t Live There is going to be an album that Steph, Chris, myself and everyone involved in it’s creation can be proud of. The title track drips with vocal precision. Steph and I painstakingly worked with Chris & Cam to get every last syllable of tight two-part harmony sounding perfect. Insisting that we go back and back and back again until we knew we had the take we needed. Back to the Mountain became an exercise pop patience. A study in how to get a specific stylized sound that really hits when Steph’s chorus vocals kick in and Braden’s fiddle follows it up with a beautifully complimentary melody. Near the end of the forty-two hours when almost twenty of us screamed out a chorus in the studio lobby, Tillman’s Wall found it’s woeful angst against a baseline that Zak continued to beef up with numerous variations. After twelve years, Olivia has been given new life with a weeping accordion line that fits perfectly with the heroine’s story. Holding Place has become a delightful head-bobber that showcases Steph’s incredible songwriting versatility. Matt & his banjo made us all rejoice on Tell My Mother, another tune that has been around for over ten years and is now reborn as a raucous funeral celebration. It was magic to finally hear Chris’ string & choir orchestration come to life with all 14 musicians in the room together creating a wall of sound that lays a foundation of wonder on Joanne. Cam brought some insane swing to Who Fears the Devil with a drum beat that will close this album off with a riot.

To everyone who came to play: I can’t thank you enough. To Cam, Chris & Steph: I can’t wait to start mixing all of these sounds we made last week. To those of you who will hopefully listen to this album when it’s finished: you’ve still got a few months, but I am encouragingly hopeful that it will be worth the wait.

Crunch Time Questions

From Chris:

We’re now just a few weeks away from tracking. The band has been recording multiple demos of each song at home to practice for the real thing and to start flirting with different performance nuances. I’m working with an orchestrator to get the sheet music into the hands of the choir and instrumentalists so they can start preparing. The piano is rented. The rehearsals are scheduled. The hired musicians are on board. The engineer is on board. Everyone is on board.

Everything is going according to plan. But as we’re all sort of traveling on unfamiliar territory, questions rattle around in my brain. Are we going to execute the best arrangements of these songs? Is the band going to “click” when rehearsals start? Are we going to have enough time in the studio? Will the string and choir arrangements sound the way we want them to when played by real people?

In all honesty, I’m confident that the answer to all those questions is yes. This project is getting more and more fun by the week. Everyone involved has a positive outlook. The only thing left is to just do it.

From Steph:

It’s been a while. Since our last blog post in August, we’ve been busy recording demos, writing arrangements, renting pianos, visiting studios, coordinating musicians, tuning accordions, and drinking a little alcohol with the band. We’re getting close to the good part. Exactly one month from today, we’ll be heading into the studio. So, what’s the goal? What are we trying to make here? What are our hopes and dreams about the sounds we’ll make in the studio?

In Questlove’s book, Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, he writes about the importance of reviews and how he writes a review for each album he hopes to create before starting work in the studio. I tend to look at creating art as just a part of my life rather than as a product, but it seems useful to take a look from the outside and imagine the review I’d like someone to write about our album. I’m just going to go ahead and give it a try. Let’s see how narcissistic I can sound!

Here is my fake review for our still-to-be-recorded album:

The Fremonts’ first full length album, We Don’t Live There, paints a landscape of big open spaces and distant city skylines. The protagonists of these songs are driven by deep unspeakable instincts, but live in a world where all the maps are a little blurry. The title track begins the journey, elegantly summarizing the feeling of abandoning youthful dreams only to be haunted by them as the wheel of life cranks on. These characters ignore their fears and embrace chance, living on credit and planning to settle their accounts in another lifetime. The key trait here is blind ambition with an almost fundamentalist belief in the glory of self-will. As the audience to these adventures, we are the wise doubters, knowing full well that in this life, failure is a likely outcome and death is always at the end of the chapter. We hear the story of a young woman escaping a crumbling romance by driving a long highway all alone in “Back to the Mountain.” “Tillman’s Wall” tells of a group of devoted young soldiers who embark on an aggressive military action that ends with needless bloodshed. “Boys and Girls sing patriot songs,” but in the end “those children shot each other dead.” The songs “Olivia” and “Holding Place,” both inspired by the plights of Shakespearean heroines, invoke lovers that aren’t certain of where they stand, but desperately seek love and clarity from their partners. As the album progresses, the inevitable end of life grows even nearer with “Tell My Mother” and “Joanne.” The women in these songs have seen death and have lost people close to them. They cry out for their own happiness, knowing that their time here is limited. The album closes with the seemingly ultimate ode to ego and self-reliance. “Who fears the devil when the devil fears me?” asks this male protagonist. But in the middle of the song, he doubts and asks for God to remember him. For a moment, he becomes audience to himself and realizes his own fallibility. This is a much more focused album than The Fremonts EP, which had some lovely tracks, but swung wildly among several themes. It’s clear that they, along with their producer Chris Tucker, have been long preparing the ground on which to build this transporting, haunted work. The Fremonts have gelled into musically and conceptually adept artists who seem to have many more stories left to tell.

Yeah, I hope someone writes something like that.

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From Justin:

I spent the majority of my 20s dealing with a pretty gross anxiety disorder. Due to the fact that I didn’t have any insurance for half of that decade I spent most of it off meds. My anxiety took a number of forms but the most consistent theme of my panic attacks was death. Curled up in the bathroom doorway, I would bang my head my head against the threshold in an attempt to jar my brain to think of anything but the moment of my death and what would come next. I’m not a religious person so I don’t believe in an afterlife and at the same time I am thoroughly freaked out of the thought that there is probably nothing to look forward to after I shut my eyes for good. That’s the thought that gets me. That’s the fear. The Nothing. (Seriously, The Neverending Story ruined me when I was a kid). 13 years and thousands of dollars on therapy and meds later, I’m happy to say that the crippling anxiety is no longer an issue, but The Nothing lingers. It’s always there looming as a reminder that I’ve only got this one chance to be a human.

To say that I have used that as inspiration to successfully turn my life around and become the best musician I can be would be a lie. By nature, I am a lazy person and I fight with that every day. The couch, the good beer, the list of movies I want to see, the shameful addiction to fantasy football; these all pop up as huge obstacles. Dumb as it is it’s the sad truth, but opposing creative forces are rallying and the internal war for my remaining years has begun to rage. This album is going to be a symbolic battle won by creativity. I’ve never worked harder on anything in my life as I have this album and it’s given me a chance to clarify what I want my story on this planet to be.  My anxiety (when it occasionally pops up) continues to circle around The Nothing but is now coupled with a voice that says, “Go pick up your guitar.” I’m not a fan of the fact that I’m going to die one day, but I’m done letting that prevent me from doing everything I can while I’m here. Am I the best songwriter in the world? Not by a long shot. Am I the best guitar player in the world? Shit no, but I am proud of where I am as a musician and I think this album is a pretty good representation of the journey that Steph and I have put ourselves through since leaving New York, ditching the dream of being actors and setting our sights on music.

We Don’t Live There is a collection of songs that deal with ghosts. Each story is a last breath that asks the listener to be haunted by what could be and what could’ve been, how it was and how it never was. In exactly one month we are going to lock ourselves in a studio for four days and bring this sunnuva bitch to life. I would love for it to whisper like my ghost long after I’ve succumbed to The Nothing.

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Future Sounds

From Steph:

Last weekend, I visited an ancient and important chapter in my life.  Tucked back in the woods in rural Illinois, there is a little summer stock theatre called Timber Lake Playhouse.  In 2001, right before the whole world changed on September 11th, I met my two best friends there.  One of the many shows we performed was Grease.  Laura played Jan.  Jim played Eugene.  I played Patty.  We’re each still sort of negotiating the surreal architecture of those characters.    2001 was a chapter of running away, breaking rules and experimenting with our identities. That summer, we each discovered a piece of ourselves that we still hold dear fifteen years later.

Animal spirit cards are tokens that I love a lot.  As a non-religious person who is prone to anxiety and depression, it gives me comfort to be guided by these little heralds.   Lately, the energy in Boulder has been shifting dramatically.  I started a new position at my job, one that actually allows me to stay off my computer most evenings and weekends.  I’m practicing the accordion and piano every single day.   We’re delving deeper into the orchestrations of the album.  And, most profoundly, Justin and I have started to look toward the next chapter of our lives.  We both feel like somehow this album is going to be a signal to us for how and where we go next.  Boulder is a truly gorgeous place and has provided a fertile environment for us to get our financial lives, artistic visions and relationship with each other sorted.  As we now trudge up the winding paths of creating this piece of art, it feels like we can almost see over the hill to the next valley.   There are things I want out of life that I know Boulder is not able to give me – a house with a yard where we could build a recording studio, more diversity, old architecture, plentiful ethnic food…  I think I’ve realized that I’m a city girl at heart and feel most at home in a more chaotic environment where I’m regularly bumping into different people and experiences.

Now, as we sit in Chris’ apartment and work through these pieces, I feel like I’m hearing sounds from my future.    We’re looking deep inside to capture the sounds of who we are now and, at the same time, reaching far into the future to the dream of who we’ll become.  The recording dates are set.  The studio and engineer are booked.   The musicians are almost all confirmed.  This creation we’re making together feels like an auspicious piece that may indicate our next right steps.  The working title is, “We Don’t Live There.”  With any luck, it will be the fondest token we take with us into the next chapter, whatever/wherever that may be.

Back to the animal spirits…  Justin read my cards the other night after a long day of work and a couple glasses of wine.  My question was “How can I best manage my depression and anxiety?” Here’s what the cards said:

Past – Seagull – In the past, my anxiety and depression were signposts to lead me towards healing from my childhood wounds and seeking help.  Therapy and yoga were the main tools of management.   A summer in the woods doing musical theatre with my future best friends was another way of healing.

Present – Spider – Presently, I’m handling my emotional ups and downs by pouring myself into creativity and music in a very disciplined way.    This is the purpose of my current chapter.   My practice room at home is very often visited by these little spinners.  They freak me out, but we never kill them.

Future – Panda – I’ll need to create a sacred space for myself in the future, where I can really do my work, be inspired and feel connected.  This will calm my anxiety and depression.  This is the next chapter that I’m yearning for.

Yoga, theatre and music all have taught me how to stay in the present.  Presently, I’m living in Boulder, in an apartment that is populated by many spiders.  I’ll be there until further notice, continuing to heal my woes with music and creativity, practicing the accordion and the piano, pouring my troubles into something I can take with me when the next chapter comes.

From Justin:

“Oh yeah,” says the lady on the opposite end of the phone line, “you guys are bringing in the choir, right?”  I blurt out, “Yup that’s us,” as if I work with large choirs all the time.  Then as I hang up the phone it hits me: we’re hoping to bring a full choir into the studio to sing on one of our tracks.  Shit is starting to feel real.

I wrote the song that we want the choir to sing just over a year ago.  We’ve played it live a few times but it’s never really found the right groove.  In my brain it sounds huge, needing a lot more than our single piano and guitar have been able to offer.  It started as a simple two-chord progression.  There was nothing that special about it at first except for the fact that I enjoyed strumming back and forth between those particular chords.  Thirty minutes later I had a solid progression, no melody and nothing really to write about.  This is normally where songs die for me.  There are at least a hundred songs on voice memos in my iTunes library that only made it this far.  Maybe one day I’ll get my shit together and save a few of them from purgatory.

This progression didn’t die.  For a few days, I kept returning to it every time I would pick up my guitar.  Sometimes I’ll try to force a progression to live, stubbornly coming back to it time and time again for fear that if I don’t finish it I’ll never write anything else.  These songs usually die as well or become crappy songs about “relationships” and “feelings”.  Other times the progression will just fall out and look up to me from the page in a way that says, “Alright, that’s done.  Deal with it.”  This was one of those times.  Next thing I know, a tiny chorus melody sneaks in there.

Now comes the hard part: substance.  I suck at this.  I’ll get through four sets of lyrics and realize that all I’m doing is concentrating on rhyming couplets that sound like a fucking Coldplay lyric.  (Side note: I’m totally not a hater of Coldplay, I’ll leave that to Steph.) Are my lyrics perfect?  Hell no.  But I do want to try my best to avoid some kind of surface crap like, “Call it magic/call it true/I call it magic when I’m with you.”

I brought what I had to Steph.  To be honest, this was probably the first time I brought her something this early.  She gave it a listen, added another cool bit of melody and then said something to the effect of, “You should write this about your mom.”  I fought this at first because I am pretty bad at writing about personal stuff.  I always doubt the words I put to paper because they never seem honest enough.  Sometimes they get clouded in too much metaphor, other times they are just akin to an 8th grade love letter.  But then Steph sang my mother’s name, Joanne, to the tune of the melody and I was sold.  Just the way my mother’s name sounded when attached to that line was all I needed. “Deal with it.”  It took me about 15 minutes to get the rest of it out.

We’ve been wrestling with it ever since, trying to find the best way to really let it come alive.  Chris heard it once and put it into contention to be on the album.  After some back and forth, it has made the cut.  We’ve done a few inspiring and collaborative orchestration sessions on it and I can hear it growing to something pretty special.  We’ve got plans for a string quartet, a little accordion and… well… a choir.  In the 15 years that I have been writing songs, this may be the closest I’ve been to hearing what the inside of my head sounds like on the outside.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t end up sounding like Coldplay. 😉

From Chris:

The last couple weeks have brought about a new way of working with The Fremonts that is proving to be really productive. Instead of meeting at Harmony Music House (where I teach piano lessons) for our production meetings, we’ve been meeting at my house where we can listen to demo takes of the songs, import them into Logic, and digitally re-arrange them as new ideas come along, all while drinking alcohol of course. Frankly I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t have the idea to start doing this months ago because it’s the exact same production process (minus the alcohol) that I had the opportunity of watching the artist Kimbra and her producer Mike Elizondo go through when I briefly stepped in as his intern a few years ago. The difference being that Mike and Kimbra had 12+ hours a day, every day, to work on music, probably $100,000 worth of instruments and audio equipment at their disposal, and many years of professional music making experience supporting them. However, despite our limited time together (a few hours every Wednesday night), we finished arranging a beautiful little demo for what will the most ambitious track of the album.. and of my career for that matter. A completely finished arrangement is a small but important goal that’s been accomplished.

I believe in what the comedian Tim Minchin calls a “passionate pursuit of short term goals” as a means to achieving greatness. Thanks to Stephanie (the most organized client of all time) creating a detailed timeline of tasks that need to be finished, and what dates they should be finished by, I think we’re well on our way to making the album that we want to make.

Seeking the Muse

From Steph:

After our show at The Laughing Goat in June, I felt a flurry of mixed emotions.  Close friends were saying that it was the best we’ve ever sounded and that they could really hear how hard we’ve been working.  My voice was struggling though, and I felt nervous the whole show.  I never settled into the spirit of the performance.

The first reason is very simple… allergies.   Colorado allergies have been kicking my butt since we moved here.  My voice has been iffy during every single Colorado show, and I didn’t really realize how bad it was until we went back to the East Coast and it felt so wonderful to sing.  I can’t relax in performance because I’m constantly worried that my voice is going to give out, so I’m seeing an allergist tomorrow in the hopes of getting shots and stopping some of these vocal woes.

My friend, Ayleen, is super knowledgeable about music performance, as she used to book acts for clubs in Miami.  When I told her about my post-show feelings, she said, “You’re ready to be a great performer. You just need to see more live shows and connect with the muse!”  Fantastic advice,  Ayleen.  It’s an echo of Burnsie’s advice to “get to know the neighborhood.”

Justin and I are now on a quest to see approximately one live show a week.  This is a great challenge for folks who work full time jobs and often dread leaving the house after a long day.  We started last weekend at Ophelia’s in Denver with a band from Austin called The Deer.  Their writing and depth of sound was incredibly beautiful.  The harmonies were especially delicious and I was in awe of the ease with which the singer led us through different sound landscapes. We left inspired and full of ideas, especially after a brief chat with the bass player and manager for the band, who told us about the DIY nature of their whole endeavor.  The recording, booking, artwork, t-shirts, and more are all created hands-on by the band.

I love to project manage our lives and our, erm, projects.  So here’s the upcoming schedule of what will be filling our eyes and ears (and please let us know if you have other suggestions,  especially for local musicians!):

Saturday, July 9th – Many Mountains at The Waterloo in Louisville

Friday, July 15th – Foxfeather at The Gold Hill Inn in Boulder

Friday, July 22nd – CW Stoneking at the Larimer Lounge in Denver

Saturday, July 30th – Whiskey Autumn at Cannon Mine Coffee in Lafayette

Saturday, August 13th – SHEL and others at Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest in Fort Collins

Friday, August 19th – Andrew Bird, Lucinda Williams and others at the Folks Festival in Lyons

Sunday, August 21st – Nathaniel Rateliff and Shovels & Rope at Red Rocks

From Justin:

Imagine yourself one in a crowd of thousands, a sea of humanity held together by the same thread.  There is a pulse, an earthquake, a wall of voices in unison that accelerates and calms, keeping time to a tempo that originates from players you crane your neck to see.  You are in a car, purposely stalled in a parking lot.  A lone, ghostly tenor creeps around you urging you to weep, breath and die all at once.  The only sign of life is the flutter of fall leaves about to drop.  Brown and crisp as they float to the ground, an echo of a melody reminds you that it’s time to take a breath again.

At times I can fully immerse.  At times I can hear and receive, but only in passing.  Occasionally I’ll get slapped in the face by a tune that will not be ignored and my skin bristles.  Sometimes the silence between the tones pulls me out of my head and into the song.  Anticipation and a pay off in the form of a flourish.

I’d like to believe this is common in all of us.  This mystification by music.  I’d like to hope.  But I can only speak for myself and in the grand scheme of things I know nothing.  I can only assume based on my own experience.  You might hear sweet while I’m hearing sour.  But that’s exciting isn’t it?  Sitting alone amongst billions of combinations, waiting for just one to strike.  It’s daunting.  Up to this point in my life I have been too lazy to run towards the vast landscape of variety, remaining unchanged and fixed to a cinder block of “personal taste” by a loose fitting length of twine.

So sing me a song and I’ll come out to listen.  The well may be close to empty, but I am encouraged to fill it.  Now we can look at the world around us and allow it to change and effect us.

Long story short… it’s time to go listen to some folks play.

 

 

Late Night Music Lessons

From Chris:

Fear, Jealousy, and Envy.

I once heard an interview with John Lennon, at a time when he wasn’t recording music, where he said that he couldn’t listen to the radio anymore. He said that he either hated what he heard because it was bad and he could do it better, or that he hated what he heard because it was great and he wished that he was still doing it. That statement resonated with me a lot. Maybe it resonates with a lot of people who make music part of their identity. I work at a bar that has a venue with live music 4 nights a week. I can honestly say that I’m kind of relieved when the band is terrible, because when the band is really good, they have a great crowd, and they’re up their having the time of their lives, I’m jealous. Here’s how I fight it. I remember all the amazing times I’ve had in the past with music, and I remember the amazing time I’m having right now producing The Fremonts. I know that it’s not easy (or even possible) to rationalize yourself out of habitual negative thoughts and emotions that challenge your core identity, but I also know that I can chip away at those habits by thinking and expressing gratitude for what I have had, what I do have, and what the future holds. The harder my struggle is, the better the story will be when I come out on top, so I’m going to enjoy the process.

From Justin:

A Happening

We drive through the most intense rainstorm that I have ever seen in a small go-kart of a rental car that could practically drown in the menacing puddles that encroach upon the beautifully haunted hills of The Berkshires. The rain stops and the clouds clear just as we pull up to a small building at the top of a mountain. We’ve arrived at The Dreamaway Lodge, a beautiful restaurant & music venue that was once rumored to be a brothel and speakeasy during the great depression. After a tasty dinner with good friends and a lovely set of originals and sing-alongs from The Crazy Neighbors (both the band’s name and their social & physical proximity to the venue), we take the stage for our set.

In a room full of dark wood, tuffets and an eager audience, we play our first of two shows on the east coast. It’s been a while since our few friends in the audience have heard us and the rest of these folks have no idea who we are. It’s a damn great time. Steph is killing it at an upright piano that has some history in it, I’m spinning around on a wooden footstool and we are letting go into these songs that we have been fine tuning now for months.

After the show, we close out the bar with two dear old friends of Steph’s (who also happen to make up 2/3 of the The Crazy Neighbors).  While a bald & bearded local pounds away at the piano like a mad-man born in a music shop we talk about music, Shakespeare, accidentally eating frogs and driving expensive cars that we don’t own.  The night closes out with us making a promise to play the same show in a year.  I am really hoping that it happens again, ’cause that’s the stuff.

A Meltdown

We now find ourselves on the lower east side of NYC about to play a show at The Rockwood Music Hall.  I’ve been wanting to play here since I saw Steph play cello and then accidentally asked Nora Jones if “[she] had any music online that I could check out.”  (In my defense, she had just finished playing a set with a three piece band called Puss N Boots and I had no idea it was her).  I digress.  So we’re about to play for a crowd of friends who haven’t heard us play in a year and half or so.  I’m trying to stay relaxed & play a good show because we’ve been working our asses off and I want to show some improvement to these good folks.

First song starts and I can’t hear anything.  Second song comes around and I realize that I can’t make eye contact with Steph because of the size the stage.  Third song and I completely botch a new section that I’ve been working on.  It is at this point that my doors close.  Anybody who has worked with me creatively knows what this looks like.  I clam up.  Steph takes the lead and engages the crowd while I just try to get through it all.  Face down, no eye contact, insides crumpling together like wadded tin foil.  An abyss.  Fast forward to the end of the set and it turns out we played a great show.  The sound was good and our harmonies were on point.  My doors may have shut, but it seems as if the hours of drilling have built up my autopilot skills.  Great thing to know, but it brings up a new challenge: how do I avoid the meltdown?

A Promise

In my brain there is a cliff.  If I’m standing on the cliff looking around and the sky is blue, the mountain ranges are purple and the grain is all amber ‘n shit.  It’s great.  Step off the cliff and an abyss lies waiting  to swallow me up as the doors close.

Steph always tells me that my spacial awareness is terrible because I never look behind me before I step take a step back.

Rather than step back and fall off the cliff when shit gets real, I’m going to start looking behind me for some perspective.  It’s much better to take things in and have a little faith. Stay up on the cliff.  Don’t disappear.

From Steph:

I think his name is Bernsie. He has a big thick beard and is humming loudly to himself as he slams his fingers onto the piano keys. He takes a big gulp of beer and says, “Let’s play something.” I decline because, truly, there is no way I could even begin to keep up with this fella. But I wish I could so bad I wish I could. I feel as frustrated as I felt at three years old, looking at the piano music in the church basement and not knowing which dot meant which piano key. He launches into a new tune and some of it sounds really familiar. I ask, “That’s Dr. John, right?” With a laugh, he says, “No, that’s everybody’s.”

It’s 2am and we’re on top of a mountain in Massachusetts, sitting around a table with some faces that I have known for a very long while; Paula, who played a wonderful Beatrice in my very first professional Shakespeare production, and her husband Kenny.  Paula was my very first big sister in theatre. Before each show, we put on makeup next to each other and she told old theatre stories into the mirror. We sang around fires and stayed up late.  She encouraged me, even when I was so green at speaking Shakespeare on stage. Sitting next to her in this old haunt feels known and inevitable.

Bernsie says, “It’ll take you some time, but you’ll get it.” He plays me a few variations of scales and tells me to practice those every day. “I’ve been playing for fifty years,” he says “and I just love it.” He finally convinces me to play something for him, so I launch into the Texas Boogie, in the key of C, of course. He nods his head and hums along and says, “There ya go!” I know he is just being nice, but I feel encouraged.

Since I gave up Shakespeare as a job, I’ve been artistically directionless. I’ve been crabby because all of this creative energy hasn’t found a new place to live. But something about sitting up there on the mountain eased my anxiety and made me trust this musical path a whole lot more. It was as if I’d been lost in the woods for a long time and suddenly came upon an arrow painted on a tree. There’s the trail!  Go that way!

So, now we’re back in Boulder, honing in on actually recording this album. We have a studio all set. Not in Wolf’s barn as I dreamed, but in a more practical, probably safer, definitely more productive locale in Boulder. We’ve almost come to a consensus about which songs to record. One of the top contenders is a piece I just wrote last week.  Another contender, I wrote right around the time I met Paula.  We’re mixing up the old and the new. Looking back to go forward. It feels just about right.

Currently on heavy rotation: Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Courtney Barnett -Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, Angel Olsen- Half Way Home, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Self Titled.  Badger also can’t get over the new Radiohead.

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Even Badger is (sort of) Happy

FROM STEPH:

We decided that Chris’ voice needs to be a part of this blog because of something I wrote about how he thinks we need singing lessons.

Chris- “I didn’t mean it like that!”

Steph-  “I was just trying to be funny!”

Justin (to me)- “I don’t want your piece of shit sense of humor to offend Chris to the point that he won’t want to work with us anymore!”

Good point, Badger.  Please welcome Chris to the blog.

FROM CHRIS:

Hi, my name is Christopher Tucker and I’m producing The Fremonts upcoming album. I’m excited to be able to share my experience through this blog in the coming months. When I first met Stephanie as my piano student I remember being happy that I had a student who was open, honest, determined, and talented. The opportunity to help develop her and Justin as musicians has been even more of an amazing experience.

Basically, my job is to listen to their songs in their current form, give suggestions on the arrangement, show them how to fill the gaps and weak spots, and watch them bring ideas to life. So far, they’re absolutely nailing it. For example, I made a simple suggestion about a song; “to break up the constant rhythm, maybe we should add in a little stride B section in the middle.” A week later they play the song for me again,  and out of nowhere comes an awesome little stride B section with a tasteful conversation between piano and guitar. When I first heard it I literally almost cried. I had a vague idea in my head about how to make the song better, and they ran with it and far surpassed my expectations. This experience has happened many times over the last few months as I am continuously surprised by the talent and determination of The Fremonts.

There are so many factors to juggle when producing an album. Budget, artist confidence, my confidence, vocals, arrangements, studios, extra musicians, on and on. But the learning experience I’ve had, working with two extremely talented and positive people, has given me all the confidence in the world that the end result is going to be something that we’re all proud of.

FROM STEPH:

Justin, Chris and I are sitting in the sun on a break from rehearsal, laughing about best/worst band names, having a little lunch… yes, this is still the same recording process that we have been agonizing over for the last couple months.   Things just got really fun all of a sudden.

Justin and I really hit the accidental jackpot by landing in the rich music scene of Colorado and meeting Chris.   He’s an awesomely creative and intuitive producer – kicking our asses and soothing our egos and pushing the music forward and keeping it chill.  What more could two fledgling musicians with fragile self-esteem hope for?

Tracks and ideas are flowing back and forth over email.  New instrumentations are filling the tunes with life and possibility.  It’s really happy-making.  Somehow my blog posts are short when I’m happy.  I should probably talk to my therapist about that.

FROM JUSTIN:

I was in a few cover bands back in high school.  We’d do the county fair circuit in the Bay Area and mostly play sets of alt-rock and ska-punk.  To put it mildly: a sixteen year old me could sing the shit out of Matchbox Twenty and Reel Big Fish.  I remember one day after a show, the guy who put together the bands came up to me and said, “Your voice is never going to last if you keep singing like that.”  I sang loud, I sang hard and I was probably horribly out of tune; but I didn’t care because I was too busy bouncing around the stage like a spider monkey with a rabid cocaine habit.  He suggested taking vocal lessons and doing some solid warm-ups before every show.  Of course I didn’t listen.

So here I am two decades older and I have only taken about three months of singing lessons from a brilliant dude who used to play with our band back in NYC.* My vocal chords are starting show some cracks from years of abuse, not warming up and a faux smoking habit I forced myself to have in my mid-late twenties because it felt like the thing a downtown theater kid should do.  My voice gets tired quickly and it has acquired a bit of a rasp.  Ever since we started recording our first EP back in November of ’15, Steph and I have put the vocals at the forefront of our sound.  In doing so,  our voices are now under a microscope (hence why I can’t stop writing about my vocal issues in this blog). But today, I’m gonna take a different stance.  One with a hint of cautious optimism.

The other day we were running one of our new tunes, Gravity.  It’s a beautiful song that Steph wrote for me to sing that was inspired by a great conversation we had about our relationship while on our first mushroom trip.  It’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever been asked to sing.  After the run Steph looked at me and said, “Ok great, but you aren’t going to sing it like that when we perform it are you?”  I got butt-hurt as all get out and started making excuses and defending myself, “Well, I’ve been singing it like that because I’m trying to watch my tuning, ” and, “I’m working really hard at it!” <<INSERT POUTY FACE AND CROSSED ARMS HERE>>  When Steph fired back with, “Are you working hard at it?  Are you practicing it every day?  Cause, great, if you are trying to sing in tune; but you have to really SING that song.  You can’t be timid with it.”  Initially my ego took the reins and I felt shitty and attacked.

The next day as I was putting my big-boy pants on and reflecting on the exchange I realized two things: 1) I HADN’T been working on it everyday.  I wasn’t working hard enough.  2) Steph was right.  I need to sing the shit out of that song otherwise it will fall flat.

To tie it all together with a nice neat bow, I’ll say this:  I probably should have listened to Joe, the guy who ran the cover bands way back when.  But I didn’t and that’s cool.  What’s done is done.  The challenge is this, how to let go and sing with some balls to give it feeling and also maintain the microscopic work that needs to be done to achieve the accuracy of the tune.  Steph and I are looking to head back into singing lessons.  Which is both exciting and a little freaky to me.  BUT  I’m looking forward to putting in the hard work, which is a change that leans toward the positive for my lazy ass.  Hope abounds.

*Seriously Darren Dunstan is the man.  I’ve said this to him before, but I completely owe my brief professional acting career to him.

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Breathe (or Singing is Easy!)

(from Steph)

“See, a lot of cats don’t work on their rhythm enough, and if you don’t have rhythm, you might as well take up needlepoint or something. I can’t stress it enough. The next thing is pitch. That’s universal. You’re either in tune or you ain’t. When you get these things down, then you can learn how to solo.” Prince, Guitar Player 2004.

Prince

We ain’t in tune.

“Have you ever taken singing lessons?” asked Chris Tucker, our producer, last Saturday during our work session.

My heart hit the floor.   I took years and years of singing lessons, mostly with musical theatre style teachers who were helping me get a “belt” sound for auditions.   I got scars, man.   I sang in so many shows that I got polyps on my cords and endured months of vocal rest.   This ain’t this cat’s first rodeo.

But no matter how many rodeos I’ve clocked, it’s clear that these pitch problems, while starting to improve, are not going anywhere fast.  Using microphones just amplifies the problem (ha?).   It’s hard for me to describe how much I want to sing super sweet, rich harmonies with Justin.  The desire lives way down deep in my gut.  It comes from singing with Shelby, my sister.  As kids, our voices were similar to the point that we could trick our parents on the phone.   If we sang notes a half step apart, the dog would start to freak and the cat would run outside.  Our powers of sonic pain were tangible.  Applied to hymns and musical theatre songs, our harmonies lived in the pocket.   She always sang lead and I always sang alto.    I never questioned the fact that we were in tune. We just were.  It’s a tall order, but I want that for The Fremonts.

Justin and I went to see our good friend, Mark Shue, play at the Summit Theatre with Guided By Voices on Saturday night.   In the car as a joke, I googled “How to sing in tune.” The interwebs said, “Relax.  Relax your jaw.  Relax your throat.  Breathe.”   I read these ideas to Justin.  “That’s dumb,” I said.   “I took class with Kristin Linklater (famous master vocal instructor),” Justin said. “Come on.”

The concert was awesome and Mark’s thrill to be playing with this band just glowed all over the place.  We went backstage to hang out after the show and couldn’t stop giggling.  Mark was so happy making this great music and traveling with this creative group of people.    The contact high was incredible.  Our music is totally different than theirs, but that’s the kind of joy we seek.

In the rehearsal room the next day, I said in my best mocking-a-professional vocalist voice, “Justin, relax. Relax your jaw.  Relax your throat. Breeeeeaaaaaathe.”  We sang the first song.  Both of us were breathing.  It was easy. “It’s physical,” said Justin.  “I can feel it when we’re in tune.  We haven’t been breathing.”  Laughter.  Followed by hope. Followed by realizing that we’re assholes.

(from Badger)

There is a room on the 15th floor of the tower at Riverside Church in the upper west side ofriversideChurch2 New York City. It is wind-shaken in the winter, sun-bleached in the spring and summer and perfect in the fall. Jersey to the west, ocean to the east and three floors down through a window in the nursery is a great balcony to go have a smoke and look out on the horizon. I spent 9 hours a week in this tower for about three years in the early zeroes with a randy Scottish woman who had a booming voice, an affinity for Famous Grouse and a way of looking at me that said, “I see you for what you are, even if you don’t yet know who that is.” She taught me how to breathe.

For a moment, sit. Turn off the TV. Close your laptop. Put down your book. Throw your phone to the floor. Drop your hands to your sides. Take a breath. But really, Take. A. Breath. I don’t do this enough. I don’t do it well. I don’t do it mindfully.

Often I will think on my time up in the tower and say, “Jesus, I paid money to do that? What a waste.” Then the spectre of that woman will show up, punch me in the stomach, leave me on the ground gasping for air, look down at me and say, “Breathe.”

We met with Chris again recently and spoke briefly about how frustrating it was to put in so much work on our tuning only to listen to a recording of the show afterwards to find that we were still not singing in tune as often as we wanted to. In the search for our sound, Steph and I continue to agree that we are nothing without the harmonies and they have to be tight. There is no wiggle room. Chris suggested we rehearse a bit more with mics so that we can get used to the sound of our voices coming through amplification. So we do, we record it and we have a listen.

Woof.

The tuning is not there. If you’ve been reading up on our journey this far, you’ll know that the tuning issues fall mostly on my head. I’ll spare you the details, but know this: it’s a pretty serious problem. Sure, we can go into the studio and autotune the crap out of my voice but neither of us want that. So Steph goes to the great and powerful Google with a simple phrase: Tips for singing in tune. Right there at the top of every list, every blog, every think-piece is one word, “breathe.”

A day later, we’re back in our practice/guest room (our neighbors probably love us) and we’re about to record a run of our set. I keep thinking, “Of course I know how to breathe. I learned how to breathe.” So, for this run of the set, I try paying attention to it. I start running through all the stuff that the Scottish woman drove into my skull, the stream of thoughts is never ending, but it’s all focused on my breath. I listen to some of the recording of that run the next day and sure enough, there is something in it. It’s not perfect. It’s dusty. It’s got a lot of waking up to do. But there is something there.

There is rarely mastery. There is only work. There is never a moment to sit back and say, “I have arrived.” But there is the journey. Because once you master something, you’ve got to work to keep it. Once you learn something, you’ve got to keep it alive.

A kick to my chest, I fall back to the hard ground and feel my throat close up. The shadow of a woman stands over me. A smirk sneaks onto my asphyxiated lips as I hear the words bursting forth from the shadow, “Breathe”.

 

 

Hope

INSPIRATION ON FUMES (from Badger)

I tend to believe (perhaps foolishly) that if I expose myself to more experiential stimuli then I may become artistically inspired. I’ve always got a book that I am reading and a list of albums that need listening to that is about a mile long. I try my best to stay plugged into what’s happening in the world at large. Steph and I travel when we can. There is an endless list of TV shows and movies that I try to watch. (Ok ok ok, considering that last item to be “stimuli” for my creative self is a crock-of-shit. I just like watching TV to turn my brain off). But really, I try my best to fill my days with as much input as I possibly can in the hopes that it may at some point inform my output. But then I go to pick up my guitar…. Blank.

These moments are beyond frustrating.

What’s next? I play through the scales. I play through the drills. I try to get faster, more proficient. Learn a new lick, try a new chord voicing. Continue to work towards that magical 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell’s book ingrained into my skull. Go to sleep, wake up, eat breakfast, work, cook dinner, rehearse, come back to the guitar…. Blank.

Blank. Blank. Blank. Blank. Blank. Like the static that blares before a radar cuts out to oblivion the word escapes from my lips, “fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffuck.”

Reset.

I met a buddy of mine for a few beers last week. He’s a writer who has been taking some time away from day jobs in order to focus on his creative work.  He said that while it has been wonderful and productive the ever present necessity of the 9-to-5 sustenance constantly looms just outside of his peripheral vision. We spoke briefly about what it means to exist in a reality that requires that one find inspiration on fumes. That stuck with me.

Inspiration on fumes. That’s what I’m working with. So the challenge now is how to fill my tank in a way that doesn’t feel like hoarding. Gluttony caused by desperation and fear.

Post drinks with friend I grabbed a glass of hot tea, put on my headphones, spun David Bowie’s latest on the record player and sunk into our comfy couch. I tried my best not to stop my descent by digging my nails into a the quickly passing concrete walls; hoping instead that wherever I landed might be a little inspiring.

“In the villa or Orman/Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah/In the center of it all, in the center of it all”

horse ear cave candle

 

From Steph

Much like the Spring weather patterns here in Colorado, our recording process was off to a blooming start with promises of recording studios in barns and mysterious mountain people and then, all of a sudden, some clouds rolled in and halted everything.     Justin and I had an extremely hectic last few weeks balancing mad changes at work, a move, a family visit, a show, a broken car, a tub that is cracking away from the wall, our internet going down and, currently, an April blizzard.  Chris, our producer, lives up in the mountains, so there was no way for him to get down to Bolder in this weather and now we’re going on a month since we’ve all been together in the same room.    Serious snow on the blossoms.

Justin and I have rehearsed a ton to keep the dust off our material and tighten up those vocal harmonies.   Since our session with Chris was cancelled this weekend, we took the time to watch and take notes on a video of a show we played last weekend.  Woof.  The work was in there and the music was coming through, but it was so horribly humbling to listen to ourselves sing on camera.  The tunings were STILL going in and out.  Even after all of that rehearsal, we still have so much more work to do to hone our sound.

I need to believe that we’re going to create something beautiful this summer and that the mountains are going conspire with us to sing life into this album.   Grasping on to the hope,  I tell myself, “You are not your day job, Steph.  ‘You are not your f**king khakis.’ Art is still inside you, ready to spring.  Snow will melt. Blossoms will burst.”

12983213_10154217958402125_7909577775814461048_oA chilly little tree outside our apartment in Louisville.

 

 

Time and Money (The Revelators)

From Steph:

Time and money have been on my mind.

It’s been almost exactly six years since I stepped into my first corporate job at an advertising agency in NYC.  Before that time, I worked mostly as a freelance actor and educator, averaging an income of about $20,000 a year. I lived like a gypsy and performed in a lot of shows all over the US and Europe.  Other actors said, “You can’t grow an acting career doing regional theatre and staying out on the road!”  So after about a decade,  I decided it was time to stay in the city, work with my manager, audition as much as possible, and make new work that influential people would see.  I put out my cigarette and put on my big girl panties.  The elevator led to a cubicle in a corner of a big grey building.

After all, I had to have a job.  No one was paying for my apartment, unlike many of my friends who had parents who supplied their rents or grandparents who passed down their old places in the city.  You know the old saying about New York, “If you can make it there, you probably have a trust fund.”  Now that I’ve been out of NYC for a couple years, I’ve realized that it’s not common to come from that kind of money.  My social circle just happened to include an incredibly disproportionate amount of trust fund kids. It was confusing, especially when they’d talk about how exhausted they were from the circus contortion class that morning or how emotionally drained they were from seeing a beautiful new piece at BAM the night before.   I was wiped out from working a 10 hour day at the office before going to 3 hours of rehearsal and taking an hour long train ride home at the end of the night.  And still,  I was just barely able to make my rent.

Hand in hand, Justin and I refused to let our art lives die underneath our day jobs. Neither of us wanted to be actors who didn’t act, writers who didn’t write or musicians who didn’t make music.  We became hyper efficient and produced original scripts, theatrical productions, music and aerial pieces all while working full time jobs in the city.  The math of this kind of life is pretty insane.  In one week, it would break down to about this:  work 45 (ha!) hours, commute 15 hours, sleep 50 hours, work out 7 hours, rehearse 20 hours, eat and prep food 10 hours, shower and dress about 7 hours – which leaves a very small window for socializing or spirituality or running errands or seeing plays or taking classes or doing ANYTHING else.

Now here I am in Colorado, six years deep in the cubicle.  I’m working the most intense day job that I’ve ever had, still corporate, often clocking 12 hour days and extra on the weekends.  Justin and I are rehearsing the most we ever have on our instruments.  Even on work days, we can squeeze in up to two hours (sounds small, feels huge). Acting is totally out of the picture at this point and aerial is just barely hanging on.   I’ve had to really prioritize these art projects in order to make anything grow.

Is it delusional to still think I’m an artist?  Am really I growing anything or is it time to call it a hobby?  Such a tiny island of my time is dedicated to art and the sea of my job is always threatening its boundary.  My art time is incredibly sparse compared to the amount of my heart that is dedicated to it.  Also, I live in a white washed suburbia.  I eat expensive organic food.  I can’t hide behind the thin veil of being poor and living in the city and smoking cigarettes and doing downtown theatre to make me feel alive and creative.

It’s been three weeks since we worked with our producer or took a real step toward making the album.  Our time has been eaten by late night/early morning work emails and family visits and moving houses. When I consider the possibilities of recording an album up in the mountains in a barn without cell service every weekend this summer, I am thrilled and terrified.  My old gypsy heart is out of her mind happy and my dedicated worker bee is awfully worried about missing important emails.

Somewhere I heard that all of the cells in a person’s body completely change every seven years. If that’s true, then I have one more year until my mutation from gypsy artist to corporate executive assistant will be complete.  As I mentioned, time and money have been on my mind.

 

From Badger:

I tend to shy away from calling myself an artist.  I don’t really know why, but I feel weird attaching that label to what I have done as a musician, actor and performer. One thing I can say with confidence is that I have always been something else in addition to being a musician or an actor or a performer. I’ve been a bartender, an administrative assistant, a terrible finance headhunter and a karaoke host (or “KJ” for those of you interested in the finer points of karaoke terminology).  Perhaps this is why I never felt quite comfortable calling myself an artist. I always felt like I was moonlighting. I realize this is completely back-asswards as I never once in my youth said, “When I grow up, I want to schedule meetings about meetings for people who sell cars,” or, “I can’t wait until I can fulfill my dream of serving Jager-bombs to over-privileged Upper East Side undergrads.” But if I have learned anything in my 13 years of creating things, it is that the majority of creators have to get scrappy to make it work.

Nobody forced me to pick up a guitar and play it. Nobody told me that I should get two degrees in acting (something I still question the logic of from time to time). Live at Waltz AstoriaNobody pushed me down the road that lead to creating a band with my wife. To be honest, I should feel damn lucky to be in the position I am: a roof, a bed, food enough to eat, a healthy family, a wonderful wife and the ability to create. The rub is to not get greedy. The time to create is worth so much more than excessive money in the bank. I work so that I can create. Do I wish that wasn’t the case? Every damn day. But perhaps it is the day job (and the time and energy it consumes) that forces me to be more creatively active. Sure, I don’t wake up in the morning and spend every second of the day writing music, practicing scales or running our set; but I try to do well with the time I have. (Very big side note: if it weren’t for Steph, I wouldn’t be half as productive as I am now).

So here is the challenge with this current recording process: don’t stop. If the day job punches me in the stomach and all I want to do when I get home is down a few pints and go to bed, fine; but when the next day comes, pick up that guitar. Claim it. I’m not going to get any further shying away from calling myself an artist.

Here’s to moonlighting.

-Badger

PS. Our intonation is still getting better.

PPS: If you live in the Boulder area, come and see us play at The No Name Bar this Saturday (April 9th) at 10pm. It’ll be fun fun fun.