(Here's my recent interview with Escondido for CMT Edge.)
If you’ve ever wondered what it might sound like to spend a starlit evening under the Southwestern desert sky, Escondido’s debut album The Ghost of Escondido will transport you there. Filled with airy vocals, stirring melodies, dusty instrumentation, spacious moments and just enough trumpet to feel like a Sergio Leone saga, The Ghost of Escondido has a beautiful cinematic quality to it that lets you see the music just as vividly as you can hear it.
Escondido is a brand new duo from Nashville featuring Jessica Maros and Tyler James. While they were both pursuing solo careers, their fortuitous first meeting at a friend’s recording session ignited these kindred musical spirits to try something together. After many songwriting sessions over shared inspirations and bottles of wine, the duo had an album’s worth of new songs. They contacted a few talented friends and The Ghost of Escondido was captured in an astounding one-day recording session.
CMT Edge: The Ghost of Escondido was recorded in just one day. Was that an intentional decision, or did things just come together that quickly?
James: We wanted to track it quick because a lot my favorite records have that spur-of-the-moment feel. They capture that initial instinct. We spent a couple of months mapping out all the songs and sounds so that there was no confusion beforehand. Lots of preparation mixed with killer musicians day-of was a good combination. I’m obsessive when it comes to sonic references and arrangements, and I didn’t want to give myself the chance to ruin a good moment.
Maros: We put a lot of thought into the sound and arrangements. We ran the songs with the band the day before the session, and they knocked it out of the park the next day.
There’s a 1970s California country vibe throughout the entire album. What are some of the inspirations, both musical and otherwise, for this dusty sonic direction?
James: I’ve always been into spaghetti Westerns and loved how the soundtracks shaped the movie. Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino are great, as well as lots of Ennio Morricone scores. I wanted to put that vibe into a three-minute pop song — kind of a surf twang, washed-out thing with roots music influence. Tom Pettywas a big one, as well. His songs are short, hooky, and the drums are a big part of the mix. We pulled a lot from old country records, as well, both in the songwriting and in the use of long spring and plate reverbs.
Maros: Yeah, we wanted it to sound like an old Western with our life story added to it. I love the sounds of a washed-out, twangy guitar and far away echoes of tambourines. I’m also a fan of Mazzy Starr, Neko Case and Stevie Nicks.
The songwriting on The Ghost of Escondido seems to be tinted with heartbreak and love gone wrong, yet it doesn’t feel like a sad record. What’s your secret for striking that balance of cathartic lyrics and feel-good music?
Maros: Some of my darkest moments end up being the happiest ones. I don’t know if that even makes sense, but I try to have a positive outlook on life even when life is hitting me with a ton of bricks. I imagine good things. I never intentionally tried to make the music sound happy and feel good. It was a coping mechanism for me.
Tyler: Dark songs don’t have to be boring. Big melodies and beats sometimes take the point home. I love Bob Dylan because his music gets you tapping your foot and humming along before you realize he’s singing about some life-changing stuff. That’s what gives it a lasting impact.
How did the actual songwriting take shape — independently or collaboratively? Were they any songs written that didn’t make it on to the album?
Maros: The songwriting process started with me and my friend Leanne Ford. Leanne writes a lot of poetry, and I saw a lot of song titles in her poems. I took some phrases and titles and turned them into songs and made them relatable to my life. After writing the song, I would send it to Tyler, and he would cut them up, rearrange them. For example, with “Cold October,” Tyler wrote a new chorus and made my chorus the verse. The process came really fast, and I never had a feeling of being stuck.
There was a song called “Take Me South” that we recorded, and it never made the record. We tried everything to make it work, and it was actually a favorite for some. It was one of the last songs we wrote, and it started to head into a different direction. So that one, we wanted to save for the second record. It needed more production, and the live aspect didn’t give the song justice.
James: Jess would usually bring me something, and I would figure out what it needed. Some took a whole rewrite, and others I didn’t touch because they were already perfect to me. We would build the tracks in Logic, start with rhythm and then vibe it out from there. We still have a completely MIDI version of this record sitting around. It’s cool in its own way.
Being that you were both already pursuing music individually, what was the moment that sparked Escondido?
James: I was recording a song for our friend Leanne Ford, and Jess came over. I didn’t know her at all. … I recorded it really quick when folks had left the room. I had been looking to make an old Western kind of record, and I immediately knew Jessica had the stuff for it. I was burned out from touring solo at the time, and collaborating was refreshing.
Maros: The moment that sparked Escondido was all Tyler James. I originally wanted Tyler to produce my solo record. I had written “Rodeo Queen” before I met him, and he really liked the vibe and style of the song. We went in and made a rough demo of it, and the sound and quality was so organic that I knew we were onto something. He then mentioned about starting a band, and I was all in.
What has been the toughest part of the learning curve, moving from solo artist to band member?
Maros: The toughest part is listening to one’s vision and respecting one’s opinions. The good thing is, we’re both really passionate about what we do, and we’re learning how to communicate. Being solo artists, you do what you want when you want, and with being a band, we really have to make our decisions based on the band and not for ourselves. I think we’re a stronger team because of it, and we’re learning about our strengths and weaknesses.
James: Learning to listen and trust that I don’t always know best. I’ve called my own shots for so long that it’s been nice to let some stuff go.
Apart from the actual finished product, what’s your proudest moment in connection with The Ghost of Escondido?
Maros: My proudest moment of making this record was the pre-production. We spent the summer/fall hanging out in Tyler’s room creating ideas and just jamming. There were no deadlines, no pressures, just the joy of creating music for the fun of it. After each song was finished, we’d crack open a bottle of wine with our friends and blast it on the rooftop. It was a daily ritual and a celebration. Even though I was pouring my heart out, it was happening in a real genuine way. I felt like I was a part of something great.
James: I agree with Jess. The two months of building the record was some of the best musical times I’ve had. I’m also proud that we haven’t killed each other after a year and a-half. We’re like an old married couple.