Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Interview with Andrew Osenga

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:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Jars of Clay - NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Sessions [EP] + "Road to Nowhere" Video

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.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

NoiseTrade EastSide Manor Sessions: Caitlin Rose

For our inaugural NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Sessions, we captured the smoky, soulful sounds of Caitlin Rose for an exclusive live performance EP that you can download HERE. Backed by a top-notch band of players she had hand-picked solely for this session, Caitlin re-imagines songs from her latest album, The Stand-In, dressed in a lounge-tinged, vintage country vibe. 

In addition to this exclusive EP, be sure to also view the accompanying short film for an inside view of the proceedings during this relaxed and unassuming session from Caitlin.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mason Jar Music - Decoration Day, Volume 2 (Album Review)

When serendipity’s a session musician, you’ll find there’s magic in the music. On Memorial Day weekend last year, Brooklyn’s Mason Jar Music had a recording session get cancelled at the last minute. Instead of just locking up and heading home, the called a few friends over and had their own impromptu recording session that paid tribute to some of their favorite American music. Covering Billie Holiday, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Cheap Trick and more in their soulful, indie-folk leanings, they popped out an amazing 6-track EP in just a weekend. Using the original name for Memorial Day, they dubbed the EP Decoration Day, Volume 1 and you can pick it up here at NoiseTrade.

Deciding to make somewhat of a tradition out of it, they reconvened exactly one year later to record the equally tasty Decoration Day, Volume 2. Over Memorial Day weekend of this year, they pulled together another rag-tag collection of musical friends – including a four-piece horn section that includes members of The Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, EMEFE, and The Westerlies – and this time paid homage to the gorgeously soulful, funky side of the 1960s.

More than just a covers project, these songs are exactly what you’d want them to be - impassioned, lively, authentic and free of pretense. They stomp and sway their way through songs by The Beatles, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Sly and The Family Stone and Bill Withers. They also tackle one of the most beautiful unofficial anthems of the Civil Rights Movement, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” made famous by a whole host of legendary artists. With two of these fun and poignant EPs under their belts, I sincerely hope this becomes a regular ritual. To help that happen, consider supporting Mason Jar Music by tipping generously and checking out their website for other great artistic endeavors that might interest your eyes and ears.