Friday, August 30, 2013

Webbtrospective #6: Feedback - Derek Webb

(To celebrate the release of Derek Webb's new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You on September 3, I'm doing an album-by-album recollection I'm calling the Webbtrospective. Back In February, I sat down with Derek to discuss each one of his albums through his own reflections. Instead of interview questions, I simply gave him some prompts and just let him go. Every word of this article is his own. I'll be posting a new album each day until the release of his new album, so stay tuned.)

Feedback (2010)

Word Association: Hyper-abstract.

Thoughts: Feedback is more of a boutique record. I saw it as more of a stop-gap. Meaning, I wasn’t ready to make a new record yet, but I had this idea of something I wanted to do and wanted to try. I never saw it as a “major” release. It was almost like The House Show was or something like that.

Inspirations/Influences: Feedback is a super abstract piece of work. It’s instrumental, classically composed, electronic and it’s based on The Lord’s Prayer. I’m really glad I did it. I learned a tremendous amount doing it. 

Feedback was the first record that was kind of the product of a new creative process that I had come up with for myself. Everything before that was imagining the thing I wanted to make, imagining it almost finished and then trying to plot my way there. I would start with the end product and the record was the journey of me trying to get to the thing I had imagined back on day one. But you never quite get there. So the album winds up being the results of all the compromises you made on your way to trying to get somewhere. Somewhere a little after Stockholm Syndrome, I decided that I was going to stop coming up with the final product first. I decided to not even think about the final product and have no consideration for what I’m making while I’m making it. I decided to just make choices about what I could control… who I want to hang out with, what I want to learn, how I want to spend my time in these five or six months of my life spent making this record.

By the time we were done, I wasn’t sure if the thing we had made was anything anyone would want to listen to. I don’t know if it’s marketable or commercial on any level. I don’t know if it’ll be interesting to anybody other than the few of us who made it. Sandra helped me compose some of the songs and Josh mixed it, but maybe it was just for me. I was okay with that. If I was that engaged with it and enjoyed making it so much, then the thing I wind up making is kind of secondary. Because the product is the thing I’m going to spend the least amount of time with. I spent all of my time making it and the process was amazing. 

Production Notes: I knew I wanted to work with Josh again, making this my second record with him. I knew I wanted to collaborate with my wife because we always have a good time doing that. I knew I wanted to learn about instrumental music and how to be intentional about content in complete abstraction. I knew I wanted to make something that was purely electronic and work out my programming chops.

I knew I wanted to study The Lord’s Prayer. It’s a fundamental part of my spirituality that I didn’t know a lot about. There was a point at which Jesus gave us a model for how to pray. Prayer is mystical and it’s a part of the way I look at the world and it’s a part of my practice as a Christian person. So it seems important when Jesus says "here is the structure by which you can know how to talk to God." It’s a huge thing and I wanted to study that. So I spent six months before I ever recorded a note just studying The Lord’s Prayer. Then I started to study instrumental music and I started working on some new instruments.

By then, I was fully in my new studio space. I had pages and pages of notes on every single line of The Lord’s Prayer and I decided to write a song for every line. I wanted to represent the content of each line with only melodic and rhythmic elements. In the first two weeks of the recording process, I remember just coming out to the studio and staring at the speakers thinking today is “Thy will be done” and I’ve got three pages of notes on just this line and how do I make that come out of the speakers with no words. I just can’t tell you what a brain trip that whole thing was. It was some of the hardest creative work I have ever done in my life.

I commissioned my buddy Jeremy Cowart to take some abstract photos and my buddy Scott Erickson to do some paintings. I had them listen to the music, meditate on the particular lines and make a piece of art for me for each line. We included the pictures and the artwork in the packaging and I envisioned listeners spreading them all out in front of them while they listened. I feel like everything is so rigid and structured in a lot of churches. There are not a lot of abstract moments in our big, corporate, collective worship services where someone says “I’m going to give you a little bit of intention in terms of what to meditate on and then I’m just going to let the Spirit do whatever He’s going to do.” So for me it was like, all you’ve got to think about for the next four minutes is “Hallowed be Thy name.” Here’s an image, here’s an abstraction, but none of this is going to tell you what it means or what you’re supposed to think about it. We infused the music with a lot of symbolism, even down to the BPMs of those tracks and the rhythm of the melodies. You can actually sing the line to the primary melody of every one of those songs. There’s numerology in the intervals between the notes. I was looking for anything non-lyrical I could use to get it across. But you don’t need to know any of that while you’re just thinking about that one line and clearing your head. When do we ever get to do that in the church? We need those mystical, abstract moments where the Spirit can do what He wants do. I think we need more instrumental, unstructured music to provide those moments and that’s what I was trying to make. It was just a big, super abstract art project for me.

Mixtape: I think “Your Kingdom Come” is a good stand-alone. It gives you the feel of the album and the energy of it. 

A variety of cool pre-order packages for I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You (including immediate digital download) are available HERE.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Webbtrospective #5: Stockholm Syndrome - Derek Webb

(To celebrate the release of Derek Webb's new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You on September 3, I'm doing an album-by-album recollection I'm calling the Webbtrospective. Back In February, I sat down with Derek to discuss each one of his albums through his own reflections. Instead of interview questions, I simply gave him some prompts and just let him go. Every word of this article is his own. I'll be posting a new album each day until the release of his new album, so stay tuned.)

Stockholm Syndrome (2009)

Word Association: Wow, gosh…I don’t even know what to say about that one… Urban?

Thoughts: That was the moment where I was needing the music I was making to catch up with the music I was listening to. That was always a concern of mine. I remember being in bands in junior high and high school and playing songs thinking “I wouldn’t like this music, I wouldn’t listen to this music.” It’s fun to play, but I wouldn’t enjoy this. Caedmon’s was the first band that I was in where I thought “Okay, now I’m making music that I would also listen to.” By The Ringing Bell, I wasn’t listening to any conventional pop music or singer-songwriter music. Like, no acoustic music. I was really bored to tears with acoustic guitars and earnest boys and girls singing over them. I’d had enough of it. Mostly I was listening to hip-hop and electronic music. I didn’t know how to get there though. I knew how to produce and engineer, but I didn’t know how to program or do any of that stuff yet. That was where I knew I needed some change.

As far as the whole online scavenger hunt, none of that was anticipated and not of that was planned. I was just making the record and planning on turning it in and putting it out, just like I did any other of my records. I infamously don’t play any of my records for my label before it’s completed and they put them out as I turn them in. That’s been our deal. They don’t have a say in the artwork or the mixing or the sequence or the songs or the writing or the lyrics or the production, anything. This time around, we were having a marketing meeting and I had just come back from Texas with Josh and I was really jazzed about some of the stuff we were working on. I just couldn’t help myself. I asked if they wanted to hear some stuff I had with me… rough, mid-process, me singing the same verse twice kind of stuff. I was just so excited about the sound of it. One of the songs I played for them was “What Matters More.” It was finished enough to already have a lyric in it that had some language that was going to be tricky for the particular label I was with. Once I saw their reaction, I walked out thinking it was a mistake. I literally got a call from the record label president the next day asking for my manager and I to come back for another meeting. I should say that he’s a guy I've known for a lot of years and have a lot of respect for. He’s supported me through so much, through language and content. To his credit, he said, “As your friend, I understand what you’re saying and I like the song, but as the head of this record label… absolutely no way is that going to go on the album.” For his business reality, it would’ve been like feeding nails through the sink disposal trying to get that album through his distribution channels with that song on it. So it was a real impasse. I had never hit the ceiling before. With all the politics on Mockingbird and the language on my first record, I didn’t think that there even was a ceiling. But I found it and I hit it. It was a wake-up call for me.

In the car on the way back, my manager and I hatched the plan for what ended up being that scavenger hunt. We felt like the song was important and it needed to be on the record. We needed to do something that we felt that the label would forgive us for (laughs). But we needed to do it right then. Our plan was to leak the song. It would’ve been illegal for me to do it just entirely. We had to do it in such a way that bought us some time so that by the time the label figured out what we had done, we would’ve been able to prove to them that it was going to work to their advantage. We chopped it up into a hundred mini-slices, which is not enough to even detect what it was, and we put it onto little USB thumb drives and we chose 20 cities to send five jump drives to. We made a little secret website, leaked hints to where the USB drives were, and allowed people who found the jump drives to upload their snippets and try to assemble the song. That took months but it got an unbelievable amount of attention. On some days we got over 100,000 visits to that secret site. Also during all that, I made an announcement saying we were having trouble and that I personally was going to go offline. I couldn’t be seen as the one doing it. By the time the label figured out what we were doing, we were able to have a meeting with them and say “yeah, yeah, yeah, but check this out, look at the traffic we’re getting.” We were basically doing their marketing job for them. The pre-sales for that album ended up being more than what most of my albums sell in their lifetime. I took a crappy situation the label handed me and made lemonade out of it. I threw them under the bus during the process, but all of the money flows back to them anyway, so they were going to forgive me for it (laughs). We agreed to keep the song off of the retail release, but they gave me the exclusive right to distribute the record with the song on it directly from my website, which they had nothing to do with. I had the exclusive and the vast majority of the sales were directly from my website. It was a coup for me. It was a real conflict though. It wasn’t manufactured like some thought.        

The other random thing that happened was there was a guy from Columbia Records who was sharing office space with my label. He heard what was happening, loved the record, and knew that Columbia’s distribution channel would have no problem with the language. So they offered to put some dollars in and distribute it on vinyl with “What Matters More” included. It was two different labels under the same umbrella company, which was Sony at the time. So, “Mommy, Daddy, stop fighting.” The silver lining through all of it was that if “What Matters More” hadn’t been on that record, there would’ve been a half dozen other songs on that record that wouldn’t have come out. Because the label was so focused on that song, I was able to sneak a handful of others through the back door. I mean, “Freddie, Please”… there’s no way that song would’ve made it without the big siren of “What Matters More” getting all the attention.   

Inspirations/Influences: This one was a whole different animal. It completely changed the way I was writing songs and it was something I really responded to. Like, writing more to beats and rhythmic elements. The thing I was really reacting to… was that so much singer-songwriter music is not about the rhythm or the feel. It neglects the beat and the bass and the rhythm section and it doesn’t take you anywhere. I was really responding to tracks that you would put on and it would immediately transport you somewhere and open your imagination up and you hadn’t even heard a lyric or a melody yet. It was just the bass and the drums and the beats and you felt something. I wasn’t feeling anything, in that regard, when I was listening to the singer-songwriter music. So I kinda wanted out. I didn’t want to be associated with singer-songwriter music because I felt that they neglected the things that I was starting to really care about. I wanted to prioritize the beats, the bass, the rhythm section and the thing that made you feel something in a different way than the melodies and the lyrics made you feel. If you could make somebody feel something with all of it, well then you’ve really got something. That was my feeling at the time.

It was a great exercise and really fun not to have the burden of sitting down with an acoustic guitar and trying to come up with an original chord progression. That makes you approach songs in a certain way and it makes you presume a lot of things on the thing you’re doing. Where as, when I’m writing to a beat or synth pattern, it unlocks a whole new side of writing for me. It helps me not feel like the melody and the lyric have to bear the full weight of delivering the emotional value of the song. Suddenly, you can depend on other things and actually say less, have shorter melodies, be more abstract, and do things differently. You’re spreading out the responsibility in terms of what’s being communicated.       

Production Notes: My buddy Josh Moore, who I played in Caedmon’s with for a lot of years, was a really good friend but we hadn’t worked together since I had left the band. He was in Houston and had grown into a very accomplished hip-hop producer. He really has a great thing going. Every time I would hang out with him, he would show me these tracks he was building for major hip-hop artists. I was amazed by what he was doing. I told him, “Man, I want to make a record that I don’t know how to make, but I think you do.” I asked him to help me, shepherd me, and co-produce with me. So that record just started with him basically building me instrumental tracks, sending them to me and then I would write to them. Which was new for me. I didn’t write any of those songs on acoustic guitar. I was just writing to beats and nearly completed tracks. That was the first time I’d ever done that.  

For example, when he sent me the track for “Black Eye,” it was just that weird mellotron sample and that beat. He sent me just a quick verse snippet as an mp3 right before I got on a plane and I wrote the melody and the lyrics. Then I had an idea for the chorus that kind of changed keys a little bit and I recorded it and sent it back to him and he built that chorus under the melody section I had sent him. We were just continually sending tracks back and forth and constructing songs. That’s how that record happened. There are only a few that I did at my house. I would go to Houston a lot and he would come here a lot. We were both working out of our own studios. At the time, I was just building my current studio here. So most of what I made of Stockholm Syndrome was done in the upstairs of my house. The last few bits of it were done here after we finished building it.  

Josh was teaching me tricks, telling me what software to get and teaching me how to use it. I was learning how to program and how to use soft synths. So I was experimenting and constructing on my own as well. Like, “The State” into “The Proverbial Gun”... I recorded all of that myself. “American Flag Umbrella” and “Heaven” was all my doing. “The Spirit vs. The Kick Drum” was all my doing, except for live drums, which we added later. Maybe half the record I was programming my way through and then Josh would come in and add stuff. We did spend one solid week at his studio in Texas, where we brought together all of our bits, finished everything, and I sang it all. The only other musician who played on that record was MacKenzie Smith (from Midlake) who played some live drums. I’ve known him for a long time because I was best friends with his older brother growing up and we played in bands together. We finished that week and then Josh mixed it.  

Mixtape: Maybe “What Matters More”… it’s pretty representative of both the sound and the content. 

A variety of cool pre-order packages for I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You (including immediate digital download) are available HERE.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Webbtrospective #4: The Ringing Bell - Derek Webb

(To celebrate the release of Derek Webb's new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You on September 3, I'm doing an album-by-album recollection I'm calling the Webbtrospective. Back In February, I sat down with Derek to discuss each one of his albums through his own reflections. Instead of interview questions, I simply gave him some prompts and just let him go. Every word of this article is his own. I'll be posting a new album each day until the release of his new album, so stay tuned.)

The Ringing Bell (2007)

Word Association: Revolver, because that was the album we were basically trying to make.

Thoughts: This was my rock ‘n’ roll record about peace. So the little tiny things I had previously explored on songs like “My Enemies Are Men Like Me” and “Love Is Not Against The Law” with peace and war topics… it wasn’t the primary thing on Mockingbird and it became the primary thing on The Ringing Bell. There was much more to say about that, separate from just the general political stuff. I really wanted to talk specifically about peace and war. That record really focused on that.

Also, I pulled a few really old songs in on this record. Like, “Can’t Be Without You” was a song I had written for (Caedmon’s) Long Line of Leavers that we didn’t have time to record. I literally wrote it the same week I wrote “Mistake of My Life.” It was another song I wrote after I met Sandra, but before I moved to Nashville, when I was smitten with her but thinking I probably wasn’t going to get to be with her. I never really knew what to do with “Can’t Be With You” back then. So, not until I was ready to remake Revolver did I know how to produce it. But then once we had that sound going for The Ringing Bell, it worked perfectly.  

Inspirations/Influences: That was the moment I had moved from The Beatles experimental records to their rock records and I binged on Revolver. When I’m making a record, if I’m trying to emulate something, I’ll make myself listen only to that so that my instincts are sharp. That way, when I hear something, the only thing I have to compare it to is the thing that I have been binging on. We just really wanted to remake Revolver (laughs). I can show you so many examples where we were literally emulating something specific… like all the vocals and the feel on “Name” are “And Your Bird Can Sing” and the electric guitar sound is obviously “Taxman.” It was an Epiphone plugged into a Vox AC30, brilliant channel, no pedals, with the volume just turned all the way up. We just ran it straight in and turned it all the way up. We were thinking, “what would The Beatles have done?” They didn’t have any of these crap pedals. It would've just been an Epiphone straight into a Vox, so that's what we did.  

Production Notes: Again, this was more Cason and I, just the two of us focusing on it. This is our third record in a row now. So we had a real report at that point. We did it more like we did my second record. We got bass and drums done over at Smoakstack. Matt Pierson came back on bass and he just murdered it. I mean, he did Paul McCartney better than Paul McCartney. Listen to the bass part on “Name.” It is so insanely good. Will Sayles came back on drums. He played on all those records. After bass and drums, we brought it back to my house and did all the guitars, vocals, and everything else.

I remember with “A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear,” I couldn’t get the right vocal take with my headphones on. So I ended up taking the headphones off and just cranking it through the studio speakers and recorded it in the room. So you can hear the cranked up track coming through the vocal mic while I’m singing it. I needed to feel like I had the band behind me to get the right energy. It needed to be crazy loud. Much to Shane Wilson’s chagrin, I tracked it with no phones and with the track cranked. I think you can hear it if you listen with headphones. Right before I sing the first words, you can hear this atmospheric swell that he then pulls back when I’m not singing, in between verses and stuff. You can hear the room come back on every time I sing.

That record was a blast.

Lest you think Derek was all subdued and serious during this politically-charged season, here's some behind-the-scenes shenanigans surrounding the tour for The Ringing Bell courtesy of a few video blogs Derek posted from the road:

Mixtape: Maybe “A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear” because that’s got that real Beatlesy rock ‘n’ roll thing but it’s also in line content-wise with the rest of the record.

A variety of cool pre-order packages for I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You (including immediate digital download) are available HERE.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Webbtrospective #3: Mockingbird - Derek Webb

(To celebrate the release of Derek Webb's new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You on September 3, I'm doing an album-by-album recollection I'm calling the Webbtrospective. Back In February, I sat down with Derek to discuss each one of his albums through his own reflections. Instead of interview questions, I simply gave him some prompts and just let him go. Every word of this article is his own. I'll be posting a new album each day until the release of his new album, so stay tuned.)

Mockingbird (2005)

Word Association: Politics/nationalism.

Thoughts: This was my second record with Cason and we were falling into a rhythm at this point. We decide to put narrow guardrails around the production on it. We decided on using six musical elements and nothing else. We said, whatever melody or rhythm you hear, it’s got to go on one of these six instruments. We’re going to make sure that if you hear any song out of context, you’ll know what record it came from because of the sound. We made those choices all up front. 

That was also the record when I was coming awake politically a little bit. Much like my first record, it wasn’t about having huge revelations and insights and then telling everybody what my answers were. It was more about my questions. Specifically with how the church handles and deals with political issues. It was more me focusing in further. It was a time when the public, visible church was rearing her ugly head a little bit into that political conversation and I was bristling at it. I feel like I do my best work when I’m the most naive about something and I’ll ask questions that are maybe oversimplified. Maybe it’s not any more complicated than that at the end of the day. A song like “A King and a Kingdom,” is it more complicated than talking about primary allegiances and secondary allegiances? Probably so, but there‘s really a level where it really is that simple.

Inspirations/Influences: In terms of non-musical influences, I had just struck up a friendship with Jim Wallis who runs Sojourners. I was hearing what he was saying, not agreeing with all of it, but resonating with his questions. I was reading guys like John Yoder and Stan Hauerwas. 

That was kind of the secondary stuff though. The primary focus was general politics; the way I was observing people in my immediate community mishandle their ideas about nationalism and politics. I was also getting into Martin Luther King and ideas of living at peace in the face of war. Our nation was starting to talk about preemptive war and about new policies coming down about how we’re going to deal with rogue states. Wendell Berry's words on a lot of that stuff was also really influential on me. 

I was exploring the ideas of peace because I know myself to be such a violent person. I bypass sadness and go right to anger. That’s my go to. If I see injustice - which I see everywhere because of my personality - rather than throw my arms around it and weep with people, I jump in front of it with my fists up. Peace doesn’t come easy to me. My dad was a boxer and I’ve got that blood running through my veins.       

(As a bonus, here's some more of Derek's thoughts on Mockingbird from, where he gave away the album in its entirity for free for a limited time in the fall of 2006:

i love music. i have grown up with music as a close confidant. and i believe in the power of music to move people. there’s something remarkable about the way a melody can soften someone to a new idea. 

as an artist (and often an agitator), this is something i am keenly aware of. my most recent record ‘mockingbird’ deals with many sensitive issues including poverty, war, and the basic ethics by which we live and deal with others. but i found that music has been an exceptional means by which to get this potentially difficult conversation going. and this is certainly an important moment for dialogue amongst people who disagree about how to best love and take care of people, to get into the nuances of the issues. 

one of the things that excites me most about the future of our business is how easy it is becoming to deliver music to people who want to hear it. i heard a story once about keith green caring so much that people were able to hear and engage with his music that he gave it away for free, which was a very difficult and expensive thing to do at that time. it’s actually never been as simple as it is today to connect music with music fans. and i want people to have a chance to listen to mockingbird and engage in the conversation.)

Production Notes: This was the first record I recorded in my house, but I didn’t have enough gear yet to really do it. With every record, I was taking a bit of the money I would normally spend on renting studio time and I put it into buying gear – a better mic, a better pre amp, a computer upgrade. At that point, we had just moved into this house and we didn’t have kids yet, so the upstairs was our studio. 

That’s when Shane Wilson stepped in and I started working with him for awhile. Shane had mixed half of (Caedmon’s) Long Line of Leavers and is just a legendary mixing engineer. He’s a guy I never could’ve afforded but he reached out and wanted to help. I’ll pay him to mix an entire album for what most people pay him to mix one song. He’s that good and he’s that generous. He basically brought his studio to my house. He brought two huge racks, all his mics, and his entire rig to my house and set it up for two weeks. We literally had his techs on our front porch dismantling all his patch bays and taking all his rack gear out of these giant racks and taking them all upstairs and reassembling and rewiring them. It was an incredible amount of work. 

Mark Polack played bass upstairs. Will Sayles was playing drums in our guest room. I was in our other guest room playing acoustic guitar and singing. Cason was downstairs at our piano. We were all on headphones and none of us could see each other. We tracked it live with no editing and then I would go back and double vocals. That was the sound I was looking for. I was listening to a lot of Elliot Smith and more of The Beatles and I loved that double vocal sound. We literally made that record in two weeks.  

Mixtape: I feel like a song like “A King and A Kingdom” really represents that record well and functions as a thesis for the rest of it.

A variety of cool pre-order packages for I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You (including immediate digital download) are available HERE.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Webbtrospective #2: I See Things Upside Down - Derek Webb

(To celebrate the release of Derek Webb's new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You on September 3, I'm doing an album-by-album recollection I'm calling the Webbtrospective. Back In February, I sat down with Derek to discuss each one of his albums through his own reflections. Instead of interview questions, I simply gave him some prompts and just let him go. Every word of this article is his own. I'll be posting a new album each day until the release of his new album, so stay tuned.)

I See Things Upside Down (2004)

Word Association: That record, to me, was the “experimental” record.

Thoughts: I had done She Must and Shall Go Free, I had experienced my first year as a solo artist, I did the record that I felt would’ve been my last contribution to Caedmon’s and I didn’t think that country/folk/rock sound was “my thing”… like the thing I loved the most. It was the thing I liked the most at that moment. I didn’t feel like that was where I was going to settle. So I was thinking “what is my sound?” I went into Caedmon’s right out of high school, so I had never thought about my musical identity as an artist apart from this collective situation that I was in. So I was trying to figure that out still.

Inspirations/Influences: I was really getting into bands like Wilco and I was really being influenced by the more experimental seasons of bands like U2 and The Beatles where you could watch bands dismantle their sound. I was really wanting to do that. I don’t think I found “my sound” on this record, but I was able to dismantle everything I had done up to that point. There are elements of those things that I liked, but it’s a real hodgepodge.

There was still some residual content, as far as being church focused, but I wouldn’t call that a record about or for the church necessarily. I was starting to write some love songs and some relationships songs again, like "Reputation." Even though it was my only second record, I had no problem saying “I have no problem confounding my core audience and doing something that’s the opposite of what they expect.” All the bands that I love and wish to emulate are all that way. U2 doesn’t seem to give a crap about their audience, in a good way. They’re indulgent, which great artists should be. If you trust an artist, you should want to hear their instincts unfettered. You don’t want them considering you and your preferences or radio and radio’s preferences or the label and the label’s preferences. You want them to do what they think is awesome.    

That album was a good moment for me to be able to dismantle everyone's expectations as far as what I'm doing and who I am musically. Not a lot of people have this one. I feel like, in the grand scheme of things, a lot of people skipped that one. It was a weirder record. That was me needing early on to say, "I'm not going to follow or chase success." I did that for 10 years in this other band and it kind of ruined a lot of the things about what we loved.      

Production Notes: Cason Cooley had been a friend of mine for a long time and he was getting into recording and I was just getting into recording. I had a little Pro Tools rig on my laptop and we did some basic tracks (bass and drums) at a studio and then took it to my house and did everything else; vocals, guitars, piano. That's how I cut my costs down. This is when I was learning to treat my career as a business. I was thinking if I’ve got to pay for this, I’ve got to figure out how to spend less on it. 

So rather than producing with several guys, it’s just me and one other guy. I’m getting a little more confident and he and I are just having fun. We wanted to completely get ridiculous. I’ve got this old wind-up clock in my house from when I was growing up that my parents had given me and there was this point at 2 in the morning where we put mics on the clock and are winding it up. We used it on the opening track of the album (“I Want A Broken Heart”). There’s another track called “Ballad In Plain Red” were we put mics on a big marimba and I just took the stick side of the mallets and was just sweeping up and down the marimba, no melody or anything. It was like “let’s put mics on everything!”

We recorded the bass and drums at Paul Moak's Smoakstack studio, then I recorded a bunch of stuff with Cason at my house, and then I took it back to the Smoakstack and spent three or four days with Paul putting electric guitars and atmospherics on stuff. The speaking part on the opening track was one of these little vinyl records of Bible stories that Paul had as a kid. He was in the process of finding them again on eBay and when he was showing them to me, I was like "Dude, that is the coolest thing. Let's put a mic on it" (laughs). Those were some of the last layers that went on it.

Mixtape: “I Want A Broken Heart” – It represents the sound of the record and the lyrics are a little more abstract and poetic. It’s one of the few songs from my second record that I’ll think to play, like without it being requested. I still play that song a lot.

A variety of cool pre-order packages for I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You (including immediate digital download) are available HERE.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Webbtrospective #1: She Must and Shall Go Free - Derek Webb

(To celebrate the release of Derek Webb's new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You on September 3, I'm doing an album-by-album recollection I'm calling the Webbtrospective. Back In February, I sat down with Derek to discuss each one of his albums through his own reflections. Instead of interview questions, I simply gave him some prompts and just let him go. Every word of this article is his own. I'll be posting a new album each day until the release of his new album, so stay tuned.)

She Must and Shall Go Free (2003)

Word Association: Church… if we’re going to go one word.

Thoughts: That was an unlikely debut record. I was coming out of 10 years in a band and I wrote most of those songs thinking they were going to go on the next Caedmon’s Call record. I wasn’t envisioning a solo career when I was writing those songs. It’s kind of peculiar in that way from all of my other records. All of my other solo records were written as just my statements, my words, and not representing the ideas of seven people. But that was also the moment were, for the first time in my life, I was examining what my role in the church would be, what the church’s role in culture is, if any of those things are necessary and if so, what are they. The combination of those two things - it was highly topical and I was coming out of a band - made it unique in that way. 

Inspirations/Influences: Playing in Caedmon’s for 10 years, we inevitably played in a lot of churches and we were around a lot of church culture. By the end of those 10 years, I was really ready to talk about some things that nobody was talking about. In fact, the first song I wrote for the record was “Wedding Dress” and it was sparked by having my feathers ruffled at a big Christian bookseller’s conference in Atlanta where I saw someone speak and say some things that I thought were absolutely outrageous. Knowing that he was speaking into and informing the beliefs of this whole culture because of how popular his book was just really set me off. “Wedding Dress” just came out of nowhere and it was like the gauntlet being thrown down. Nothing was the same after that. Once you write a song like that, it’s really hard to go back and write a song about you and your friend hanging out and having pancakes. Not that there’s not value in those songs too. But for me it was like, if this is possible, if I can speak like this, I should speak like this more. Also, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to write those songs if I wouldn’t have gotten married that same year. Those would’ve just been thoughts in my head. It was just that perfect moment – newly married, 10 years of experience and the crystallization of that moment seeing that man on that stage saying those things that were driving me crazy.

Also, during the recording of that previous Caedmon’s record, Long Line of Leavers, I was listening to a lot of country-folk type stuff. So I came to the band with a lot of those types of songs for that record, but the band didn’t really want to make a record like that. So they allowed one of the songs to stay as I had presented it and it was called “Love is Different.” But I had written almost all of the songs in that same style. This other song I had written for my grandmother called “Dance” got completely rearranged into some kind of weird Adult Contemporary Marc Cohn kind of nightmare – I mean, I love Marc Cohn, I don’t love to be Marc Cohn, I like him to be Marc Cohn – and I hate the recorded version of that song. I thought it divorced all the emotion from the song. Even when I play it now, if I ever do, I play it as I wrote it. So I think I still had that on the brain. Without having to consider six other opinions, I wanted to make a little country-folk record because that’s what I had in me at the time. Also, Sandra really got me deeper into Bob Dylan and decoded him in a way that I had never understood before. So that’s why songs like “Lover” got written, songs that had stanzas rather than verses and choruses. She also got me into Tom Waits and there’s a little of that influence on “Nothing (Without You)” in that big, trashy, percussive loop kind of sound.

Production Notes: That record was really collaborative, moreso than any other record of mine. That was the only solo record that I did in a more conventional recording way. With my new solo record deal – where you pay for the recording and turn it in finished - I was spending my own money to make it. I had to rethink things because I couldn’t afford to hire a producer and book studio time like I had experienced with Caedmon’s. So I produced it with a couple of friends of mine who I had hired on to be the band. Garrett Buell, one of my favorite drummers, came in and did all of the percussion. Matt Pierson played bass and secretly he’s a monster, so I wanted to get him in and let him off the leash that he’s usually on. Kenny Meeks was the guitar player and he’s a legit blues/Americana guitar player. Everybody had a hand in it.

This is my only record that had none of my own DIY element. With every album from that point forward, starting small and getting bigger, I had a hand in recording it myself. The experience of recording that one was really different.

Also, I wasn’t ready to have a singular vision yet. I was coming from a band where I was trained to write the songs and set them free and I was one of seven that had a vote. Once the songs were written, it was a democracy. If you would’ve put me in a studio by myself to make that record, I couldn’t have done it. 

Mixtape: “Wedding Dress” - This isn’t necessarily my favorite song on the record but it’s easily the song that has been the most connective with people. That’s the one song of mine that people tend to know. It’s confessional, it’s first person, but it’s also got a strong critique in it. It’s a risky song. I think it represents a lot about my ethic that I hadn’t even identified yet. When I do what I do best, it’s what I’m doing in that song.


A variety of cool pre-order packages for I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You (including immediate digital download) are available HERE.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Interview with Over the Rhine

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.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Interview with James Bay

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.