Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy 2008!

Happy New Year! The Brown Clown is rolling west on I-70 about 75 miles from St. Louis. We just inaugurated 2008 by dipping our touring toes into the frigid pool of the central plains. It was a quick trip, with stops in Louisville, Kentucky, then Lafayette and Danville, Indiana. Nothing notable to report. You've heard the story before: good crowds, good music, good times, blah, blah, blah. But it did feel good to get back out and play for the people after a fairly lengthy holiday break. Our winter schedule is pretty light by design. We burned the candle at both ends for most of 2007, and our middle was running out of wax. So we all agreed that it would be a good idea to snuff out the flame for awhile to recouperate. So once we get back home today, we will be off again until almost the end of February.

Our time off has allowed us to forget about the road for awhile, and focus our efforts on finishing up our new recording. The new full-length album, "Someone's Got to Pay" is scheduled for release on April 15th, 2008. The original tracks were recorded with Dirk Powell in his Louisiana studio in November of 2006. After careful listening, we decided that additional tracking was necessary, and so the entire project was moved up to Kansas City and placed in the capable hands of our old pal, Brendan Moreland. Due to our busy touring schedule, he had to wait until late October before we could begin overdubbing sessions. But ideas had been germinating all year, and it was fun to finally get them recorded. As I excitedly reported last spring, this new recording will be quite a departure from our previous recordings. Glenn Fields, from The Red Stick Ramblers, sat in on drums on many of the original Louisiana sessions. There's also electric guitars, electric piano, organ and electric bass along with button accordian, cello, viola, cajun triangle, lap steel and tambourines. Our old formula of recording as close to our live sound as possible, was thrown out the window in favor of a completely new approach.

Why the change? Honestly, we needed to be more creative this time. For one thing, all of the songs and tunes on album are original except one old fiddle tune from the Skillet Lickers. So there was really no preconcieved way of doing any of them. We were free to play around with our ideas and experiment with sounds until we got what we liked. Secondly, we were getting bored with the four instruments/ "live performance" model. Although this approach has served us well in the past, we always had to make sacrifices in sound quality in order to play all together in the same room. The bass and fiddle had a tendency to bleed into all the other microphones which really limited how much control we had over the final mixes. So this time, we recorded all of the tracks in complete isolation. For example, even though all of the fiddle tunes were played live, none of us were in the same room. Betse sat in the center of Dirk's main recording room while Ike looked on through the glass of a tiny vocal isolation booth. Nate could see Ike through another window , but was not able to see Betse at all. And since Dirk's studio only has these three rooms. I played banjo and mandolin sitting on the couch of his tiny Toyota RV parked outside the studio. It was pretty wierd, but the resulting sound was fabulous.

Finally, we wanted to make a record that people would actually WANT to listen to this time. I'm not saying that our previous recordings aren't good, but for the past 10 years, we’ve made records that attempted to accurately represent us as a live band. Although we’ve been pretty happy with the way they’ve turned out, you can’t really get that “live” experience from audio content only. There is a visual element that is missing. Because of this, I've always felt like our recordings were a pale imitation of the “real thing”. And usually when people purchased our albums, it was because they had just seen us play a live show. Then, when they listened to their new cd at home, I guess they were probably thinking, “man, I just loved seeing them live, this reminds me of that great experience”.

But for this new album, we wanted to make a record that people would want to listen to over and over- a record that would musically stand on it’s own- a record that people might even hear first, then want to come see us play live because they enjoyed the cd so much. So we set out to make each song unique- to add instrumental textures and production that would be impossible to recreate in a concert setting- to use the studio as a palette to make something richer than just four people playing together.

An "album" is actually a pretty hard thing to find in today's downloadable world. In fact, it seems like we've almost drifted back to the time when people bought 45rpm singles. Then, If you liked an artist, you'd pay a couple of bucks for their new single, take it home and put it in the stack next to your turntable. Now, if you like an artist, you pay your 99 cents to iTunes, download a song and slap it on your iPod where it appears in a playlist along with thousands of other songs. How the song relates to other songs on the same album is now meaningless. In fact, most "albums" nowadays are really just a bunch of songs slapped on a cd with no relationship to each other at all. The concept of sequencing a record- putting songs in order to tell a story with the sound is now a lost art. But this is exactly what we did on "Someone's Got to Pay". There is a beginning, a middle and an end. And hopefully, when you start it, you will WANT to keep listening until the last note. Maybe I'm full of crap for thinking we've made something a little bit better, but that's what we were trying to do. I guess you can be the judge on April 15th.