Friday, September 30, 2016

The Blue Heart Revue and...hi!

It's been a while since I've posted. I could catch you all up on my life since my last post but that would be six years of information. Here are the highlights:

  • adopted a cat named Jiminy
  • joined a band called The Lower Lights
  • got a Bachelor's degree in history
  • sang some stuff with some people on various records
  • somehow convinced the best guy in the whole world, my husband, to keep putting up with me
I took a bit of a hiatus from my own music for the sake of my mental health but I have recently started getting back into it. The beginning of my musical revival happened at a friend's birthday celebration at the side of a pool, a real hot oven of a fall afternoon in Riverton. I noticed a spot of shade and relief from the heat and sat down next to my friend, Ryan Tanner, recently returned from four years living in Nashville, TN. Ryan asked me, "Hey, want to make a record?" 

Ryan and I have been singing together for years in The Lower Lights. Ryan is one of the most thoughtful people I know in his approach to art and he's a true artist in every sense of the word: singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, visual artist, graphic designer, photographer, director, producer, and more I'm sure I don't know about. Everything he touches is complex and interesting. Ryan is also a shape shifter. Deep and fluid, hard to pin down and understand.  

So when he asked me the question, a lot of shit went through my head: disbelief and pleasure at even being asked and then all the anguish and anxiety that had killed my songbird over the last few years, the self-doubt, denial, and fear. I answered hesitantly, "Sure, if it's just a bunch of friends making a record together, then I'm in." At that point, I didn't have the strength of will to try and do anything that required me to step forward, lead, and have courage.

Ryan has courage though, acres of it. He bought some analog reel to reel tape and made me commit to a date, the weekend before Thanksgiving 2015 at the Orchard Studio, the studio of Daniel Young. Dan is the real deal, a talented songwriter and musician, fantastic engineer, and probably the nicest and most genuine guy you'll ever meet. Dan's studio is in the basement of his house in Salt Lake City, a small room with a hair-croppingly low ceiling and wood paneling, lit sparsely with warm lamp light. A vintage Tascam analog tape recorder sits in the back corner, strung with 3M tape, and ready to faithfully record whatever happens in the room. It feels like a space that was made for moody late night artistic inspiration. 

Ryan had gathered the band. Brian Thurber on the drums, a multi-instrumentalist, singer songwriter, and jack of all trades.

(Photo by Kiki Jane Sieger)

Marcus Bently, sat in on the bass for this record, though he's usually writing, performing, and producing all kinds of interesting music in all sorts of capacities (right now with his band Two Nations) and singing gorgeously with his buttery voice.

(Photo by Kiki Jane Sieger)

M. Horton Smith, my soft-spoken and deeply intellectual brother-in-arms from The Lower Lights, who makes magic on whatever instrument he touches.

Dylan Schorer, another Lower Lights compadre whose cheerfulness, positivity, and quiet support I absolutely rely on in any recording situation we are in together. Dylan plays every instrument you can think of but his pedal steel, lap steel, and guitar work on this record absolutely shimmer. 
(Photo by Kiki Jane Sieger)

Paul Jacobsen, the kind of songwriter that other songwriters wish they were. Paul is the guy that comes into a session, says something self-deprecating, and then effortlessly comes up with the subtle part on the guitar, piano, organ, or backing vocal that makes the song. He always knows how to get the song right.

Ryan Tanner was at the helm of this crew, merely observing the happenings at first but slowly leading us into a dark and swampy groove of a place. Ryan had a big vision for this record and with a deft and subtle touch, he made it take shape.

(Photo by Kiki Jane Sieger)

Through all this Dan was at the ready, moved swiftly from one spot to another, a hand on his headphones, expertly dialing in all the sounds in the room.

(Photo by Kiki Jane Sieger)

(Photo by Kiki Jane Sieger)

Ryan, Paul, and I had bounced song ideas back and forth a week or so before the session. Songs we loved from songwriters we revered, songs we wanted to try and reinvent in our way. We went into the studio with a decent list. The very first song we tackled was Get Right with God, Lucinda Williams' slow burner that I choose to see as a bitterly ironic take on faith. The room was loud, bass reverberating through my chest. It was warm and intimate, dry winter air making my throat feel like sandpaper. But we were recording on tape and were committed to getting it in a single take. Recording to analog was a different animal. I had to get in the right head space, put on my big girl pants, and focus on performing each song right there in the moment. There was no room, literally no room on the tape, to be precious about a performance. Knock out an arrangement, record one or two takes, hope you got it in one of them, and move on. There is no perfection here. There are vocal squeaks and breaks, a flubbed note here or there on a guitar or organ, just as it went down in that room on that weekend. But in its way, it's perfect to me. 

Later we added a few finishing touches, including some light percussion, cello, and some sublime backing vocals from Paul, Ryan, and Kiki Jane Sieger, a generous singer with a gorgeous and powerful voice that hits you like a cracking whip (and she also happens to be married to Dan) and Corinne Gentry, a real gem of a human being with a lovely voice that gently moves in and out of a phrase like a summer breeze.

And last but not least, Jay William Henderson, Salt Lake City's resident Lord Byron, lent his unreal vocal to Dreaming My Dreams, completely transforming it. I felt so lucky to get to sit in that studio while Jay's smoky vocal filled the room.

The effort that was put into this record by everyone is so meaningful to me, especially the hours Dan put into getting the right mix and master and all the late nights Ryan spent creating the beautiful artwork.

I am so proud of this record. All we can do now is let it out into the world and hope a few of you like it too.