Photographs capture one moment in time. The only message they are truly meant to convey is the emotion that exists in-between the opening and the closing of the shutter. The honest thing about photographs, even if they are in the digital realm, with filters and unending editable attributes, is that they can’t help but be what they are in a fraction of a second. Nothing you add to them later, though endlessly creative, can change what is real about the time in which the image was taken.
Making music live and even in the studio is similar. You can add EQ, reverb, tune the flats and the sharps, and even move bits of information around to form a new phrase. But for better or worse, the root of it all is still just one moment in time. I love technology and have generally defended its usefulness and impact on all things creative. I think what has always made me accepting of it and unafraid of it is that no matter the incredible modifications you can make with it, the original, momentary brush with creativity defines every derivative after.
In the midst of all the changes in the band of late, we are back in the studio working hard on our sophomore record. Though it’s not a live record in the traditional sense, we are keenly aware of the importance of letting the notes fall where they will, trying our best to allow the emotion to form a moment worth capturing, and then doing so in a way that honors those moments and the music within them. Perfection is something we have banned from the process. Doing so is not all that hard really. We just have to be a little braver than our nature. Half the battle in protecting our music from perfection is already won, long before the first chord was ever struck on this album. You don’t have to be a musician or a creative soul to be reminded on a daily basis that perfection is a ship that sailed the minute we became human beings. Learning not to chase some semblance of perfection after the fact is arguably the rub.
We’ve gathered in my studio, Cub Creek Sound, two times in as many weeks and we have already laid down six songs. It helps that the three of us have played music together for several years and that Gary and I have recorded music together now for nearly twenty-five years. But the times are new and the balance of the music has changed. As much as that presents a challenge, it is also a beautiful opportunity to snap the shutter on moments that we have not been privy to before. That’s exciting.
I have very expensive studio gear, with a lot of lights and buttons, but in the end, it’s not all that different from the shutter button on my old Polaroid camera. I press the letter R on my keyboard and though we’ve played the song a hundred times before, we are capturing the sound of the record in one three-minute shutter lapse. It won’t be exactly the way we played it the time before or even the time after. Close maybe, but never identical. Our ethos for this record is to allow the songs to be what they will be in any given moment. If we don’t think we can live with the take we have forever and ever, we try it again. But we are not interested in 90-degree corners or long straight lines on this record. We want to take a snapshot in time. If we like it, then that is the way you will hear and remember the song forever. No pressure, but some moments are indeed important.
The process has been natural, without worry and judgment, but far from perfect. I think the sounds we have captured so far, whether its Gary’s Collings’ guitar or my old Martin D-35, have real life in them and I know that is true of Malinda’s mountain fiddle. We’re going to lay our vocals down next and if the universe is fair and we are being honest, I think the words will fall out the way they were intended to.
I suppose we may have to change the verbiage we use with industry professionals, reviewers and fans. No longer will I ask, “Do you like our song?” Or “Do you like our record?” I think I’ll ask instead, “Hey, how do you like our moment? That’s all they are really, just moments in time, and they will never come again. New ones will, but these moments won’t. I kinda’ like that way of making music. To tell you the truth, I kinda’ like that way of living life too.
Mark Elliott – Runaway Home
“It’s The Music That Makes Us Smile”