About six weeks ago, I released my first CD Roam. Since then, I have been playing shows and making meaningful connections with new folks. I’m having a tremendous time performing my new songs live, and I’m extremely grateful for the continued support of friends and family. In my first blog, I reflected on the order and thematic connection of the album’s songs. Now, I’d like to devote time to the recording process.
With the album’s concept in mind, I was ready in June of 2015 to begin getting to work. I approached “Soundcloud’s specialist mixing and mastering dude” Jon Huxtable of Smallfish Recordings to help me bring my vision to life.
Several months prior, I had made a demo tape, a one mic simple recording of acoustic guitar and vocals. Listening to these raw versions, I brainstormed ideas for the album. I knew I wanted a full sound with multiple instruments per song. I could record guitar and some bass and keys, but to achieve my vision in full, I would need help from friends. Luckily, over the past few years I have corresponded with several wonderful artists on Soundcloud.com. I want to remark on each one who kindly lent a hand to this album. Links to their projects will be included at the end of the blog.
Steph Casey is a terrific singer-songwriter from Wellington, New Zealand who added her captivating vocals to “Horse to Water.” In 2013, she released a killer album of original songs called Whisper and Holler.
It has been a pleasure to co-write a few songs on Soundcloud with Knoxville-based Bryan Ciliberto, a tremendous writer/musician whose talents span multiple genres. Bryan supplied drums to three songs and also recommended his friend, pedal steel player Matt Wilson. Matt’s remarkable skills are featured on track 4 of the album “Level Headed Blues.” Hear Bryan and Matt together on “That’s Just Her Way of Saying Hello.”
“In the wilds of Indiana” live Marty and Corinne Lucas, a husband and wife New Folk duo called Return to Normal. Marty’s piano playing on “Roam” and “If I Ever Left This Train” bookends the record. Over the past few years, Return to Normal has released three fantastic albums. I was honored to play mandolin on two tracks from their latest opus The Briars and the Brome.
Dick Vestdijk of the Netherlands goes by the moniker “Oorlab.” I've had the pleasure to collaborate with him before, and his violin tracks beautifully complement Marty’s piano on “If I Ever Left This Train.” With other artists, Oorlab is currently working on a collection of maritime-themed tunes called “Songs of the Sea."
Additionally, I persuaded my girlfriend Anna to lend her voice under the condition that she would not be coerced to sing in public. Her vocals add so much. Finally, my friend Jeff Martin offered fabulous bass on a handful of songs; he also sang on “Roam” and “Level-Headed Blues,” the two songs he co-wrote. It is a blast to play shows with Jeff who is a natural musician.
Working virtually with Jon Huxtable, I recorded and re-recorded almost daily over the summer in my apartment. It was a thrill to share this project with him, and his sonic wizardry had a huge impact on the record’s sound. Jon has shared a sampler of his mixing work on Soundcloud.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned...
Listening back to a burnt CD of rough song demos I’d written over the past few years, I began to see with clarity a preoccupation with journeys or, in an equally broad sense, travel. In most of the songs, the protagonist or speaker is going somewhere. Of the songs I selected for Roam, each tune has its own vessel: car, foot, train, rollercoaster, wing, water, horse, plane, ship, time. Additionally, like the monomythical hero’s journey, each tune loosely corresponds with a different stage of a voyage. As such, the order of the songs mattered to me in piecing together a sense of unity for the listener. Inspired by great concept albums, I wanted to make something grand and ambitious.There are songs about beginnings, trials and tribulations, crossing the threshold into the unknown, supernatural aid, revelations, transformations, atonement, and return.
The title track gives a time-lapsed vision of a girl going out on her own in pursuit of a thrilling life.
“The Reason” details the ultimate objective of our toils: finding comfort, beauty, and the freedom to keep trying to reflect that beauty in our art.
“See It Coming” realizes there is no easy road to happiness.
“Level Headed Blues” surveys the perseverance and compromises required to sustain the long haul.
“Through the Window” addresses the danger awaiting naive thrillseekers.
“Penelope Goes to Sea” is the anti-siren song, urging the listener to keep going.
“Rollercoaster” addresses the strain and reality of noble pursuits.
“Horse to Water” is the canteen at the end of the desert.
“Soul Burning” is the transformation and new perspective from atop the precipice.
“Flight” is the hero’s return.
“If I Ever Left This Train” is the recognition of indelible change, reflection on the journey, and commitment to embark on a new one.
Whether or not a sense of unity comes through, it was my ultimate goal to make something exciting and adventurous to listen to. After all, making my first album was an adventure in and of itself.
As always, thanks for listening!
ROAM is now available for purchase at bandcamp.com and cdbaby.com.
You can also listen to it on Youtube and Spotify.
Please check out josephhouckmusic.com.
Stay tuned for my next blog: “A Note on Recording Roam”