Deadlines have always been my savior when it comes to completing an artistic project. There's nothing like a date on a calendar to inject just enough determination and fear to get the job done. Being an actor, I often have it easy. Opening night is right there on the contract. You sign it, you go to rehearsal, you open the show. And all the while a director is getting you "performance ready", whatever that means. Being a working actor has it's difficulties, but once you get the job, logistically, most of the work is done. Everything is laid out in a calendar on that first day of rehearsal.
Writing is another story. It's you and... You. Maybe you have an editor, or a producer who's asking for pages or demos, but at the end of the day there aren't too many people to answer to, but yourself. Hence the need, well, my need, for a deadline.
That's why the RPM challenge has helped me immensely. February, one month, make a record, It's that simple. Well, the making part may not be that simple, but the goal is very straightforward. Most of the the songs I recorded for Trailways, were in process before February 2017, but just as it did with my first RPM record in 2009, RPM sat me down and gave me the structure to finish and record them.
I shot the original draft of Trailways off to RPM on February 28th around 11:30 pm. Just under the wire! At that time I was calling the record Heavy Light. I changed my mind about the title though after choosing the art work (I took that picture from my window seat on a plane ride to NYC) and also after remembering a collection of demos a recorded almost ten years ago when I first moved to Chicago was called The Gray Light. I also decided I didn't want to name the record after a song title. These are all pretty trivial things here, but it's my project, so indulge me!
Why Trailways? I don't know. It just sort of came to me and then I realized it's the name of a Red House Painters song. That was enough for me.
I'm slowly learning how to mix a recording, but I've got a ways to go, so my first pass and the one up on the RPM site, does not sound good to me, but it got me there. The first draft was done and after getting some guidance from my collaborator and Silvergirl band member Josh Wentz, I was able to go back and get the record to sound how I wanted.
So here it is, Trailways. On the record you'll hear two things: me and my guitar. It became clear as I was recording, that these songs didn't need much else. Many of them have a pretty straight forward narrative. In a perfect world full of ample label-paid-for studio time and walks on the beach, I hear some peddle steel here and some lead guitar there, but, with the RPM deadline looming, I decided to just focus on writing and recording guitar and vocals only.
It was hard to stick to my guns on this though. The lack of vocal harmony really was a challenge. The result though, is simple and serves the songs well, I think. Could there be more? Of course. There always could be more. But sometimes you just have to let go of the thing your working on. As a maker of things, this is a valuable lesson and one I'm getting slightly better at learning.