When I started the Naked Bourbon project 6 months ago, it was nothing more than a personal curiosity. I had saved all of my gig money from the past year and I knew that if I was ever going to start to be taken seriously I had to have a good recording. Then I read some indie music blogs that said not to invest money in recordings, and just play more shows instead, and I hesitated. $2000 was a lot of money to pour into something I wasn’t that confident in. But at the time, I only had a collection of 8 unpublished mediocre demos. A 5 song demo (4 originals and 1 cover) left over from my senior year of college, and 3 very poorly done tracks from the year before. The only thing I had to promote myself was a couple of iphone quality youtube videos, a list of cover songs on my website, and some recommendations from people who have heard me play. I had plenty of raw material, and that added to my hesitation to invest money in recording because I had to narrow down my song selection to five of my best songs to stay within the budget I could afford. Furthermore, I had no idea what I wanted them to sound like.
Being a solo artist has its benefits: I get to keep all the gig money, I have complete control over what I write and perform, and I can work as little or as much as I’d like. However, performing solo five or six times a month starts to enclose your musical identity. You get used to the way your voice and guitar playing sound and start to believe the songs you write won’t ever evolve beyond cowboy chords. I’m not the best at experimenting with all my gear at home because unless it’s all set up I’ll reach for the old acoustic before dragging my amp and pedal board up the stairs. By the time it’s all plugged in, it’s time to cook dinner or grade papers and I’ve missed my practice window. That’s why in the weeks leading up to my first session with Jeff I thought I was going to make a record that reflected my troubadour state. If I wanted to plug in, I had to hire a band, and my musical connections in the area weren’t as plentiful as they once were. Luckily, I reconnected with my old high school friend Eric Metzgar and he said he could play on the session. I broke out my Stratocaster, rewired my pedalboard, and after an hour of experimentation I knew I was going to make a rock ‘n roll record.
It wasn’t easy. I had to get used to playing the electric guitar again. I had to think about things musically in ways that I hadn’t in years since I regularly played with a band. I wrote and rewrote the guitar solos a hundred times. I confronted my tendency to hate my voice and learned to control and arrange for it better. At times I had trouble even talking about the sounds I heard in my head to Jeff, which led to frustration with myself. There were low points between the sessions, which were sometimes months apart, when I thought of giving up. But in the end, each session made me more confident and helped me learn more about myself as a musician than I have in two years of playing solo around town.
The process of making Naked Bourbon injected some musical life back into me. The artist you hear on the record is a much more accurate depiction of my musical identity. While most of my songs are born with a single vocal and a guitar, the finished versions represent the sound and direction that I’m truly after.