On the release of a new album
Releasing new music is always strangely emotional. Sometimes I’m nervous; often I’m excited. Other times I just feel relieved. As we get ready to share our 5th full-length album, The Sun Will Find You, I’m feeling nostalgic, thinking about the personal and situational changes in our lives since we started out.
I have fond but hazy memories of our first sessions as a band, which took place some 15 years ago. Eric and I didn’t have a plan, but we were lucky to have access to a fabulous concert hall, a studio full of percussion gear, and a pair of U87s. I recall reading through binders of old sketches and spending time exploring mic placements. It was a thrilling experience to be working on this kind of music together.
One thing that hasn’t changed much is our glacial writing and recording pace, but I think we’re more accepting of our process at this point. That first album took almost 5 years to finish, as we pushed and stretched song structures into shapes quite different from the original ideas. I remember being frustrated by trying to figure out exactly what it was that we were making and how to turn it into an album, though I am proud of the way that Lullabies, our first album, turned out..
After that experience, we structured our next couple of projects to counter our natural inclination to endlessly tinker. In 2011 we wrote and recorded a 2-song EP each month, the highlights of which we compiled on our 2012 album, Let The Waves Carry Us. This process produced a lot of music but took an insane amount of effort. When we summoned the energy to reconvene in 2013 to began work on what would become Big Bay EP, we intentionally stripped down the sound, with simpler miking and fewer instruments, to try to contain ourselves. In both cases, though, I don’t think we really changed the way we work - we just put restrictions on our process that prevented us from doing what we would have otherwise.
Ultimately, I love the building process involved in making a Bell Monks album. I cherish discovering and exploring ideas in the studio, and I bask in the sound of those extra layers we keep adding and adding. So, with The Sun Will Find You, we leaned into our slowness, adding additional textures and still more voices to everything. We also spent a lot of time just letting the songs sit, unfinished, adding and adjusting parts until the songs felt right.
Circumstances demanded this in part, as Eric has lived in 4 different states in these past six years, on his way to finishing a masters and a PhD and starting a career as a music professor. I’ve had plenty of my own other projects too, as I’ve written and recorded a few film soundtracks. Along the way, we’ve tinkered and tinkered, and I think that slowness gave us time to really hear what each song needed.
I have no idea what our next project will look like, or how long it will take. We had originally planned to do some shows this summer to support the album, which is obviously not happening. Coronavirus is giving lots of people new tools and approaches to distant collaboration, so who knows.
For now, I hope this music finds you and helps you slow down and relax, wherever you are.
Many thanks to our collaborators, Ben Willis (contrabass), Sven Gonstead (slide guitar), and Heidi E Johnson. Heidi has worked with us almost since the beginning, and her voice has been a part of all our releases besides Brocades & Palimpsests, our lone album of instrumentals. Thank you!
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