Wednesday, May 13, 2015

24 Hr Records: Behind the Scenes in a Little Room

Remember when you were in school and had to crunch out a project last minute? The stress and the pressure would build up and paralyze you as the days and weeks would tick by while you "thought about it" and before you knew it, it was due and you had to rush and do something. The thing is, in many cases, for some of us, those procrastinated papers would end up being some of our best work because the time constraint at the end made it so you had two options: you either mastered the art of bullshit, which is a valuable skill, no matter what anyone says, or, in an even better scenario, you eliminated the bullshit altogether and cut to the heart of whatever the topic was. Either way, the sense of accomplishing something in a relatively short period of time usually came through in the work. And that sense of accomplishment, of putting something together from start to finish in a compressed amount of time, although minus the pressure, comes through in Made in Network's web series, 24 HR Records.

Photo by Andrew White.
The premise is simple, they take 3 musicians that have never met before,  lock them in a studio for 24 hours and film them as they write and record 3 songs. The result is a boiled down look at the creative process and the universality of the language of music. In the latest episode, Tripple, they gathered Justin Tam (Humming House), Brooke Waggoner (solo and member of Jack White's band) and Juan Solorzano (Night Beds and many more). On one level, these are musicians that are working in similar enough styles so it's not completely shocking to have them work together. And the video does make it seem like it was easy enough for them to merge their styles. But once you hear the songs, it does highlight how collaborators, no matter how close in style, can influence each other and create things completely different than they would have alone or with a different set of partners. No matter how much in agreement a group of artists might be, what they create together will be different from what they would have done alone.

I am most familiar with Justin Tam's work, so it's the easiest comparison for me to make, and this feels very different from Humming House. For starters, the three songs they came up with are mostly quiet and sleepy, as opposed to Humming House's generally ecstatic joy and higher energy, though this does come through in the last song "Hope in My Head," a short, simple and jumping little number that features some nice interplay between Tam and Wagonner's vocals. Meanwhile, "Over Again" has a nice sleepy bass groove that Wagonner's voice perfectly balances, as it carries you into a dream like state of relaxation. These songs may not be big, and they may be put together quickly, but they are not poorly crafted by any means.

Photo by Andrew White.
But for me, the stand out track for several reasons, is actually the first they composed, "Never Began." It's the one that seems to feature the most complete representation of the exercise in its most human form. They begin jamming on a piece a piece Solorzano brought, as Waggoner adds in the basic piano melody and gets Tam thinking about his wife. It winds up becoming this very personal piece about how Tam has to leave his wife to go on the road, which in turn becomes a more universal song about being apart from loved ones. The great thing about this is that it just happens. It's not this great, pretentious affair where the artists attempt to make it universal, but rather its just three human beings communicating through music and reaching something that anyone can relate to on some level. The piano melody and the back and forth between Tam and Wagonner really give you the sense of a hazy distance between loved ones. And while there is a general melancholy feel to it, it's anchored by sweetness overall, so it's not a dark sadness. Wagonner's lines particularly slightly switch the mood up, making this track a nice impressionist slice of complex emotion, where you're reminded how it's ultimately nice to miss and be missed sometimes, knowing soon "forever will end, like it never began." It's really a beautiful little piece that I'm not sure I would have expected to come out of something like this.

As someone who under different circumstances might have learned and developed some kind of musical ability, I am always fascinated by the process. Watching these short videos that explore exactly how that happens, is much like the ubiquitous behind the scenes featureless that we get for movies. Only here, it's more focused on the whole and doesn't come off as some overblown exercise in promotion or something that might reveal too much. Last year, I wound up loving the Foo Fighters' HBO series Sonic Highways for many of the same reasons I find 24 Hr Records fascinating. Only on 24 HR Records, the end result isn't set ahead of time. There's no clear goal as to what the songs need to be about. It ends up being more organic and more in tune with Jack White's "Little Room" philosophy of getting back to basics, which is something I always respond to.

I hope this series gets more attention and we get to see some bigger and less likely faces show up. I want to see how big names with big egos might handle this. With most, if not all, of the participants so far being mainly indie artists, they tend to be much more open to experimentation and collaboration, I think.  The possibilities for this are pretty endless, but I guess it's a matter of availability as well. Either way, I plan to keep an eye on them.  

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