(L-R) Music Band’s Lee Putney, Harry Kagan, and Duncan Shea recording a ‘Jam In The Van’ session in Austin, Texas, March 17, 2016. Photo by Matthew Ismael Ruiz.
They put out most of their music for free on Bandcamp, but after a few years, they were invited to put out a 7″ single (“I Was Like”) and a seven-song cassette (Can I Live) on Infinity Cat. But there’s a significance to Wake Up Laughing, the band’s first LP, that they don’t take lightly. They still see the album as the ultimate product for a rock band, an acknowledgment of where they’ve been and the legitimacy of what they’ve been working towards. “To experience what it’s like to really be nobody is important,” Kagan says. “And that kinda coincides with this being a debut album, on a label, with a cover. You can hold it in your hands. That’s a really important thing.”
“We have been writing songs and recording them ourselves and with friends for a really long time,” Shea says. “The only difference is, now, somebody asked us if we would put out a record on their label.”
Up until Wake Up Laughing, Shea had engineered and recorded much of their output. They had planned to record the LP at home, but caught a break when one of their favorite producers Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff) called them up to say he had a last-minute cancellation for October, right around the time they were ready to record. Tokic is famous in town for his analog tape recording studio, the Bomb Shelter, and the boys wasted no time taking advantage of the new opportunity.
“One of coolest things about recording to tape is when you mix it, on tape, it’s a performance in itself,” Shea says. “Because every mix you hear is him moving sliders up and down the whole time; it’s not just automation on computer screen. It’s a performance, and we’ll talk about if we liked it… we’re critiquing him in a way, it’s a role reversal. It’s really cool. Recording on tape is badass.”
Despite living the dream of seeing how all their favorite records from 40 and 50 years ago were actually recorded, the band insists they still would have wanted to record with Tokic, even if it was on a digital setup like Pro Tools. Beyond his skill and personality, a quick look at the rate tab on the Bomb Shelter web site might offer a clue; not unlike a Nashville Steve Albini, his reputation and equipment far surpass his rates.
“He’s not only a great engineer, but stands for something that I can get behind in the world of recording,” Shea says. “He’s providing access, to people with limited resources, to world-class recording gear.”
Shea originally found it difficult to relinquish control over the production, but Tokic’s intuition and mad scientist vibes in the studio made it easy to trust him. It also didn’t hurt to watch him do bizarre things in the studio that sounded incredible. “He would do crazy shit like just flip the tape over and record the vocals backwards, then re-record the backwards vocals with the tape delay,” Shea says. “He’s a crazy wizard,” Kagan adds, helpfully.
You’d need either a vintage or high-powered analog rig to hear all the analog nuance of Wake Up Laughing‘s recording process, but even on SoundCloud or Spotify, you can still hear the faint electrical hum at the start of each track, and the guitar tones feel warm and three-dimensional. It mostly rocks, but even at its loudest and most brash, it’s sincere; you’d be hard pressed to find a shred of irony amongst its 11 songs. They’re proud of who they are, what they’ve made, and who they made it with. Nashville’s their new home, and that they’ve embraced them makes them ready to take their music across the country.
“It’s important to us that we can put a piece of what we’re doing into the Infinity Cat catalog, and [help] build it” Putney says. “It feels really good.”
Music Band might not be Big Time yet, but they’re certainly on their way. As they start to worry less and less about part-time jobs and focus more of their energy on the band, they now have something to hang their hat on — no matter what happens from here on out, they’ve still got that record. “This record that we just made was sort of the catalyst for all of us saying, ‘OK, we’re gonna do it for real.'” And it’s real good.