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Kickstart my art
James and the Drifters make an album (with a little help from their friends)
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
Last time we checked in with Huntington, Indiana's one and only James and the Drifters, the boys were out and about spreading the gospel of their then new album Before The Dawn: The Otter Lake Sessions. Before The Dawn was a collection of rootsy, Americana-fueled songs that ached with solitude's crisp honesty and fresh air's ability to bestow the feeling of endless possibility. You could practically hear the birds chirping outside the window of the lake house where the album was recorded. That album was self-recorded and self-produced by the guys in the band. Though to most ears this was a fully-formed record -filled with all the things that a mere fans ears would interpret as a hell of an album- it seems that Before The Dawn was merely the starting dish for James and the Drifters' musical feast.
I got an email from the band stating they were in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to record the follow-up to Before The Dawn and wanted to know if I wanted to sit down and talk a little about it. Of course I wanted to.
EAP: So it's been roughly a year since you guys put out Before The Dawn: Otter Lake Sessions. How has the last year been for the band?
Brent Chamberlin: This last year has been so good to us. Itís amazing how much can change in a yearís time. After Before the Dawn was released we set some new goals as a band that included playing a bit further out, getting the full length album written, and continuing to grow and develop our relationship with the Fort Wayne community. We lost a founding member this past year, our drummer Taylor Zeman has moved on to some amazing new things like marriage and seminary, so we had some change over time as well. We added Colin Whitehurst on drums and then about a month later added Ethan Kattau on guitar. We had played with both Ethan and Colin in the past with other bands and at the 509 Community Church, so we were already very good friends.
EAP: When one door closes, another one usually opens. Great that it worked out that way. In regards to playing further out, how far out has the touring for Before The Dawn taken the band?
BC: The furthest would be Nashville. Weíve done a couple shows in Chicago and Holland, Michigan, but the furthest was Nashville. We did a couple shows the weekend we were there and spent some time meandering around the city. We all had a great time that weekend and hope to make it back this year.
EAP: Nashville's a great town for sure. Any favorite gigs over the past year?
BC: One of our favorite shows would be the Vogue in Indianapolis. It was happenstance that we were asked by some friends to join them for a show at The Vogue, which is something you donít turn down. After hitting the marketing pretty hard the show itself was such a blast. From seeing our names on the kiosk to hanging out in the room behind the stage reserved for artists to seeing folks dance when we started into the set, it was all just very surreal. We were super blessed by the experience and opportunity to do that event.
EAP: Very cool. So let's talk about the Kickstarter campaign and the upcoming record All That Gold. What made you guys go the route of a Kickstarter fundraiser this time around?
BC: We believe in the communal aspects of music that invite the musician and listener to both take part in the experience of creation. It was that idea that drew us to Kick Starter. The forum was a way to engage our friends and family to invite them into this journey that we are on. We donít have the luxury, or curse, of a record label funding our album and then promoting it and releasing it through all their distributors. Kick Starter is a way of humbly asking the folks that support us and our mission to join in and be a part of something good, something creative. It allows them to share it with their friends and their family; then, prior to the album being released, it is distributed to them.
EAP: There was the misconception for quite some time that the Kickstarter was just folks giving money with nothing in return other than the band saying "thanks!" This is not the case. You're preordering the album, plus with some perks. I see there's a handmade box at the $100 pledge level. Are you guys making these yourselves in someones garage? What other goodies are being offered to the pledgers? I know Fort Wayne's House of Bread did private shows and cover requests for certain pledge levels. James and the Drifters offering anything like that?
BC: Yeah, we love the handmade box option and hope more people order them. Partly because I think they are awesome and partly because Derek DeRoo, our piano/synth player, is making them himself and I want to give him lots of work. While all the options are great, some of our favorites are the vinyl and screen printed poster option, the handmade box that we are going to stuff with goodies. The personalized song option is going to be pretty sweet, actually. As of right now we are looking to record some original songs at I.U. These are songs that weíve recently written but wonít be on the album, and it will be dedicated and sent only to these donors. There is an option for a live performance, I think weíve got two of those through the kick starter, and we are always open to playing anywhere.
EAP: Talk a little about this new album, All That Gold. You mentioned a little about the concept of a life best lived is through a life lived with others in community, yet like Cain we must wander the earth alone sometimes to truly find how we fit within that community. Is this a concept followed throughout the album?
BC: Yeah, I think that idea will be a big thread through all the songs though certainly not the only thread or the only theme that is available for listeners. One of my favorite themes that developed through the writing of this album is love that has aged; for instance, the song Foxtrot is a whimsical love song that says to the beloved, ďLetís go to town and jump on beds we canít afford, crazy kids and wicked bored. We are driving, with no direction, as broad trees melt and surge into patches.Ē But then we move to a song like All That Gold where the words the lover/narrator/what-have-you says to the beloved is much more founded and certain, ďWe donít need no money, honey, it was just a trapÖall we need is love to live on itís as simple as that.Ē Still playful but the feeling is much more dedicated. Thereís more but I donít wanna give away any more secrets.
EAP: Have you started recording the album yet? Is the album written and ready to go, or are you waiting for the Kickstarter to be finished before proceeding?
BC: The songs are written for the most part. Some of the songs are still sketches while others have been pretty cemented for over a year. Nonetheless, all the songs are going to be open for criticism and change during the recording process. We are super excited to be working with our friend Peter Fox at Stonehouse Recording in Grand Rapids, MI for this upcoming album. He has recorded some amazing artists that we felt were stylistically similar to James and the Drifters and he has a great sensibility for capturing the feel of the instruments that we are excited to explore with him.
EAP: How would you describe the sound of All That Gold? More rootsy and acoustic-driven like Before The Dawn?
BC: I think the album will be more rock than the Before the Dawn, but itís hard to tell how much more. Iíd say if you like Wilco and My Morning Jacket then youíll probably find All That Gold easily accessible.
EAP: Will you guys be touring?
BC: We will be continuing to play about 8 shows a month either locally or out of town. It doesnít seem like a lot, but we all still have day jobs (for now) that require our time. We are planning a 2 week tour for next year that is currently in the works.
As of press time, the James and the Drifters Kickstarter is still in full swing. July 10th is the final day of the campaign, so head over to kickstarter and pledge. You'll get some cool swag and you'll help these guys put their album out in style. To keep up on everything James and the Drifters, head on over to jamesandthedrifters.com often.