When Fayetteville songwriter Shawn James set out to make his new record The Bear, he did so in the most logical of all possible places; deep in the woods of the Ozark Mountains.
Now, James and his band The Shapeshifters are set to release the new six-track EP this weekend.
The concept album is the second in a planned three-album series that the band will release in 2013.
There are two release parties this weekend to celebrate the new record; a house show on Friday night, and on Saturday night at George’s Majestic Lounge with The Dumptruck Boys and James Dickard.
We got in touch with Shawn earlier today, and he was nice enough to tell us a bit about the new album.
The Bear is a concept record, correct? What can you tell us about that.
The Bear is the second concept EP in The Shapeshifters Trilogy (The Hawk comes out in the fall, and then a vinyl record of all three together will be released at the end of the year). The story follows a big, haggard bear as he wakes from hibernation. Consumed by hunger, he heads south to hunt and runs into all sorts of trouble.
Tell us a bit about the recording process on the new album. You guys made it kind of in the woods, right?
We wrote and recorded it in the same solar powered cabin in Boxley Valley by Ponca in the Ozarks. I went out there alone for three days with nothing written. I really wanted to flesh it out alone in the environment where the bear might’ve been to get inspired. At the end of the three days, The Bear’s six tracks were written. Then I had Nick Shoulders (banjo/harmonica) and Baker (tenor banjo/mandolin) come out for the next two days and hash out their parts and make everything transition smoothly.
After the five days, we came back and practiced the album with our bass player (Jason Norton) for a month or so.
After the month of getting tighter on the songs, we went back to the cabin with a bunch of recording gear (thanks to Nick Futch our tracking engineer.) He and his lady (Anna Hutchison-photographer/videographer)
were a huge part in getting all the footage/songs down just the way we wanted them.
We recorded the album in three days and we did the main layers (slide guitar, banjo, harmonica, tenor banjo and bass) live altogether to get the raw feel that we wanted from it.
After we finished tracking the album, I sent off the tracks to my good friend (TJ Dumser) in New York who mixed my debut album Shadows for me. He mixed and mastered it just the way we wanted.
To what extend do you think elements of the environment you make a record in, and the circumstances around it can make their way into a recording?
I’ve always been a huge believer that environment we’re in/things we experience/feel makes the mood for the music we create. I couldn’t have asked for a better location to write and record The Bear in. The cabin is about one-mile-and-a-half up a dirt mountain road surrounded by forested hills. While writing/recording, we were able to hike around and explore the Ozarks. It definitely helped set the tone of the album.
With such a comfortable, relaxed, serene environment, we were able to really put forth the performance we wanted. This album would have never been the same if we went to a studio. The Bear just wasn’t meant for that kind of recording process and it definitely shows. Plus, who wouldn’t wanna record in one of the most beautiful parts of the country? We love this area and we want everyone to know.
What can you tell us about the release show(s) this weekend?
There are two shows this weekend. The first is a pre-release party where we’ll be playing The Bear in its entirety, along with some other songs. Greg Mullen and Dumptruck Boys will open the show and we’ll close it out. It’s a basement house show that is open to the public (limited parking) at 20 W. Sycamore Street.
The second show is the official release show for The Bear at George’s Majestic. That one starts at 10 p.m. ($5, 18+), and Dumptruck Boys will open. There’s also a new guy in town, James Dickard, playing from 8-10 p.m. (FREE) for those that wanna get there early.
We’ll have all sorts of new merch at both shows including t-shirts, koozies, flasks and stickers.