A musician on the road lives an uncertain life, and I’ve written about that quite a bit in previous issues of Copper. It’s not just musical talent and good songwriting that’s needed to book shows when you’re far from home. You need to also be a skilled self-promoter, a fundraiser, a master of new technology and you need to do everything with a smile on your face.
I remember years ago in high school our “powder puff” football game where the girls played the game and the guys donned skirts and poms and cheered on the sidelines. It was seniors versus juniors, and believe it or not, the memory that stands out the most to me is the realization of how damn hard it was to pretend to be excited when our senior girls team was getting soundly thrashed on the gridiron.
I gather it’s like that sometimes when you’re a traveling musician. I have much respect for the perseverant road warriors who go out on a limb, bet on themselves and push the doors open instead of waiting for fate to take over.
At my Second Story Garage studio, the artists came to us. I had a view of only one afternoon in the lives of these traveling musicians. They came to us in all stages of psychological health — I remember one band actually broke up on the road right before they were to visit our studio.
Bands with the qualities of coworkers in a good office environment seemed to me like the ones who had a ticket to keep doing what they wanted to do. Sometimes you’d get a family type of feel from a band, but often the successful ones felt more professional.
The latter describes an artist who I think exemplifies the traveling musician’s spirit better than any I can recall, a man named Brandon Decker from Sedona, Arizona.
His music is released under the name decker., and the more I hear of it, the more I am really growing to like this guy. decker. is a musician that, for me at least, actually coaxes me into listening to the lyrics. But at least half of the attraction for me is the artist himself and his seemingly irrepressible spirit.
I decided to feature decker. today because he’s got a new album out, Into The Red, which looks like a collection of favorites from his previous six records. The mastering on some tracks of this one is more loud than on his other discs (a nod to the name?), but after the first few opening tracks the sound quiets down and opens up a bit. Make no mistake — this guy has some well-recorded tunes in his discography.
But it wasn’t until today that I learned that 2017 also saw the release of a documentary about his road life, and an album carrying the same name, Snake River Blues, which was recorded on 2” tape. Watch the fascinating 23-minute doc by visiting www.snakeriverblues.com.
Halfway through, Brandon jokes with the camera about concerts being the way his band practices to get ready to record, but that in this age of in-the-box digital recording, one can just “copy and paste” instead of recording songs live. He laughs about the insanity of that, but you should know that he’s being a bit self-deprecating in his description of his troupe’s readiness.
I found decker. to be one of the more polished touring groups who ever stopped by our digs. The slightest hint of perfectionism filled the air, but it never interfered with the music, and we did a few takes of each tune to get certain things right. From my point of view, we were tweaking the last few percentage points.
At the time, I thought the instrumentation might have been purposefully minimal to keep road costs down, or that it could have been because the band didn’t trust my abilities for a live recording, but going through decker.’s library now I see that he doesn’t often stray from the format shown in our videos.
As brought up a couple issues ago in this column, the quiet drumming allowed me to put a figure-8 microphone on the mini-kit and get some room cohesiveness and a nice open sound. You’ll notice some gizmos at the feet of Mr. Decker — he gets both feet stomping with extra percussion that, if you watch the documentary, you see employed wherever he goes. As spacious and experimental as some of his tunes can get, he never strays too far from the one-man-band ideal. By the way, that kick drum thing is actually a little speaker with a resistor attached to reach proper impedance. This is also seen in modern studios for recording deep bass from kick drums, and a popular product which does this is called the “Subkick,” made by Yamaha.
I like this guy, and I hope you do too. My recording of “Patsy” turned out at least as good as it sounds on the albums, and I feel kind of lucky to have been a part of this interesting guy’s vortex, if only for an afternoon.
More info at www.deckermusic.com. Snake River Blues appears to only be available through the documentary website, but you can find most of his albums on Spotify, and the latest, Into The Red, is available on Tidal.