I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Austin Basham, a folk singer hailing from Austin, TX. We've featured Austin's music before and I was delighted to catch him while on his first ever European tour. Here's what we talked about:
So I know you’ve been in recording recently in Oslo, Norway. How did you end up there?
A few years back I was living in out in Cambridge with some musicians and photographers in a small town called Linton. I had just graduated from college with an engineering degree from UT and I was ready to leave, so I started writing stuff while I was in Linton. I was connecting with Tyler, my producer, via internet and Skype; we were discussing doing pre-production while I was in the UK. So we were Skyping back and forth, getting ideas out there and then he flew out to stay with me in Linton for a week. It was so cold and we had a fireplace with no wood, so we had to go out and break off branches from neighbors’ bushes and use old newspapers.
We finished pre-production for the [Linton/Oslo] EP there though. He had some connections in Oslo because he had produced music for some other bands and made friends there. We weren’t initially going to go to Oslo, but we ended up finding a cool studio space there and it was relatively close to England. We ended up going there for five days and recording most of the EP.
So you’re back in Oslo now, after a few years? What made you want to go back?
Yeah. This time around, I’ve been in Oslo for 2.5 months, but I was there a year ago for 3 months. We started the process then but now we’re back to finish the album. We’re planning on having around 14 tracks. They’ll be all new tracks too, except maybe “All is Well”, which we’ll probably throw on there to keep the fire burning for that track.
The people definitely made me want to come back. It’s such a good scene; everybody is so welcoming. Since I’ve been out there a few times now, I know so many people. I live with 8 other people, all musicians, so I’ve recorded on their stuff and they’ve recorded on my stuff. It’s a really great network to hang out and collaborate. One of my friends down there, Simon, is another folk singer and we get together and work on lyrics and stuff.
Besides the people you’ve worked with, has anything else influenced your upcoming album?
I just released a song called “Foreign Town”. The first time around, I was apart from my wife for three months and that was difficult - doing the long-distance thing. She’s here with me now, but I think a lot of the songs that we did in that first trip have an element of homesickness and being in a cold room. It’s funny, because some of the new songs are upbeat, with a full backing band and stuff. But I think that the songs were definitely influenced by where I was writing them. Back in Austin for the past year, I was working a full time job, then coming home to an apartment I shared with other people. So when I came home from work and started recording, I would be playing softly in my room, trying not to wake up my roommates.
Let’s talk about your process. Do you write lyrics and then a melody or vica versa?
It can kind of go both ways. It’s luckiest if you get a melody and a cool hook or part of a lyric that goes well with the melody. Usually you can go from there. That’s the best case scenario but it usually doesn’t work out this way. For a lot of the songs on this album I had a lot of ideas melody-wise but no lyrics to accompany them. I had to finish the lyrics at home after we filled out the whole song – guitar drums, everything. I had to fill in the vocals for almost completed songs and that was the most difficult part. Usually when I write, I do acoustic guitar and vocals simultaneously, so there’s a little way to give each way. With that in mind, writing like how I did on the three or four completed songs was so confining.
I’ve noticed that on your previous songs, you’d often leave space for a little guitar fill or something in between lines or verses. Has that style changed?
It’s hard to do those little things with this style, so you have to find more ways to make the song blend. Whether that is a banjo line or a trumpet hook, or something, it depends. A lot of times, I’ll be playing a melody or something that I think is cool – and this probably isn’t the most glamorous way to write songs. My wife can attest to that. She probably thought it was so much cooler until she saw the process. A lot of times I kind of sing a melody, but I don’t know the exact words. I just like the melody, the rhythm, the syllables, and the sound and tone of the words. Then I have to actually sculpt it down to actually find words that fit the song. Sometimes I have an idea, a concept, emotion, or feeling that I want to write a song about. In those cases, trying to whittle down something that works but isn’t cheesy can be a process.
Let’s talk more generally about the album. Is there a theme or purpose behind the project?
To give some backstory, I did a little project on my own back in college. It was called Little Foxes and I did it all on my own in my room basically. I did it while everyone was sleeping and banged on the walls with my hands and skateboards for drums. It was makeshift, you know? So I guess this is my first legitimate, real album. It’s been exciting, but also a brand new chapter. The EP I did was like 5 songs but a lot of them were old songs that were revamped. Starting an album where we wanted at least 12 songs was overwhelming because I’d never written that many songs before! It’s been a slower process but you have ways to let the songs breath and that’s what’s been cool. We’ve recorded a lot of them a while back but it’s cool to revisit them and say, “that part is cool, we’ll keep that” or “we’ll evolve this part elsewhere”.
This album is interesting because we’ve recorded a lot of these songs here or there and the most exciting part is going to be hearing them all together. I haven’t done that yet, and to be honest I don’t really know exactly how many there are right now. We don’t have titles or a track listing or anything like that. As soon as we get all the mixes together, I’m really excited to find an order and an overall concept, tone, and sound for the album. I want it to feel cohesive and have the songs lead into one another. Not a bunch of singles here and there. I love albums that are cohesive; if you look at Radiohead’s albums, they all have a concept.
Your songs have been pretty much a one-man show up until this point. On this album it looks like you’ve been adding more elements into your sound. Has this been more freeing or challenging for you?
It’s been really nice. This one for sure, I’ll hope to have a full backing band when we tour. It’s kind of a bummer when you write all of these pretty songs and you have to go it alone on stage. This time around it’s been nice because for all of my previous work, so many of the overdubs were done remote. I’d record something or Tyler would get someone to play cello for a part, and he’d skype with me and ask, “hey how does that part sound?”. I’d reply, “Well it sounds good...” and you could never really tell through the skype audio. This time everyone is together in the studio so we can listen to a track a million times and ask, “What does it need? Maybe some clapping, or some accordion?”. It gives us a chance to do a lot of experimenting and a lot of friends come in to give us some insight.
My roommate that I’m living with has this old pump organ which has a sound that dies super quick because it’s so old. It’s super creepy because you can hear the pumps but we’re going to try to get some of that in there. We like to use just random stuff, whatever we can get our hands on.
Where do you want to go when you start your tour in support of the album?
We’ve been talking about – and I’m not sure it’s going to happen – moving to London. It’s a great hub and my brother lives here; lots of my friends live here or in Europe. It’s just so easy to go to the rest of Europe or Scandinavia from here, so that’s in the works potentially. If that doesn’t work, we’ll probably do some stuff in the states, either on the east or west coast.
Your brand of folk is, in my opinion, very American at its roots. Do you see your style changing to reflect European influences if you do decide to permanently relocate?
It might adapt somewhat. I have a lot of buddies here who are in bands. Like my friend Will Clapson, who is in a band called Jack in Water. They were just in Oslo recording with my producer. I have another friend in a band called Last Dinosaur and we love to just jam. You never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if it’s the environment I’m in or the city, but my musical style is always influenced by that or the people I’m with. Sometimes though, they’re also influenced by other things, like Americana, so it ends up always being a mixed bag anyways. It all trickles in, from the people I’m with to the music we’re listening to.
I think what excites me the most is that music is something that has always revolved around directly collaborating with people. At first I wrote all of my songs by myself and I’d do everything on my own in my room. It’s been hard for me to learn, but after being exposed to other people’s ideas so much, I’ve become much more comfortable saying, “You know what, your idea might actually be better than mine”.
What would you like to say to the people on BIRP?
Thanks for listening and being patient! I’m slow at putting out songs and I know this album has been a long time coming. Thank you and you guys are responsible for allowing me to do this. It can be sometimes difficult to release things if you’re too self-conscious, but having people who are willing to listen always makes it all worth it.Artists: Austin Basham, Jack in Water, Last Dinosaur, Radiohead