Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fistful of Bide My Time

Bide My Time: (From Left to Right) Justin Arrington, Ande Fanning, Chris Spiker, & Keith Davis.
by T.S. Oldman

The members of the soulful singer-songwriter ensemble Bide My Time would have you believe that being a close knit group of friends with a shared passion for music is natural for most bands. Yet anyone who has ever read about music, knows musicians, or has watched at least an hour of the rock documentary series Behind the Music, knows this is not the case. The majority of music groups characterize themselves as a family, which to me, has always seemed to mean that they bicker constantly and stay together out of some sense of obligation or necessity. However, Justin Arrington (vocals, guitar); Ande Fanning (vocals); Chris Spiker (percussion, upright bass); and Keith Davis (upright bass, mandolin) are honest to goodness friends.

Like most southern bands, Bide My Time has it's roots firmly planted in church music. Justin and Ande met through church just over a year ago, connecting over a conversation about The Avett Brothers. The duo began periodically leading worship and writing music, eventually settling on the stage name Scarlett & Rogue. However, when the pair sold out a show at The Red Cat Coffee House, they decided they needed a fuller sound, adding Keith Davis and Chris Spiker, both of whom led worship with Ande years earlier. After the success of the show, the group has continued to play a handful of venues throughout Alabama and Atlanta over the couse of the last eight months.

That aforementioned friendship translates to a mature sound and an apparent joyfulness that can be heard in their music. Thematically, the group explores the highs of new love and the lows of heartbreak with lyrics that are personal and authentic but still accessible. Citing musical influences that range from Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, and Stevie Ray Vaughan to current artists like the Black Keys, The Decemberists, and Mumford and Sons, Bide My Time has a acoustic sound with a southern flair, clear rhythms, and moving harmonies.

In early April, Bide My Time recorded their self titled debut EP (which FoW will review in depth next week). Over the course of two days at Synchromesh Studios in Birmingham, the group worked with well known local producer Jason Elgin (Act of Congress, Lynam, Wayne). I was fortunate enough to catch up with the band to discuss recording their first album (due out on iTunes April 30th). Click through to read my interview with Ande, Justin, Keith, and Chris about the challenges of being in studio, their immediate plans, and singing in the shower.

What was it like recording at Synchromesh Studios and working with Jason Elgin?
Keith: Humbling. When I went into it a friend said don’t be afraid if he makes you cry.
Chris: I don’t think I played any song the way we practiced it. I would play and he would say, “Yeah… why don’t you do less.”
Bide My Time worked hard while recording their album
at Synchromesh Studios. No word on whether the band
was denied soft drinks during sessions.
Justin: But it worked!
Chris: It’s like being put out on a stage by yourself and then having to listen and grade yourself.
Justin: You practice, practice, practice, practice. And think you’re ready. Then you get in there and you feel like you’re falling apart because (I think Jason said this), “A studio is like a room full of microscopes: everything is so maximized and intensified.” At the end of the day we’re really happy with it.
How about recording the vocals?
Justin: Pretty much like singing in the shower…
Chris: Except for totally opposite.
Keith: It was dark and blue, and there was a lot of shame…
Justin: (Laughing) It was good. You want to be perfect, vocally. Her [Ande] and I sing harmony. You want that to be so tight. And you think you’re tight and then you get in there, and it gets picked apart and you’re looking at a waveform on the computer and you realize that it’s not together. [So, you] run it again until you get it right. And we’re all so self critical. None of us are like “Ehh, it’ll work.”
Ande: It was really exciting and super challenging. This was my first time to do anything like this. Jason Elgin is incredibly good at what he does. So I’m really glad that we worked with him. We have been working on this [album] for months. Vocally, we have been working on it intensely for weeks, even refining it as we were getting ready for recording. [In the studio] everything from vowels to consonants, every little thing becomes amplified times ten. Hopefully, this will be the first of many projects so we can apply what we learned down the road. It was fun though. At the end of the day, it seemed surreal. And it was really cool to hear it on a playback when everything was together.
Chris Spiker: Not the executive
branch of Bide My Time
How did you decide what songs to include on the EP?
Chris: I vetoed one song.
Keith: Didn’t you veto “Water to Wine?”
Chris: Which we did!
Keith: It’s not like presidential veto powers.
Justin: It has an asterisk by it though. It’s not officially on the track list. It’s a bonus track.
Chris: “Water to Wine” is Chris’ favorite song. That’s what the album says in fine print.
Justin: We almost named it Chris’ Song. Those [songs on the album] were the 5 or 6 we had really been playing out [at shows]. We thought those were the ones that represented us the best and had a variety of sounds.
What is your process for creating songs as a group?
Chris: As far as each individual part. Keith pretty much plays whatever he wants. For percussion, when we first started out it was like, “Just do something.” It’s gotten more refined [since then] and I appreciate it. Sometimes I want direction, but generally, we all do our own thing and it fits together.
Justin: As for the accompaniment, we bounce a lot off Keith and Chris. We’ll have a root or a general idea and then we’ll ask, “Hey what do y'all think we should do here?” And these guys will play three different things. And we’ll say , “Number two.” I mean, that’s what they [Keith and Chris] are good at.

Songwriting duo and lyrical spotters,
Justin and Ande, recording a track.
What about songwriting for Justin and Ande?
Ande: My background is more in English literature and poetry. I love the rhythm of words anyway. So songwriting is a neat way to play with that. For our process, it either starts with an idea for lyric or Justin will have a melody or the actual guitar part of a song. He [Justin] already had a lot going when we met.
Justin: For me it’s everyday life. The whole reason I started writing and playing guitar was for the songwriting. The [artists] that I enjoy the most outside of just music, are the people who have heartfelt authentic, and (a lot of times) gut wrenching lyrics. You know it’s real. You know it’s coming from them. It’s like I had no choice but to write this song. It’s the people who have a passion in what they’re saying and what they’re singing. Riding down the road, a line will pop in my head and I’ll put it in my phone. I’ll come back and revisit that later; and sometimes, four or five of those come together. Sometimes it takes a year, sometimes a few hours. A lot of stuff I write is kinda heavy. I’m not a sad person at all but…there’s just so much more sincerity in a sad song.
Ande: But I’m a girl and sometimes I want to hear a sweet song. We go back and forth. We email each other a lot. We both travel a good bit . And we both like to write when we’re on the road. And it’s good to have a writing partner too because it keeps you working. It’s almost like a workout partner.
Justin: It’s your lyrical spotter. And we’re not afraid to drop the bar on each other either. We had to get past that in the beginning. You can’t like everything.
Ande: It got better when we crossed that [overly polite] line. We’re both pretty upfront now.
What are you hoping comes across to someone who’s listening to the album for the first time?
Ande: We hope that something in a song resonates with people. That they’ll hear a lyric or there will be a chord that brings up something that they can connect with. That’s why I love music. It makes me feel something.
Justin: I try to write music that is authentic and real. People relate to that. Not a song full of clich├ęs that that person’s never lived before. I think people can relate to the anxiety, and the joy, and the fun of a “Maybe” and a “City Song;” People have experienced the heartbreak of an “Outrun” and then the questioning of a “Gypsy.” [Those are] emotions that people all go through. I hope they hear the passion that we feel about our music.
Keith and Ms. Otis in studio.
Yes, his bass is named Ms Otis.
Chris: I feel like we all get along pretty well. Practice, which maybe to our detriment, is usually more fun that we intend it to be. When I listen to the album, I’m going to be thinking about that. Not necessarily the songs but more of the time we spent in practice.
Justin: That’s the hilarious part to me. In the musician world, we always talk about that we’ve never been in a band where everyone gets along so well. We have fun. There’s no drama.
Ande: It’s an interesting mix.
Chris: It is a definitely interesting mix.
Justin: Four completely different people.
Ande: I think that’s what’s fun about it though. I never know what Keith is going to say and Chris keeps us on time.
Chris: And makes sure you sing the right words.
Ande: I love it when you sing my part.
Chris: I don’t think other people would though.
What are your plans after the album release show on April 30th at Red Cat in Birmingham?
Justin: We’re really gonna try to push the EP. Hopefully, play a lot more gigs. Before, it was tough to play and make a name for yourself and leave an impression [after] five or six songs and have nothing to leave in people’s hands. Definitely a lot more gigs and eventually a full length album. We have five or six more songs that are ready but we wanted to go ahead and get a taste [of our music] out there.
Be sure to check back with FoW next week for a full album review of Bide My Time's debut EP.

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