It was April and signs of new life were revealing themselves everywhere. The snow was beginning to recede and the iron-clad gloominess of Motown winter was loosening its grip. Blue skies were visible once more. And thus it became apropos to shake off the dust and wake from hibernation.
However, the roots of this awakening reach back several years. After a surprising and humbling amount of success with the release of Tienken, we made plans to record its follow-up. We booked time in a recording studio, but without much of a plan. And while the results were immediately satisfying during tracking, things turned problematic during mixing. The decision was made to mix things ourselves since we are a very hands-on group of perfectionists. However, we were still rather new to the process of recording and mixing. So the task of mixing a set of songs that contained around 50 tracks each became daunting very quickly. Couple that with technical problems with studio equipment and one might see why the inspiration and motivation to work on those songs began to fade. So those songs ended up being put on hold.
In the few years between that time and the recently renewed creative spark of the group, there have been many distractions. Good ones such as marriages, nieces and nephews being born, weekends at cabins in northern Michigan, new relationships forged, travels to foreign lands, settling into new living spaces, etc. And distressing ones including job losses, sickness, surgeries and losing loved ones.
Finally, on a day sometime after these things came to pass, our musical cabin fever kicked in and it was time to enter the waters again. Buds were on the trees and the air was heavy from the first of many April showers. We gathered around a dark wooden table in Steph's dining room and began working through rough acoustic ideas just to see if anything could be created from them. Like sparks and gasoline, these songs were ignited over three days of reuniting and exploring.
We were excited by the results, so plans were made and demos were done over several months. Then toward the end of the year, after all the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, Tom, Phil, Steph and I (Steve) settled into the studio to begin recording a whole new set of songs that had become our collective life blood.
Friends and family cheered us on and kept us stocked with coffee and tea. Longtime friends like Jessica Bailiff and Gary Murray encouraged us and made beautiful musical contributions. New friends like Anna Lynne Williams (vocalist of Trespassers William), Colette Alexander (touring cellist for Josh Groban and Jens Lekman), Allie Minando (violinist), John Somers, Anderson Reinkordt and Rachel Allison stepped in to contribute to the record in amazing ways we could have never envisioned on our own.
We were aware that a lot of people have been waiting for a new release from us for some time and so we took great pains to treat every detail of the process with care. We wanted this record to sound more mature. We also didn't want the intricacies of the songs to be buried under a gauzey monochromatic wash of effects that can easily happen with a band like ours. We wanted the record to have weight, dimension and texture, possibly influenced by years of listening to Ennio Morricone and Tom Waits records. We wanted it to be big and intimate and loud and quiet and messy and broken and fragile and beautiful. Just like life itself.
And that's what this record is about. Life. We experience it in extremes. We only know what bad is because we know what good is like in turn. We understand wetness in relation to dryness, etc. And so it was with revelation that I read a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that said, "When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." It hit me like a ton of bricks. I wrote it down and planned to share it with Steph that week when we met to finish writing the last song for the album. I had given her a piece of music I wrote and she penned a set of lyrics called "Maps of the Sky". After we played it for the first time, I could feel a swelling sea of emotion ripping through the room and consuming us both as we sat in her living room. The song captures what we all face from time to time. The experience of needing to find comfort in the midst of a dark season. The idea that every winter will pass and bring forth new life, and that even in the middle of the night it is possible to find your way back home. When I told her about the Emerson quote, we looked at each other in amazement. After discussing it among everyone in the group, we all started gravitating towards the title of "Dark Enough for Stars."
And so it is that this recording represents our collective joys and sorrows and the things that we have had to overcome to create it. It stands as a marker and as proof that all is not lost and that there is hope in knowing that each day breaks anew – that one can rest in the hope of knowing that in the middle of all darkness, beauty can be found. And that there is a treasure to fight for and hold on to in those stars that pierce through the inky blackness of our longest nights.
Peace, hope, blessings,
Stephenie Halpert McWalters – I'd like to thank my Best Beloved, as well as all the dear people – friends and family – in my life, who make living itself precious (Among the many are H.A., Em, Jane, Kristen, The Shaundrea Collective, Alexander, and Ann & Jeff). Also, thank you to all the kind people who have such lovely things to say to us about our music. Every bit of encouragement is cherished, and is part of what keeps us doing what we do. Many, many thanks to you all.
Steve Swartz – Endless thanks goes out to... God for granting me the heart to see this project through. A thousand monuments of thanks to my wife, Anna, for her unending support and wisdom. My Mom, Dad and sister for their steadfast belief in me. The Van Slembrouck family (Mom, Dad, Grace, Janie, Justin and Jane) for fathomless insight and encouragement. Janie Van Slembrouck especially for the theraputic late night conversations after long days in the studio. Very special thanks go out to the musicians that volunteered their time to make this recording more special than we could have imagined – Gary Murray, Jessica Bailiff, Anna-Lynne Williams, Colette Alexander, John Somers, Allison Minando, Anderson Reinkordt and Rachel Allison. (Especially Gary Murray and Jessica Bailiff for the treasured friendship and tireless encouragement we have felt over the last 10 years.) Super big hugs to Darren Revell at Indie 103.1 in Los Angeles, the wizard behind the curtain, who shared us with the world first. Windy & Carl for their priceless wells of wisdom and guidance. (You guys are wonderful!) DJ Zumby and Mikeylove at Auralgasms for faithful support and helping spread the word. And a giant overflowing glass of thanks to the following cast of friends: Michael Carian for maintaining exceptional aesthetic standards. Dan Edwards for keeping me balanced and sane. Jim TerMarsch for walking with us since day one. Kari Shimmel for loving words of wisdom. Monique Prieur for cheering me on all the way to the finish line. Mary Grace Calley for always telling me I could do it. Even when I wasn't feeling it. Candice Belanger for her wordsmithing and unfailing encouragment. Jason and Jesse Cowells for being awesome at all times. Eva Moutrie for keeping things sassy in the face of mentally draining days. Jessica Thoel for always reminding me of what's most important. And Caleb Porter and Jeff Majchrzak for lending their ears and saying "cool!"