Poor Old Shine’s self-titled debut delivers buoyant bluegrass as pensive (“Country Pocket”) and potent (“Weeds or Wildflowers”) as kindred spirits the Avett Brothers. Producer Sam Kassirer, known for his work with Josh Ritter, layered and textured the collection from the Connecticut-based band.
“We’ve been changing the songs a lot on the road performing them,” singer-banjoist Chris Freeman says. “Then we got together with Sam Kassirer in Maine and really hoped to take them to a new place.”
CMT Edge: Tell the story behind writing “Weeds or Wildflowers.”
Freeman: We were writing songs about our lives for the most part. We live on this little farm now where we’ve been able to grow food for the last year or so. It’s been really fun and gardening has been on our minds. We were thinking about how you can put different meanings within (a song), like gardening, in terms of what you put into something and what you can get out of it. That applies to most parts of life. It’s the work that you put in that you can be most proud of. That’s our hypothesis on it.
Describe your songwriting process.
For the most part, the band was still taking shape throughout the process of making this first album. We’ve been playing the songs for a long time, so there were all kinds of different people coming in and playing. There was a point in the beginning when we had eight or nine people in the band. For all that, everybody would bring something to the table, their own influence, their own style. I think having all those different brains thrown into each song definitely made them special.
It starts with the bones of a song and then we try to flesh it out. Nowadays we just try to make sure no idea of anybody’s goes untried. We’ll try a song 20 different ways, slow and fast, with all different instruments and see what spikes our interest.
How did “Country Pocket” come to you?
(laughs) We live in a really small town. And it’s easy to look around at a lot of the people who live near us, and I think they have a sense of contentment with the way they are right now. It’s one of the happiest things I can imagine in life. We had it as a slower song and we weren’t really playing it for a while. And then Sam and our new drummer Eric (Hischmann) came up with this new beat that totally rejuvenated it, and we decided to put it on the album.
Explain how you hooked up with Sam.
Well, we got to work with this awesome label Signature Sounds for the record, and we were talking about which producers to go with. He had produced for Signature Sounds already and they recommended him. It only took one conversation with him to know that he was going to challenge us and make us a better band. Very soon into preproduction, we were going into the songs and he had great ideas. We were really, really lucky to work with him, especially in the setting we did. It was awesome, really inspiring.
You did it at his studio (the Great North Sound Society)?
Yeah, up in Parsonsfield, Maine. It’s like the darkest skies ever at night. It’s gorgeous. You can look up at night and see every constellation. It’s about 40 minutes from a grocery store and about 30 minutes to the closest place Internet’s available. It’s really out in the middle of nowhere, an old farmhouse built in 1792 and definitely not a sterilized studio with soundproof rooms.
We were there in the summer and there were all these sounds coming into the house. The floorboards are creaky. We got to record in all kinds of places. We played the pump organ while we were all sitting on a bed upstairs. I recorded most of the vocal parts in the attic. It was fun.
Does the new album have a common lyrical theme?
You know, there’s no real specific lyrical theme. We’ve essentially been writing these songs for the past two years or so, and there are themes that we went through, but more in the order of the songs. We tried to give the album a nice shape, a nice trajectory, but for the most part they’re just songs we’ve been playing the last few years that we enjoy. We wanted to move a little beyond the traditional sound that we had been going for.
You’ve said you want ‘everything we do to feel handcrafted and pure.’ Explain.
Yeah. Yeah. Totally. I’ve always been interested in what types of things inspire music and what inspired the people that made the music — and why you make music in the first place. It all comes from a set of ideas and the creativity to come up with it. That’s the most interesting music to me and it’s the kind of music we try to make.
Video and audio by – Eran Shaysh, Daniel DP Perry of Big Old Big One