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On the DIY process: “The art – the actual jacket that the record is in – we’re going to be painting and screen-printing from home, completely by ourselves.”
After two years and change, Nashville trio Church Mice (Clayton Fike, Graham Bechler and Jeremy Clark) have completed their album Visit the Cemetery. Fike spoke with Performer recently about not setting out to make an album, but making one anyway.
Tell me a little bit about how the band came together. Your Bandcamp page says you guys came from “different ends of the country.” What does that mean?
I came from Dallas, Texas a couple years ago – came to Nashville to go to school and start pursuing music. Graham, the drummer, came from Chicago. He was going to school there, and he started playing with a guy named Andrew Belle here in Nashville, so that’s what brought him here. And Jeremy, the keyboardist, came here from St. Louis to go to the same school that I go to now. We all just met up, kind of randomly. I had just released a CD, so I was just trying to push that kind of solo record, totally different style. I had those guys play with me on that stuff.
And pretty soon, we started writing our own [music] – well, really we just became really close friends, honestly. So for a few months, we hung out and started developing a relationship in that way, and then pushed that into our musical side and started nourishing the whole thing. We just found that we worked really well together, and there was a lot of chemistry there. So I started writing songs for this little project that we had. In that process – probably three or four months later – we started recording those songs. And two years later, we have this record.
What was the process for making the album, and what took you so long?
Well, basically, at first, none of us were super serious about the whole thing. We didn’t even have a band name. We just wanted to record, and so the whole thing is completely self-produced and done in our friend’s home studio. It took a long time because for one, we weren’t paying our friend who was letting us use his gear and engineering the thing, so we had to do it on his time. That ended up being once or twice a month, when we could get together and record songs. And also, I was writing these songs as we were recording them. When we started the recording process, I only had two or three of the songs written. So, we just built it as it went along, so that’s what took a lot of time.
You guys didn’t set out to record an album when you started?
No, not at all.
You’ve written most of the songs.
Yeah, I wrote all of the songs and we all collaborated in the arrangement and production process.
Can you tell me about your songwriting process?
In our process, I write the songs and then we come together and arrange them and produce them together. But what I do is – I usually will have a prior idea on the guitar. I’ll start with the guitar part, and I’ll build off of that. Just on the guitar, I’ll write the verse and the chorus and the bridge and all the other components. And then I’ll build the melody after that. And then I’ll write the lyrics to fit the melody and the chord progression. And then after that, I put it on the table for the other guys to give their two cents on – if there are things we need to change as far as rhythm or time signature or even key. They give their opinion on that, and then we just go from there.
You had recorded an album before – how was this one different from that experience?
The experience was totally different because those songs had already been completely written. I had taken six songs from about 15 or 20 that I had already written and built an album that way. Whereas, with the Church Mice album, we wrote it as we went along, just to make the whole thing more cohesive in that way. My first one was definitely done a lot faster. I think, from start to finish – the recording and mixing and mastering and everything – took three or four months.
Did this one go as you expected, or were there some bumps in the road you weren’t anticipating?
This one has been interesting. Basically, the money that we used to track the record, just to record it, came pretty much completely out of my pocket over time. That’s another reason why it took so long to do. So by the time that I realized that I couldn’t spend any more of my money, we came to a screeching halt in the process. We had all these songs that were completely recorded, but we didn’t have any way to mix them, master them, promote them, duplicate, just because we didn’t have any money. So I had heard about Kickstarter. During the time we were recording, I had set up my phone to record the studio process. So luckily I had all this footage that we used in our video [for Kickstarter]. I just edited it all by myself and made a very cheap, low-budget video. We put it on the website, and we ended up reaching our [fundraising] goal – which was $2,000 in 30 days – we reached that goal in five days. We ended up making, I think it was 179% of our original goal – so we made around $4,000 by the 30-day marker. We were able not only to get our album mixed and mastered, but we were also able to put it on vinyl, which has been a really cool, exciting process too.
So you didn’t intend to put it out on vinyl originally?
No, not at all. Not until we did the Kickstarter thing. In fact, we kind of got in over our head. I didn’t realize how expensive – and this is my own negligence – I didn’t realize how pricey it was to produce vinyl until we had already sunk into the Kickstarter process. So it was completely a blessing that we received as much money as we did, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to fulfill the rewards that we had promised people who had pledged money towards our project; so that was really cool.
What was the best part of making this album so far? Or is it still to come?
We pressed the vinyl, the actual discs, with a company called United Record Pressing in Nashville. The art – the actual jacket that it’s in – we’re going to be painting and screen-printing from home, completely by ourselves. So I think that’s going to be really exciting, just the whole creative process in that way. And just being able to put our own touch on the vinyl that we worked so hard to make – that’s going to be really exciting.
So I guess you guys haven’t started thinking about the next album yet?
We’ve actually been writing. W
e haven’t thought about when we’ll start recording it yet. We’ve just been working on getting all these Kickstarter incentives fulfilled and releasing this record and then promoting as much as we can. I think it’s safe to say six months, eight months down the line, we’ll start thinking about tracking for the next record.
How has the competition in Nashville affected the band coming together, and did that have an impact on the album coming along at all?
It definitely did. A huge way it affected our process is, because there are so many good bands here, there are a lot of bands to play in. So the other guys, they play in three or four bands and they’re all really, really good. They’re more sunk into what we’re doing. This is more of a priority for them. So it’s hard, in a way, allowing for that time taken away from what we’re trying to do.
But honestly, it’s not something that we worry about because we’re all such good friends, and we’re all really loyal to each other. At the end of the day, we love each other, and we love making music together, and I don’t think that will really stop.
So in some incarnation, the Church Mice will always be making music together, regardless of the glitter of Nashville?
I think so. I think we have a really good shot, because of our basis. It’s not like I posted a Craigslist ad to find a drummer and keyboard player. We just happened to meet, and we all had the same interests, the same sense of humor and moral structure. I think that really bled into our music making, which really makes for a rooted musical experience as a band.
Photos by Rebecca Ward