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Embracing Collaboration to Accelerate the Creative Process
In today’s music industry, money is tight and musicians are feeling the pressure to do more with less. For songwriters with talent on many instruments, it’s tempting to do it all themselves as a solo act. Shawn Fogel started out this way, playing all the instruments and writing all the songs on Golden Bloom’s first two albums, Fan the Flames (2009) and March to the Drums (2011). Although these were well-received by critics and fans, Fogel felt it was time to take a new approach to the creative process. All four members of Golden Bloom, Jeff Patlingrao, Josh Cohen, Justin Hofmann, and Fogel, collaborated to write and record the band’s latest effort, No Day Like Today, released this January. This five-song EP stays true to the upbeat, indie pop style that Golden Bloom is known for, but also explores some new territories that reflects the benefits of collaboration. From his home in Montclair, New Jersey, Fogel describes how collaborating with his bandmates generated new musical ideas and accelerated the creative process.
Becoming a Band
Though Golden Bloom began as the solo project of Fogel, in retrospect, it seems that it was destined for collaboration. He began writing songs as a student at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. There he met Jeff Patlingrao, a fellow musician and songwriter. While the two played music with each other in college, they wrote songs individually. Fogel remembers touring with Patlingrao after graduating from Hampshire. “It got a little confusing. We tried to do a tour after college, just the two of us. Jeff would play drums with me and then I would play drums with him, but the audience would be very confused, wondering, ‘Is it two different bands or are you guys the same band?’ So we abandoned that idea pretty quickly.” Instead of joining forces, however, the two continued to pursue careers as solo artists.
For a while, Fogel was performing regularly as a solo artist accompanying himself on guitar, but he was drawn to the idea of playing with a band. “For the most part it was just me playing guitar and singing live, but eventually I got tired of that and really wanted to play as a band.” Before long, Fogel assembled a group to back him up during performances, though its members rotated regularly. “The band came together very piecemeal over the years and different people who I’ve known have come in and out of the live band. But over the last year or so it solidified with Jeff and Josh [Cohen] as consistent members.”
It was as the group’s members started to solidify that Golden Bloom was formed. “I got tired of performing under my own name,” says Fogel. “It started to feel weird playing as a band but having it billed as just my name, so we came up with Golden Bloom to make it sound like more of a cohesive project.” In reality, though, Golden Bloom was still a vehicle for Fogel’s private songwriting and recording endeavors, which produced two full-length albums from 2009 to 2011. This all changed, however, when Shawn, Jeff and Josh took a trip to Maine.
By 2011, Shawn was starting to realize the limitations of working as a solo artist.
“I was just starting to run out of steam. And I work really slowly on my own.”
He knew he needed new inspiration and so he took the next logical step in the development of Golden Bloom, and made it a truly collaborative project. It all happened one weekend at a cabin in Maine. “We went on a little band vacation. We holed up in a little cabin in the woods for a couple of days, brought some instruments, lit a fire, and cranked out some songs.” In that vacation, the band wrote all five songs on their new EP, No Day Like Today.
While a few of the songs were fleshed out from ideas Fogel had sketched out beforehand, some arose organically from songwriting exercises the band did together.
“We gave ourselves a self-imposed challenge to see if we could write a song with only two chords in it, which was tough, but we did it.”
The result was the EP’s final track, “Lone Reporter,” a haunting ballad of the daily drama in a small town. “That one probably sounds as far away and different from anything we’ve done. And it’s one of my favorites.”
As valuable and unexpected as these new song ideas was the efficiency of this collaborative creative process. Instead of hindering each other’s creativity with criticism, the bandmates fed off of each other’s input. “We were able to support each other where individually we would have been treading water,” Fogel explains. “On our own, we would probably have spent a ton of time going over the same thing, or reworking it – a lot more time than you would need to.”
Building Self-Confidence in the Studio
This mutual support also helped streamline the recording process. Drummer Justin Hofmann joined the rest of the band at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, CT, where the four recorded, arranged, and co-produced the new EP. Though the band went into the studio without arrangements for the songs, they found they were able to work very fast. This was due in part to the way the band helped each other feel comfortable with their own musicianship.
Fogel remembers that recording alone could be quite tedious. “When I would record on my own I would spend three hours on a drum take and do it a million times until I was so tired I couldn’t move my arms any more. Finally, I’d have to say, ‘Well that’s as good as it’s gonna get.’” Golden Bloom sped up their recording process by encouraging each other to let go of their perfectionism.
Shawn sums up the mentality that the band developed in the studio: “We’re not gonna do this better the 20th time than we are the third time. We are as good as we are and let’s just trust our instincts and trust our abilities.
So, whereas before we might not have been so inclined to embrace little imperfections, we turned that around and said, ‘That’s OK, that’s what makes it art and not something coming off a conveyor belt.’”
This self-confidence paid off, allowing the band finish their EP in record time. “The whole studio process was really fast. The people who run the studio kept saying to us, ‘I can’t believe how fast you guys are working!’ They have bands who live there for three months.” When the sessions were finished, the band was left with a new EP and a new perspective on the process of writing and recording. “It was a really, really satisfying collaboration,” Fogel remembers, “especially because we are people who aren’t used to doing that, who primarily write and arrange in a bubble. It was great to burst out of that bubble together.”
Golden Bloom released No Day Like Today using Pledge Music, an online platform similar to Kickstarter where fans can preorder albums and get access to exclusive content. When the album was released this January, the band had far surpassed their fundraising goal. Currently, the group is deciding whether to focus on touring or continuing to develop their collaborative songwriting and recording processes.
“On the one hand, we want to get as much life out of this EP as possible and make sure that people are hearing it, because we’re really…psyched about it. But on the other hand, we also know that it’s only a five-song EP and if we don’t get back to writing and recording soon…I don’t want it to be 2015 before we put out music again.” But whatever the next move is for Golden Bloom, one thing is certain; they’ll be doing it together.
photos by Sandlin Gaither