Here’s the second half of my interview with Andrew Osenga, the musician behind the buzz-worthy fan collaboration project Letters to the Editor, Vol. 1. If you missed the first half of the interview, read it here.
Without sounding too much like a fanboy, your Webground Vocals idea is just brilliant. (For the song “Swing Wide the Glimmering Gates,” Andy had the readers of his blog submit GarageBand files of them singing a simple melody — which he wrote — and then email those raw files to him. Andy layered them on top of each other to create a digital choir. This is perhaps the first time a blogger recorded a song with background vocals recorded by his blog community. Also: it sounds great.)
Tell us about the Webground Vocals thing. Where did the idea come from? What were the submissions like?
I had that idea maybe six months before the EP. I wanted to try it on the last Caedmon’s record, but we have like eighty people in that band anyway, so there really wasn’t room. This just felt like the right time to do it, though I had forgotten the idea until the submissions of ideas came in so quickly. I started trying to think of other ways to work people in and that idea came back. I got about sixty tracks submitted from about forty people. It was awesome. Some were recorded really well, some were obviously the mic on a laptop with the speakers still on, but when you blended them all together it just sounded fantastic. I bounced them down to four tracks and just panned them crazy and just kind of moved faders at random so it would feel really alive. I was just thrilled at how well it turned out.
I saw the request on your blog and actually intended to submit my own vocals, but the idea of singing into my computer made me feel silly and I kept putting it off. Then I ran out of time.
Snooze you lose, bloggie. I’ll do it again, no worries.
Do you have a favorite song from the EP? A favorite submitted phrase?
They all came about so quickly I’m still sort of discovering the songs myself. “The Ball Game” is, I think, my current favorite, though. Maybe because I’m living so heavily in that situation still.
My favorite submitted phrase was “swing wide the glimmering gates.” A fellow named Bo Dauster sent me that one and I immediately liked it. A day later I picked up a guitar to try and come up with something for it. I wanted it to move, so I tried that real flowing, strumming pattern and then I couldn’t remember the words when I wanted to sing it, but then it popped in my head like two seconds later and I sang it when I remembered it and loved it there. I never put phrases so far behind the front of a section. The chorus starts and it’s a few seconds — almost four whole bars — until I sing. It’s so unlike me but so like some of the big, epic Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears stuff I’ve always loved that I just got chills. I knew right then, when that was all I had, that it was going to be a great song.
Is there anything — a phrase or idea — that you loved but you couldn’t make fit into the project?
Oh, there were a ton. I would literally write a verse and a chorus and then think What should I do for the next verse? and just skim emails until something popped out that could work. It was absurd and ridiculous and so much fun. I could do another one right now with great things I didn’t use.
Any plans to do this again?
Absolutely. It was just too great all around. I want to try and make it a series. That’s why I added the “Volume 1” to the title. I’d love to be at a place in five or ten years where my music is more known and these Letters projects will be the badge of honor for the “real fans.” At least, that’s my dream scenario. I’m always intrigued by the guys who talk about the “real” records that float around like some sort of secret society for folks in-the-know. I just think it’d be amazingly fun to have something like that going on.
What have you learned from this whole process?
I feel that I’ve learned two huge things from this.
One, I need to follow my instincts more. I get crazy ideas but I don’t act on them very much. This time (and about a hundred times throughout) I did, and it was magical.
Two, I need to make my own music. I’ve spent the last five years mostly in a supporting role for other people, which has been really great for the most part, but this just scratched the itch of making my own music and I feel like this is the moment to start chasing that on a larger scale. Everything from the songs to the response to the way I felt when I was doing it has just encouraged me to start really setting goals for my own stuff.
Obviously your fans and blog community play a huge role in your career at this point in time. Do you see that kind of thing becoming more and more of a factor for musicians in the days to come? What about for you? How important, career-wise, is maintaining your blog?
Oh man, it IS my career. The whole point of being a musician is to have people who listen. The blog helps me find those people, and even better, it gets them involved. And I love that. I’m a band guy. I love community. I need it. I thrive on it. Just knowing people out there really want to hear what I do makes me want to go do it. For most of the last ten years of my career I didn’t know those people were out there. Every day I write and people respond I’m that much more excited to make great records and play great shows. Because I know somebody will care. And that they think I can do it.
What’s coming up for you in the next few months?
The new Caedmon’s record comes out in late August. We’ll play a few shows then, but the real tour for that record will be in Spring of 2008. I’ve got a couple other fall touring things in the oven, but I’m not sure what’s going to pan out quite yet. And I’m super inspired to write for a new solo record. I’ll keep you posted on the blog.
Thanks, Andy. Good luck with the Letters project, the new Caedmon’s record, and everything else in the works.