Perhaps there's something in Charlotte's water that, while fueling the creative juices of area musicians, also slows time in a manner of speaking. What happened in the past with musicians such as Benji Hughes and Todd Busch, has now happened to Stephen Warwick and will undoubtedly happen again in the future.
It's a syndrome of sorts that follows a pretty basic formula -- talented musician often performs around the city and slowly builds a fan base. Those fans then starts asking for a CD, or an EP or a download of some kind only to be told the musician is "in the studio and they'll have something soon." Said syndrome dictates that soon is the equivalent of at least a few years.
That's not necessarily a bad thing -- musicians should take their time to spin yarns, weave music, collaborate and get things crafted the way they want. However, it can get as stressful for the artists themselves as it does for the fans.
"I was getting so frustrated with how long it was taking -- I had 10 songs and the album was 32 minutes, but I was thinking, 'Screw it. I'm done worrying about it,'" Warwick says during a chat over lunch at Dish in Plaza Midwood. "I ended up with downtime and people were requesting that a song called 'Evening' be on there. I thought I owed it to myself and to fans to put that on there."
So, after roughly five years of construction, Warwick has completed his debut disc, Talking Machine. The 11-track, self-released album will be available on iTunes and CD Baby in the coming weeks, though a CD, or perhaps vinyl edition, is not out of the question down the road.
Machine resonates with a lo-fi sound that was intentionally done. Warwick also took great lengths to make sure the album as a whole had a cohesive theme and says he spent a lot of time focused on the sequence of the songs. If a song didn't fit, it was scrapped. Other songs were re-worked to offer a better fit in the collective puzzle.
When asked if he ever thought about releasing an EP, just to get some music into the hands of fans, his reply is simple -- "I wasn't writing songs for an EP ... I was writing for an album." You can hear the ache in his voice when he adds, "I always wanted to give the fans something, and had nothing to give them to show all the work I was doing in the studio."
A lot of work is an understatement. Aside from stand-up bass and a couple of drum tracks, Warwick handled all of the instruments heard on the album, in addition to the vocals -- acoustic and electric guitars, drums, bass, jaw harp, harmonica, organ.
"I'm not that much of a control freak, though I do get like that sometimes," Warwick says with a laugh. "It just worked out for convenience. It was easier for me to go to the studio and not have to teach anybody the songs."
While he'd prefer to play a variety of instruments live, it doesn't work out that way. He's also content with his band, Secondhand Stories -- bassist Jack Kelly, drummer Gil Shaw and trumpet player Kristin Garber.
Over the years, Warwick's sound was changing as much as his attitude. He'd rewrite lyrics, re-record music and adjust the order on a regular basis. Some songs will have organ parts recorded five years ago with vocals that were added five months ago. In the end, Machine ends up being a portrait of the artist as a whole -- the end result of five years of dedication to a project that will finally see the light of day.
The result is also a sonically beautiful and heartfelt array of songs that teeter on the line between folk, pop and something completely indie in nature. "I had a lot of recurring themes of circus imagery and depression-era moods," Warwick says of the album's influence. "I got kind of obsessed with these sideshow photos from the depression era. I work with imagery and parallels to something I might have gone through. I'll tell stories with things that have happened to me, but there may be three different events that get molded into one song as a collage of ideas."
Warwick, who is a DJ a few times a week in a gig that "pays the bills," has learned a pop sensibility to songwriting without having a pop sound. His musical beginnings in high school were with a metal band. After a brief hiatus in L.A. to try his hand at acting, he returned to his hometown of Charlotte to pick up the guitar again. He later found himself on a Deep Elm Records compilation called This is Indie Rock.
As his sound has developed over the last five years or so, Deep Elm decided they didn't like the direction he was going in and let him out of his contract.
Now that the album is done, Warwick, 32, hopes to focus his energy on touring and live performances.
"I listen back to the album now and hear things I could change, but I need to move on to the next thing," he says. "I was already thinking about the next record while I was still making the first one."
As for the future, that path isn't so clear either. Warwick considers moving, but likes that his band is here in Charlotte, the town where he grew up. He also doesn't want to jump to a new location that he knows nothing about -- much like making the album, he'd rather take his time and see how things develop.
"I'm hoping this album will help to build a fan base, maybe get some jobs writing songs for other people ... or maybe producing another artist would be cool," Warwick says. "I don't feel like I'm finished -- I thought there'd be a big weight lifted off my shoulders, but it's never ending. I guess I'll always try to be working out new songs because it's always progressing. There's always a new idea in my head."
Stephen Warwick and Secondhand Stories will perform at The Evening Muse at 10:30 p.m. on June 30. Tickets are $7.