Making a Record: Pullman Strike



Step 1: Demoing

  • Dane Abernathy

So much of music journalism focuses on finished product, on LPs and tours and festivals: stuff that's been fine-tuned, perfected, and prepped for public consumption. Yet the finished product is only one step in a long process - one that takes months on average, but can drag on for years (now paging Kevin Shields... ). Hell, even going into a studio happens relatively late in the game - particularly for working musicians for whom studio time is finite and precious.

Something we'd like to try here is a look at the processes that lead up to a recording, particularly with musicians who live and work here in the Queen City, so that when records do appear, it's not like they formed in a vacuum. It's good to peel back the curtain sometimes and see what artists do when nobody's watching.

We'll start with Charlotte's Pullman Strike. With its outlaw sensibilities and full-time pedal steel player, the five-strong, steady-gigging band has most often fallen under the alt-country umbrella. In September, 2011, the band released its debut LP, People We Know. With a year and a half elapsed at this point, they're itching for a followup.

Here's how drummer Daniel Beckham outlined Pullman Strike's decision-making process:
a. Do we want to? = "Yes"
b. Can we afford it? = "Not really"
c. What do we do about it? = "Play shows, save money"
d. Now can we afford it? = "Mayyyybe... but just barely "
e. Where do we want to do it? = "Local, and legit."

  • Dane Abernathy

The band has changed since the debut, Beckham says, and, after several years' gigging and songwriting experience, these musicians are more purposeful in their compositional choices. They have an LP's worth of new music - stuff that reflects this change - and they want to do these tracks justice on a proper release. "I think our songs have gotten a bit harder to categorize, and the big 'alt-country' bucket we've been put in doesn't fit quite like it used to," he says.

Over the past few weeks, the Craigslist-formed outfit has been making recordings of newer songs in Beckham's basement-turned-practice space. These demos get more detached listens in car stereos, giving the band the necessary distance to discern what works and what doesn't, resulting in an even further tightening of songs pedal steel player Wes Hamilton says have already been practiced, practiced, practiced.

"It's good to step back and just listen," says guitarist and bassist Evan Stepp. Dan Smith - who has similar duties within the band - agrees that this is valuable time to get a feel for each song as a whole. Pullman Strike didn't go through this step with People We Know, he says, and the record felt rushed out as a result. This time, though, making the time to demo tracks makes the band feel more prepared, more aware of the constituent elements of its songs. "It's kind of like a car," Smith says. "You know how it runs and that it's working, but it's good to understand what the certain parts do."

With no label backing, the band is paying for everything along the way with money it makes playing shows - and the shows themselves can vary wildly from financial successes with frustratingly incomplete PA setups to blowout good times with buddy bands. Yet it's important to these five that they take their time, do this right, and put the upcoming LP out on vinyl - even if it's a gradual process.

"We just have to continue playing shows to make the money we'll need," says Hamilton. "We'll probably be broke after we record so we'll have to sit on the recordings for a while until we get enough in the bank to pay to have it pressed."

Keep an eye out for updates on Pullman Strike's progress - and for news of other locals with records in the works.

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