Making a record: Pullman Strike

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Step 2: Studio prep

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On Aug. 13, Charlotte's Pullman Strike goes into the studio for the second time. They'll be recording the followup to the band's 2011 LP, People We Know, at Charles Holloman's studio, and they've been prepping for months; writing, demoing and - as always - gigging around town to pay for the whole process. As part of our Making a Record series, we caught up with the members of this country-rock outfit in the lead-up to these sessions. You can read the previous entry on Pullman Strike's record-making process here.

Tell me about the studio you're using. How did you decide?

Daniel Beckham: (Charles Holloman) was referred to us by a good buddy of mine, CR Rollyson of the Sammies. After letting the rest of the guys in Pullman Strike suggest studio options, and after pricing and shopping other options, we came to the easy conclusion that Charles was the best option. We met with him, and he came to see a couple of our shows, invited us in to meet with him and tour his facility, and genuinely got to know us and what we hoped to accomplish in this process. It meant a lot to me and the guys that he approached us in a way that was much more than a spot on his calendar, and just another band cutting him a check for services rendered.

Wes Hamilton: We had been working hard and saving our money so we wanted to go with someone who had proven to turn out quality work. I think Daniel initially contacted Charles just letting him know we were interested in recording with him and that we had a show coming up also. He showed up to our Snug Harbor show and watched us barely make it through our set that night. We all thought it was pretty cool he showed up though. I think him showing an interest in us helped to make that decision also.

Evan Stepp: The first time we met, there was no talk of money whatsoever - just hanging out in the studio and Charles taking an interest in who we were as a band, and what we wished to accomplish. He even came to a few of our shows to get a better feel for our sound. We just got a really good vibe from Charles, and the studio itself seemed like a really lax, comfortableenvironment to record in. I think that's when we decided we were going with him. Since then, he's allowed us to come into the studio and have a practice, just to make sure when it came time to record, we would know where everything was and we come make ourselves at home.

Neil Mauney: It's a really badass place. It's very relaxed and not stale like studios can be sometimes. It probably helps that Charles is such a chill guy, too. The atmosphere is very comfortable.

You took a more purposeful approach to this record than the debut, taking your time and demoing the songs and everything. How were the versions you took to the studio different from the ones that developed in practice?

ES: They're the same. If anything, maybe a harmony will change or a lead. As for the structure though, those are pretty much solidified.

NM: The original plan was to demo everything we had before we hit the studio so we could plan for extra instrumentation and restructuring, if need be. That didn't work out so well, as I was the "engineer" of the demos and some unexpected, rather life-altering events interrupted that process and took the focus away from getting them done the way I had planned. So, it became a bit more rushed to finish them. But we have been practicing and working through the songs as much as possible. I think we've done all right so far, despite setbacks. We will see how everything pans out in the studio, but I have good feelings about it.

Dan Smith: We practice the same songs a lot to get everything the way we want it before heading into record. Hopefully it will be as tight as our best practices and come out just the way we envisioned it.

None of you are really new to music, not as I see it. So how does studio time differ between experienced and novice musicians? Is it ever "down to a science?"

WH: I usually hate recording. I tend to overthink everything, it ends up making me nervous and that affects my playing. This time is different. It's the first time I've ever felt comfortable and actually been excited about recording.

DB: Well, the meetings we've had with Charles Holloman so far have really enlightened me and, despite my experience, I feel like more of a novice than ever! I don't think we would be doing ourselves any favors if we had some sort of science or formula to apply to the process, but being a novice versus experienced musician shouldn't make much differences as long as we're all on the same page, well-rehearsed, and not forgetting that wasting time is wasting money. Our money.

DS: I think it's just a little more "under the gun." You don't necessarily have a time limit, but time is money and the rest of the band is relying on you to get your parts down. It's a little stressful at times and frustrating, but the end product is worth it.

ES: While recording in a studio is a very fun experience that every musician should do at least once, you have to be conscious that you're not a band that has buttloads of money to spend three months in the studio recording a record. You have to be deliberate and focused when it comes to tracking your parts, especially having five members, because you're on a time constraint. I certainly don't have it down to a science. I prefer to be led in the process, so I consider Charles to be the scientist in this case. He's been doing this for a long time, so I trust in his judgment when it comes to laying out a schedule as to how he sees it getting done.

NM: I guess it does differ if a guy has never had much experience recording in a studio and tracking everything separately. It can be a difficult thing to get used to. And we are definitely not experts, but I think we have enough experience between the five of us to make it work. Personally, especially through the demoing process, I've realized I hate engineering a recording. I love the process of recording. I just can't stand being the one to work out all the technical kinks between plugging mics in and pressing buttons, etc. I really want to be able to just step out back, burn one down, then come sit down at the mic and start recording when the engineer says go. I want to be able to focus completely on the music and nothing else. The engineering process usually gets me so frustrated working out technical issues that I don't even want to record anymore, so I prefer leaving that to someone who knows what they are doing.

You share a few members with other bands - does that lead to scheduling hurdles with intensive processes like making records?

DB: I was nervous. But we have a pretty open and copacetic relationship with the "other bands." We have to rely on those guys with other projects to manage and adjust their priorities, and to schedule things out with enough notice to make sure no one is blindsided or surprised. It's always a give and take with the other projects, but it looks like it'll be all good for this!

WH: I don't think it'll affect too much. My other band isn't on as set of a practice schedule as Pullman Strike.

DS: It's hard for me touring and playing with Bruce Springsteen to take some time off and record with my band sometimes.

What's next?

NM: Hopefully we record a record that we would all dig if we were at an outside party. I think we can. We've been working really hard on these new jams. I will definitely be spending more time reflecting on what I want from these songs and refining lyrics and melodies as we go along, as I think those things tend to be the lifeblood of our style of music.

DB: I'm in full-blown planning mode. Recording is a huge milestone in the process, but we have to think about mixing, mastering, artwork, packaging, promotion, and all that kind of stuffleading up to an actual release. We still have a bit of a gap in the finances to bring the record to market, so we have some great shows scheduled with Temperance League and some other folksin the near future.

WH: We'd love to send the recordings off to be pressed and have a new record ASAP, but we can't afford to do that. We're going to have to pick up some shows and promote ourselves. We just have to work. We're all used to having to earn everything the hard way, and I don't see this being any different. Hopefully we'll have everything ready to be released by late fall/ early winter.

DS: For the short future? Probably another glass of wine. Long term? Hopefully have this record out as soon as possible.

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