The Ames: Sing me a song tonight
To be honest, the Pacific Northwest is not running short on folk bands. But, we are running short on original folk bands. There really are just so many bearded, plaid shirt, cowboy boot Bruce Springsteen/ Woody Guthrie/ Bob Dylan-loving bands a person can take before writing off the whole new crop of folksy bands.
Thankfully, Bellingham is not Ballard, and we have some folk bands that can carry the banner without retreading the same territory over and over again. One of those bands is The Ames. One of them may have a beard, but they are not too afraid to get a little weird every now and then.
What sets the Ames apart from some of their contemporaries in the scene is the fact that they do not stick to just the same old shtick. Their music is not all harmonies, acoustic guitars and banjos. Sure, many of their songs feature these instruments, but they also throw in piano- and a kazoo from time to time- and are not afraid to stray off the folk path into music that has more in common with ragtime, pop, alt-country, soul and maybe even a little rock every now and then.
The Ames released an EP in August of 2011, just a few weeks into being an actual band. Since then they have been honing their sound, playing shows mostly at the Green Frog and working on a new EP, which is set to be released on April 20th. The band is Michael Lanz on drums, Dan Swan on bass and Sam Carlton on piano, vocals, banjo, harmonica, kazoo and pretty much everything other instrument that they have in their songs.
“Our first record was recorded on handheld mics at a pre-school,” Lanz said. “So, with the new EP we were really trying to do something more professional.”
The new EP was not recorded in a pre-school. In fact, it was recorded in Shoreline at B Natural Studios with Swan’s Uncle spearheading the recording process.
“It was really a nice little basement space,” Carlton said. “The intimacy of the place really helped us move forward with our sound and explore new songs. It was also really great to work with someone that was willing to teach us how to record and produce an album.”
The fact that the producer was pretty hands-off about the music, and just focused on engineering and making the recordings sound good, really helped the band zone in on the songwriting and arrangements, Carlton said.
All-in-all, the album took a couple months to record, but most of that time was spent traveling down to the studio on weekends and recording in short sessions. Lanz said that the songs were recorded pretty quickly, and that it always seemed like the third take was the charm. They very rarely performed any overdubs on the songs and did not use any effects whenever possible. The album features seven tracks and clocks in at around 45-minutes, the band said.
The Ames said they are really dedicating themselves to the Do It Yourself ethic with the whole album- from the recording process, to the album art and to the videos. They said they are currently in talks with Kelly Bjork to the the cover art, although it has not been confirmed as of April 1.
“We really tried to show our full-range with this EP,” Carlton said. “We didn’t want to put ourselves in a box, and wanted to show our versatility as far as the music and songwriting goes. So, listening to the album, you’ll hear us switch from soulful, piano-driven songs to more foot-stomping, banjo-heavy tunes. We went into the studio with the idea of pushing ourselves and making the music more complex than what was heard on the first EP we came out with.”
The fact that their album release show will be at the Green Frog is no coincidence, as the band proclaimed that it is by far their favorite music venue in town.
“James Hardesty (the owner of the Green Frog) is a bug supporter of us, and we just feel really comfortable in the space,” Lanz said. “They just let us flourish here. Even when we play a show with mistakes we still come away feeling good about it.”
The fact that their album release show is on 4/20, is a coincidence: “Yeah, we aren’t that kind of band,” Carlton said, laughing.
The Ames plan on taking the new music and going on mini-tours during the Spring and Summer and then want to go back to the studio and record another EP as soon as possible. The tours will probably just be short jaunts down to Portland and back, Carlton said.
Until then, the band will keep playing in Bellingham and hopefully add some more installments to their online “how to” video series, which features Swan giving advice on a variety of things like pumping gas and packing band gear into a van.