What Goes Into “The Woods”: An Interview With Kollin Baer


Originally published on Creative Control Mag here: http://creativecontrolmag.com/what-goes-into-the-woods-an-interview-with-kollin-baer/ 

Last week we introduced you to singer/songwriter Kollin Baer. His album “The Woods” gave us a taste of some new folk music that kind of left us wanting more, so we asked him about it. Read on to learn more about “The Woods” and what you can expect next from Baer.

Creative Control: I read in your bio that you wrote and recorded everything yourself for “The Woods,” including all the instrumentation. What was it like to practice for that?

Kollin Baer: Haha, that is an excellent question. It was definitely a stressful process, but one I will never forget. I mean, come on, what singer-songwriter gets to play all their own instruments on a record? I thought it was the coolest idea ever. Having played the drums, piano, bass guitar, electric and acoustic guitars, and singing all at different times in my life, it was a lot of fun to combine those different instruments that I had picked up over the years. I recorded the record over a 2 week span, and since I was doing all the tracking (recording of the instruments) by myself, it made sense to do all the instruments one by one tackling all the drum parts or guitar parts at once, opposed to a song by song approach, so I had a couple of drum days, a bass day, a couple of acoustic guitar days, etc.

I remember tuning my drums the day before I went into the studio for day one, trying to get the floor tom at the right pitch, and having the simultaneous thought of, “Oh man! I think I should change a lyric on the second verse of ‘Climb’.” I couldn’t help but feel that not many drummers have to think about having those thoughts at the same time, switching so quickly between wearing different instrument “hats.”

Looking back I would have gotten some actual instrumentalists for the record, but I had next to no money to record the thing, and figured it just made sense to do it myself because I played all the instruments I wanted, and wrote all the songs myself. There were definitely a few moments of feeling I was too far inside of my head as a song-writer to lay down a decent drum beat, or guitar riff, but overall I think I pulled it off.

A lot of staying sane when you record a record by yourself comes from the engineer, and I had a great one, a guy named Ryan Cecil out of The Woodlands, [Texas]. He kept me moving forward and helped a ton when I got stuck. I could not have done it alone, and I definitely will not be going through that process of playing all the instruments by myself again, even if I end up doing most of them, haha.

CC: What are some sources of inspiration for you when writing (lyrics and/or instrumentation)?

KB: Inspiration comes from a variety of places for me, but when writing “The Woods,” there was a large dissatisfaction with the town I grew up in, The Woodlands, [Texas]. One of my good friends and I used to jokingly call it “The Woods,” ’cause it was nothing like the natural woods. The town had a lot of money, about 5 golf courses, a huge mall, two high schools. There was a growing satisfaction with this “bubble” type town where everybody felt plastic to me, which really came out in “One Man Band,” “The Pines” and “Thank You West Virginia.” I was definitely in a type of depression while writing it, and that sadness combined with the growing resentment of hometowns, which I think we all go through, left me with 7 pretty depressing songs, which is pretty much the types of songs I end up writing for some reason.

Win Butler of Arcade Fire lived there for a while, too. I saw him play in The Woodlands and he talked about working at the venue they were playing, and being pulled over by cops for going 4 miles over the speed limit which is a classic “Woods” situation, haha. But yeah, overall I write a lot about relationships as well. “Climb,” for instance, is about a failed relationship. “Graves” is about faking my own suicide to get the attention of a girl I was kind of in love with for a time. (The things we think about doing when we are 18, am I right???) These relationships aren’t just mine, though. “Silent War (Song for Mike)” is written from the perspective of my college roommate who had a longtime girlfriend who he had just broken up with who randomly died on her first weekend in college, and seeing his journey through that. So yeah, a lot of random stuff inspires me, but mainly relationships, whether it be my relationship to a specific place, time or person.

CC: Do you have an ultimate goal for your music? If so, what?

KB: An ultimate goal for music? Yeah, I would like to be able to put bread on my table being a singer-songwriter. Not by having to teach guitar lessons or sell musical equipment on the side, but by writing and recording records and playing shows. I just want to be able to do music and eat. It’s that simple.

[You can help Kollin with this goal by buying “The Woods” here. $5 for 7 songs – not bad!]

CC: When you perform live shows, do you play with a band or is it generally an acoustic set?

KB: For live shows, it’s a mix of both. I think I prefer to play alone. I was in a band in college and had a rough exodus from that project and kind of lost faith in playing with people for a while, so I’m still coming out of that mindset.

CC: I also read that you’re working on another album. Can you give us an idea of what to expect from that?

KB: Yes! I am writing/recording another album. I recently signed with Small Town Records, an indie label run by a group of students at Duke University, and they are helping me get back in the studio. The new record is called “Loser.” I wrote it during a six month transition from from moving out of Texas to North Carolina. It’s a [little] darker than I expected it to be, at least a little darker than my first record, but much more stripped down, more acoustic and even more honest, if that is possible. I’m excited about it.

CC: What made you want to start playing/recording music? What was that beginning like?

KB: Music has just always been there. I have loved music since I was a kid when my dad gave me his cassette collection. I guess I wasn’t satisfied being a critic all the time. I think my friends were getting just as tired as me with critiquing music without contributing anything, so I cut a record. Sure I had the awkward middle school music phase where your mom wanted you to play in the band because “that is what the smart kids did,” and the high school band phase where you are convinced that there is no possible way for your band to sound any better (or louder), and even the college band phase where you think making records is going to make you rich and famous, but now I just cathartically write tunes, and release them in the humble hope that they will resonate with a few people along the way.

-Geneva Toddy

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