Chris McLaughlin ’18 and Mackenzie Snyder ’18 spent Winter Study recording an album in bits and pieces, taking advantage of down time and empty study rooms in Sawyer. The result, January, is something of a cross between Iron & Wine and The Head and the Heart – you can find their album on iTunes and Spotify. Read on for some more details about their process.
As I understand it, you two have experience singing together and writing songs. What drove you to actually record and release an album?
Chris McLaughlin: Coming into sophomore year, I was already thinking of recording an album with songs that I had been working on, but I was looking for a female vocalist to sing on a lot of the tracks. Then, early in the fall, Mackenzie and I ended up doing a duet at a coffeehouse on campus. After the show, I brought up the idea to Mackenzie, and it just so happened that she was interested in recording as well.
Mackenzie Snyder: Winter Study, we already had enough songs written to fill an album, and enough down time to actually record them. Since we put so much time into writing the songs, we figured it was worthwhile to turn them into a bigger project.
Can you tell me a little bit about your recording process? How many of the songs were created specifically for this album, and how many beforehand? Did you write them together?
CM: I had already written a good amount of the songs over the past year, but once we had the idea of doing an album, Mackenzie and I both ended up adding a few more songs before we started recording.
MS: For the most part, we collaborated on the songs we wrote in the fall, but the real work came when we started actually recording them. We would go to a random study room in Sawyer all day during Winter Study and set up carpet squares against the wall behind the microphone that we plugged into Chris’ laptop. Finding time to record became more difficult once spring semester started, and then when summer came. We ended up recording the last couple songs in Chris’ basement using a mattress pad against the wall to soundproof it.
CM: It was definitely a creative effort to figure out ways to record outside of a studio. It really was not a glamorous process at all.
What, in your experience, were the key differences between performing live and recording an album? Which experience do you enjoy more?
CM: Yeah, recording definitely becomes mind-numbing when you’ve spent an hour on a single verse, because, at a certain point, everything just starts to sound bad.
Okay, let’s talk about the music itself. Who are your musical inspirations in general? Which inspirations were particularly pivotal to this album?
CM: I don’t think my lyrics have been inspired by any particular artists, but I did spend a lot of time listening to artists with similar styles to get ideas for how to create a certain sound or feel. Artists like The Decemberists and Mandolin Orange definitely come to mind in that respect.
Chris, you have an album that you made the previous summer – do you feel like you have grown as a songwriter since then? How has your approach to songwriting changed since the last album?
CM: Making the last album was a good lesson in recording and mixing music, and I think I improved on that with January. My writing style is generally the same as it was then, though collaborating with Mackenzie definitely helped me come up with ideas, in songwriting and recording, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Did you find that each of you took on distinct roles in the creation of the album? How did your different approaches and musical influences contribute to the flavor of this album? How were you able to reconcile your artistic differences in creating the songs?
MS: To be honest, Chris had the most impact on the album as a finished product. I definitely bowed out when it came to recording instrumentals and mixing it.
CM: Since we both have similar taste in music and creative processes, there wasn’t much conflict in how we felt the songs should sound. We did approach songwriting and recording from different perspectives, and I think the album only ever benefitted from that.
What was your favorite part about making the album?
CM: It was kind of fun to have to create some makeshift recording studios, and that we still ended up with an album that we were both proud of. It was definitely more enjoyable going through the whole process with somebody else to bounce ideas off of as well.
MS: Writing and recording were all new to me, so I think I would have had fun doing it even without a final product we could point to. So releasing January was just icing on the cake for me.