Vollman ventures out alone for "The Betty Violet"
If Tom Vollman's name doesn't ring a bell, the voice on his debut solo disc, "The Betty Violet," just may ring a bell.
A singer, songwriter and guitarist, Vollman -- a Cincinnati native -- fronts the alt.country rock and roll band Moonshine Sway, based in Milwaukee.
On its 11 songs, "The Betty Violet" conjures Vollman's band -- and features its drummer, too -- but, Vollman says, the disc is the result of a set of material that didn't seem appropriate to Moonshine Sway. So, he began recording the songs himself and the result is a disc that is dark, raw and focused on places that have affected Vollman.
We asked him about making the record and about the future of Moonshine Sway.
OMC: Tell us a bit about the new record? How come it's your first solo record instead of the next Moonshine Sway disc?
TV: The idea for a solo record came from a number of angles. Over the past two years, I've done quite a bit of touring as solo act, working and crafting a new set of songs with sparse arrangements. By the late summer of last year, I had a handful of songs that didn't quite fit the full band format and a number of others that had been finished with the band, but that sounded quite a bit different -- in tempo, arrangement and style -- when I played them solo.
I've always been a big fan of Greg Dulli's work -- The Afghan Whigs were a hometown favorite, growing up in Cincinnati. When they folded and Dulli began his Twilight Singers project, I was really intrigued by the notion that a series of songs could have one life when performed by a full band and quite another when played solo. On my way back from SXSW, while driving through a particularly flat stretch of Mississippi, an idea struck me that I couldn't shake -- I'd record a "solo" record offering different arrangements of "band songs", sprinkling in a number of new tunes to add some zest.
In 2007, I went into the studio, by myself, for the very first time. I really didn't have a plan, but I was fortunate enough to have a patient and very understanding engineer who was willing to let me experiment and felt comfortable enough to offer some useful feedback. Over the next few months, I laid down a number of tracks, ultimately yielding the 11 that comprise "The Betty Violet."
The process was definitely interesting -- I began to think about the songs in a way I never had before. The whole project seemed to have a life of its own -- I began with only an acoustic guitar and vocals, eventually adding drums -- played by Ted Fleming of Moonshine Sway -- electric guitar and e-bow. The result was very surprising and simultaneously exciting for me. I learned a lot about the process of writing and recording and I was afforded opportunity to experience things that I wouldn't have had I not begun this project.
As it happens, we're currently working on a new full-band record, which should be out later in the year/early next year. "The Betty Violet" is a solo record in name -- I played on it, Ted played on it, but the concept is much deeper. Chris Dorch and Bob Berry -- the other two members of Moonshine Sway -- might not have recorded, but their stamp and influence is there; the songs wouldn't exist in their present form without their help and input.
Along those lines, I think the band record will be a bit supercharged with many of these current songs appearing in their fully arranged style. It should be cool, though, because I think it will give a nod to the writing process -- shedding light on how things originate and then morph into something larger.
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