Arts Desk

Widowspeak Gets Smaller, Sounds Bigger

Give a good band time to grow and it might do just that. Take Widowspeak’s album Almanac: A fuller realization of the psychedelic, country-western-tinged indie rock heard on its self-titled 2011 record, the Brooklyn's band latest is an immediately inviting document of its atmospheric, Neil Young-indebted sound. The band comes to Black Cat tonight on a brief promotional tour for the new LP.

The grand first track, “Perennials,” sounds made for a soundtrack—which actually isn't far off from what singer-guitarist Molly Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas had in mind when they made the record. Terrence Malick's 1978, Texas farm-set film, Days of Heaven, helped Widowspeak conceptualize much of Almanac. “That movie hits a lot of the same feelings and tones that I think we were aiming for with this record,” Thomas says.

In Widowspeak's case, though, a bigger sound didn't come from adding more band members. After a summer tour last year, band co-founder and drummer Michael Stasiak decided to split from the group. But Hamilton and Thomas soldiered on, picking up all of the songwriting, and eventually, most of the instrumentation on Almanac.  "...It was just sort of like, ‘Well, we’re the people who have the ideas and we kind of want to set it in motion,’” Thomas says. The stripped-down approach made songwriting a much simpler undertaking. "It was just super efficient," says Thomas. "Which is a weird thing to say about music because I don’t necessarily think music should be efficient or mechanized, but just the process of making it became really streamlined, which was awesome.”

Booking time in a much larger, slicker recording studio didn't hurt, either. The first thing we ever recorded, that people talk about, was on a computer, on a MacBook," says Thomas. The band later recorded in Rear House, the home studio of Woods' Jarvis Taveniere. But for this album, they worked with Kevin McMahon in his Upstate New York Marcata Recording studio, a much more sophisticated affair housed in a barn. It was "way more—not way more, but professional at least in a bigger sort of sense,” Thomas says. “I’m, like, humorously ambitious when it comes to that thing, so when it came time for me to make demos, I was like, ‘I’m gonna put a million different things on here! There’s gonna be flutes and tons of guitars and pianos!’"

It didn't wind up that way in the end. Hamilton says, “Yeah, we have tons of guitars,” but "There [are] no flutes. There [are] a lot of layers of great keyboard instruments and kind of weird things and percussion that we found around the barn. And a lot of that was all planned out ahead of time, but then some of it was definitely inspired by the setting and the studio and some of the cool stuff that Kevin had for us to play with.” That shows on the song "Thick as Thieves": Originally a finger-picking tune from Hamilton, Thomas added a Rhodes piano, organs, and a harmonium as accompaniment. The result is a carnival-style setting for Hamilton’s tribute to "good company."

To accommodate all these new sounds, the band will be touring as a five-piece, which includes a slide guitarist-slash-keyboardist.  “Every time we tour it’s something different,” Hamilton says. "It’s cool, I kind of like the revolving door aspect of our band. Like, ‘never the same.’”

Widowspeak performs with Murals tonight at 8 p.m. at Black Cat Backstage, 1811 14th St. NW. $12.

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