We recently caught up with A Common Year as they set to record their follow-up to their 2010 debut Between Cities. Casey and Coleman took the time with us to talk about the reaction to their debut, what they have planned ahead and what to expect from their upcoming EP.
Lara@RRR: Could you please state your name and role in the band?
Casey and Coleman here. We both sing and play guitar for A Common Year.
Lara@RRR: It has been over a year since the release of your debut album, Between Cities. Could you guide us through the writing and recording process of the album?
Casey: I'd say it was a slightly unconventional writing process, but a lot of fun nonetheless. Jake (our drummer) and I were living on our own in my grandma's old house during the summer of '09, so that served as our makeshift studio. Most of the writing and recording was done during that summer, when all of us were back from college for a few months. It was a very fluid process, and a lot of the songs were written and developed as we began recording them. We treated recording like a second job for those three or so months. We'd come home from our summer jobs, and dive into writing and recording almost every day. I took on writing a lot of the music, while Coleman handled the beastly challenge of learning how to record well. I frankly don't know how we survived on so little sleep, but our determination for finishing the record fueled us a bit I think. We finished almost everything before we returned to our different colleges, and spent the fall tweaking songs, recording overdubs, mixing and mastering the songs, and working on album artwork. The day we finally finished, I think we pulled an all-nighter and were barely alive enough to celebrate.
Coleman: It was a huge learning process. We set out to do it ourselves with minimal knowledge of how to record an album. One of the biggest challenges with us as a band is that we've all lived in different locations and gone to different colleges. So we could write individually throughout the school year, but didn't have a good time to record. So we knew we had to finish the majority of the album while we were home for the summer. I would basically come over to Casey's every night after we got off work, and sometimes he would have some lyrics or an idea that he thought of while at work that day. We'd record a rough demo - some nights we even pounded out about 4 songs. By July, we had about 20 songs that we liked - so we got together as a band and narrowed it down to what is on Between Cities. We also played some shows in July...I can specifically remember playing "Be Good, Be True," and Casey and I were making up the lyrics live as we went along because they weren't finished yet. When we went back to school, finishing the record was placed in my hands. Luckily I was able to balance my schoolwork, add some harmonies and lead guitar parts to finish off the record, and finally teach myself how to mix and master the record. I think I probably heard each song about 3 million times when the record was finished, haha.
Lara@RRR: Could you go into depth about one or two songs off the album – how they came about, and their meanings?
Casey: Sure. We can talk about "Distance" and "Solstice," since those seem to be the two that were most widely received by people who listen to our music.
"Distance" is a pretty special song for our band, specifically for me and Coleman. That's actually a song that surfaced, in its original form, four or five years ago, when Coleman and I first started writing and playing together. Back then, it was an all acoustic track that didn't pack nearly the punch the modern version does. As is probably evident, the song is about distance and the effect it has on relationships - both romantic and friendly. It's essentially about the challenges presented in our relationships with others when separation begins to take its toll, and how those are often the times where we reach breaking points - where the relationship either survives and thrives, or withers. It's pretty cool that fans have seemed to like that song so much - maybe even more than any of our others - because it's kind of traveled with us throughout our young musical career. Good to know that even when we were just starting to play, we had at least one good song in us.
"Solstice" almost didn't make the record, mainly because when I made the demo, I didn't think it was anything special. Our friend and now manager, Chris Beaven, heard it and flipped out, as did Coleman. But still, I held out for quite some time. I think the guys basically forced me to record it and as we started laying it down, I had an epiphany and realized I loved it. The other guys definitely heard its potential way before I did, but I'm glad. It's ironic, too, because that song ended up being used on the grand finale episode of E! Network's "Married to Rock." Shows what I know! Anyway, the song's about living in the moment. Summer was wrapping up around the time we recorded it, and we ended up shaping the words around how we felt at the time, which was reflective, nostalgic and at peace. It's just a song about never wanting to let go of those few-and-far-between moments, when everything is perfect and you're surrounded with love.
Coleman: Yeah when Casey sent me the demo for "Solstice," I immediately knew it was one of the best melodies he had written. It was a rough demo, and I think he just didn't hear the potential because it was his own voice. I knew that once we went back and recorded again, it would be something special. Once I added the harmonies and some other little guitar parts, it became one of my favorite songs on the record, and showed our potential to write some good slow jams in addition to standard rock songs.
Lara@RRR: How do you gauge the response to your music so far, as you’ve gained recognition across various music blogs/sites, and have had your songs featured on TV (as “Distance” was recently aired during Degrassi)?
Coleman: We couldn't be happier with the response. We really enjoy this record and are proud of it, so if our Moms were the only ones listening to it, we'd still be glad we did it. We never expected to see these songs we recorded in our college houses on TV shows, getting such a positive response on the Internet, or amassing thousands of downloads. We've got a great team supporting us, and we definitely thank our manager, Chris Beaven, and all of our fans for spreading the word about us. We're thrilled with the response, and it just makes us that much more excited about what we can do with our next release.
Casey: To echo Coleman's sentiment, the response has already surpassed anything we could've hoped for. I don't think we'd ever anticipated the positive feedback we've received to this point, and not a day goes by that we're not eternally grateful to every single person who's taken the time to give the record a spin. It's a really great motivator for our band to know that, even in a time during which the music industry as a whole is in kind of a flux period, there are still tons of music fanatics out there willing to download records by new bands and truly give the songs a chance. On top of that, at no point when making this record did we sit and think "I wonder if this stuff will end up on MTV or anything." That's all been a blessing, but the real reason we made the record in the first place was simply to share music with our friends and family. It's grown into something larger than that, and we're excited to continue to grow and share experiences with more people through the songs we release.
Lara@RRR: From where do you draw your inspiration for lyrics?
Casey: It's probably different for each of us. I know for me, I really try not to over think lyrics. In my opinion, lyrics are meant to capture a certain feeling, and if you write from that feeling, I don't think you can really go wrong. I'm sure my musical influences come through subconsciously in the words I write, but I wouldn't say there's any particular artist or band I strive to mimic. My favorite way to write is at night, in a dimly-lit room, with a glass of whisky and some ambient, instrumental music playing in the background.
Coleman: A lot of times we'll lay down an instrumental, then step up to the mic in the studio and just sing jibberish to start to flesh out a melody. Sometimes some of the words become lyrics, and other times we write entirely new ones, but it is interesting to hear how the subconscious mind reacts to the music and which words are used in that moment. Other times, we'll write the lyrics before we ever write the music. For me, great lyrics rarely come if I just sit down and try to write. I keep a list of random phrases, ideas, or concepts that come to me throughout my day - then I go back later and try to piece together a song out of them. Casey wrote most of the lyrics for Between Cities, but I definitely gave him some feedback, changed parts, or wrote a verse or bridge here and there. However, for this next record, Casey and I have both written songs an equal amount, and I've grown a lot in my writing style. There really is no right or wrong way to write a song.
Lara@RRR: Why do you think people should check out A Common Year and what do you think separates you from other bands in your genre?
Coleman: People should check out A Common Year because we try our best to write the most honest music possible. We hope that sharing our lives through music will help other people get through the ups and downs that life brings. Our DIY mentality helps us write exactly what we want to write, and we do it only for the love of music and for the fun we have. Casey and I learned guitar together late in high school, and we immediately felt the strong desire to write music and share it with people. We've been doing it ever since, and will continue to do it until it stops being fun. We're different from other bands in our genre because we have very diverse musical tastes. We wanted to write some standard rock tunes for Between Cities, but definitely do not feel limited to that style. Expect to see some more diversity in the future.
Lara@RRR: You guys are currently recording for your next EP. How has the process come along so far, and what is there to expect from the new songs?
Casey: We are, indeed, writing and recording new material. It's coming along really nicely. One of the advantages of being independent is that you really can do things on your own terms and move at your own pace. That's what we're doing, and in all honesty, we probably have twenty or more demos to work with that we really enjoy. Most will probably emerge as final songs at some point, but we're just kind of narrowing down which ones we'd like to finish and release first. I will say that they definitely represent musical growth in comparison to the material on Between Cities. We're really excited to share them. As far as what to expect, I'd say a little bit of everything, within the scope of our sound. We've all grown fond of a lot of additional musical genres and bands since the last album, and I think that'll come through in what you hear next.
Coleman: We definitely had enough songs to release an EP a long time ago, but we're a band that is riding the waves of life and we just couldn't make it happen as fast as we'd maybe like it to. We've had a ton of life experiences in the last year and a half, and a lot of great songs have come out of that. Like Casey said, we have enough songs for probably a full length or two, but we want to release an EP to get the songs out as soon as possible. Since we're recording independently, we'll release whichever ones we finish first - then we'll try to release more as quickly as we can finish them. It's likely that within the next few months, our living situations may allow for a much more rapid recording process - which will mean a lot of music from A Common Year.
Lara@RRR: You recently released a new song entitled 'Try' - is this a taste of things to come, or should we expect something different from the EP?
Coleman: "Try" is a good bridge between Between Cities and what will go on the next release. We actually are recording it again to give it a little more energy for the EP. I think the EP will feature some more interesting guitar work and production, as well as some new styles that have spawned from my writing.
Casey: Yeah, as Coleman said, we've re-recorded "Try" for the EP, and it's sounding awesome. I think it'll end up being one of the more straight-up rock songs on the new release, but I love that song, and on a personal level, it's actually become more relevant to my life over the past several months. As far as how it reflects on the rest of the new material, I'd say look for some more diversity and experimentation on some of the other new tracks - more diverse guitar tones, tempos, percussion and song structure. You'll be able to tell it's us, but it won't be Between Cities, Pt. II.
Lara@RRR: Is there a release date set for the EP?
Coleman: Late 2011, or as quickly as our busy lives will let us put it out.
Lara@RRR: What plans do A Common Year have for the year ahead?
Casey: Without placing too much structure on it, our plan is simply to start churning out music on a pretty consistent basis. Like I said, we've got a pretty substantial backlog of great demos at this point, and our goal is to try and start releasing new EPs pretty consistently, over shorter periods of time.
Coleman: Yeah we've got some great tracks, we just need to get the recordings to a point that we're comfortable with. We're hoping to put out music much more frequently in the next year. We will also probably start playing more local shows than we have in the past. We'll also eventually be looking at doing another album with a producer, as opposed to recording ourselves, sometime in the future.
Lara@RRR: After the release of the EP, does the band have any tour plans?
Coleman: We don't have any tour plans yet, but we will likely have a release show and play some shows locally around the Midwest shortly after.
Lara@RRR: That’s all I have to ask! Is there anything else you would like to add?
Casey: Nothing other than thanks for being interested enough to ask us some questions, and thanks so much to everyone who has listened to us and supported us so far. Continue to spread the word, and we'll do our best to keep putting out music you enjoy and relate to.
Coleman: Thanks to everyone who's downloaded our album, shared it with a friend, commented on a blog, posted our music on a website, or given us feedback. We're excited to record new music and are even more excited to have all of you to share it with.
A Common Year's debut album Between Cities can be downloaded for free at http://acommonyear.bandcamp.com