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Accidental Birds

April 9, 2021

A week or so after last November’s election, I set up a little home studio for the first time since I sold all my analog recording gear around the turn of the century (this century). I had no experience making digital recordings on my own and, as Nina Hale can attest, my first sessions with the new gizmos were sometimes interrupted by cursing, moaning, and other signs of frustration and bewilderment. Mostly it was fun, though, and within a week or two I was making things that sounded pretty much like music, having fun programming beats and playing or sequencing synthesizers as well as acoustic and electric pianos and guitars. To better gauge where I was at, I asked John Fields if he would mix the first song I’d finished on the new equipment. He sent me something fairly quickly, and though in the end I decided that track wasn’t quite up to scratch as a song or recording, I loved John’s mix and knew I could make a decent album from home if I cooked up better material and called on other musicians to contribute remote overdubs.

The album, Accidental Birds, will come out June 4, to the extent that my release dates are strictly enforced. About half its songs were written during the recording period, between later November of last year and February of this one, either at the piano or by shuttling between piano and laptop. The others were written earlier in 2021, and one, “Devil Blush,” is a revision of a song originally intended for the backburnered collaborative musical that gave rise to last year’s Munson-Hicks Party Supplies, a set of my songs mainly sung by my friend John Munson. Most of those earlier songs seemed to demand a more old-fashioned recording approach—they had time shifts, say, or other qualities that I didn’t think I could manage electronically or remotely—so in February, with Covid numbers being lower in Minnesota than they had been for a while (lower, too, alas, they they are as I write this), I brought together two overlapping but different five-piece groups for two masked and socially distanced one-day sessions at Creation Audio, a studio near my house. In the interest of safety, we didn’t rehearse; I sent demos, charts, and a few notes, and we worked stuff up in the studio. Well, the players are really good, and it is fun to record when it initially comes together. My vocals and a few other overdubs were added to those basic tracks over the last week of February.

A slew of dazzling and inspiring musicians contributed to the album. In alphabetical order they are Jake Baldwin, JT Bates, Liz Draper, Kevin Gastonguay, Zacc Harris, Peter Hennig, Michelle Kinney, Adam Levy, Charlie Lincoln, John Munson, Christopher Thomson, Janey Winterbauer, and Jeremy Yylvisaker. All tracks were mixed with great inventiveness and expertise by John Fields. I made the album rather quickly and didn’t correct every one of my mistakes, but I’m proud of it and hope it coheres despite its disparate influences and approaches.

The titular phrase refers to birds that migrate beyond their normal range, by being blown off course, for instance, or by resting too long on a ship, or through inexperience, or for mysterious reasons. It looks like I’m not the first to use the phrase metaphorically, and on top of that I’m not entirely sure how the metaphor applies.