(Original version published on Southern Senses 10/21/15)*
A year ago, I was sitting in my office, staring at the computer screen, refreshing the iTunes window every few minutes, and watching incredulously as my sophomore album, Unfiltered, climbed higher up the Top 200 Singer/Songwriter chart. Over the course of the morning, I saw my album cover, adorned with my face, sit next to, across from, above, and below album covers (often also sporting faces) of timeless greats like Bob Dylan and James Taylor, as well as hit modern acts such as Jason Isbell, Ed Sheeran, James Bay, Drew Holcomb, Ben Rector, and American Idol runner-up, Crystal Bowersox. To be legitimately featured on a list of any kind with just one of these artists would’ve been a dream come true for me.
I say this not to imply that a Top-200 chart position on a national digital sub-chart is the apex indicator of success, nor to suggest that I belong in the company of such greats. I believe, however, that the album’s charting is a testament to the efforts of a local, independent music industry and the power of fan support. Not sure what I mean? Well, here is the true story of Unfiltered:
By 2013, two years had passed since my debut release, and my drive to create had me chomping at the bits to release new material. But a lot had changed in my life in two years; namely, I was a father, and my wife was a stay at home mom. In circumstances like those, it’s impossible for a ”small time” independent musician to justify spending thousands of dollars out of his pocket on a project that might never break even in sales. I considered crowd-funding, but honestly, I really didn’t (and don’t) understand the recipe for success with that method.
I went through other ideas before finally deciding on recording as much as I was able at home, relying on the help and expertise of local professionals for the rest, and hoping that the result would be a raw, rough album representative of my true musical sensibilities and worthy of the chosen moniker “Unfiltered.”
Production began in January 2014 when drummer Zack Farnham and I entered Brookhaven Music and Sound in Brookhaven, MS. Zack was one of the most talented and conscientious musicians I had ever met and has since become one of the most respected drummers around and the “go-to” drummer for many acts in the burgeoning Southwest Mississippi scene. Out of the goodness of his heart, Zack had agreed to do the record for a couple of bucks and a free Chinese lunch buffet—inarguably, one of the best deals I ever made.
We entered Brookhaven Music and were greeted by the ever chill-yet-professional Tyler Bridge, the owner of the establishment and our engineer for the evening. Tyler has been (and remains) a well-known and respected presence in the local scene, having played regionally for many years and having owned Brookhaven Music for around a decade. The store had recently moved into a larger building, and Tyler and company were in the process of converting the back portion into studio space. It was in this unfinished region that Zack would be crafting rhythms for the evening— a fitting location in which to lay down the backbone for this particular record.
Over the course of the evening, Zack hammered through the tracks effortlessly while Tyler and his assistant for the night, brother Nick Bridge, another area go-to musician, provided a wonderful working environment filled with comically relieving anecdotes. Within a mere 4 hours, the percussion was complete. Next, Tyler, an accomplished bassist, was left to overlay bass on the record at his convenience, while I set about scheduling the ever-elusive Sam Mooney for a keyboard session in my home studio (and by studio, I mean a small room crammed with sound equipment).
At the time, Sam already had several accomplishments under his belt, including the 2013 Mid-South Talent Competition title, and has since gone on to boast a #1 nationally selling EP, perform across the Southeastern United States, appear on a plethora of radio and television programs, and host his own FM radio show in Oxford, MS. Sam arrived at my house in Jayess, MS, on February 22, sat down at the Yamaha P-140 keyboard, and began a near-symphonic orchestration of piano pieces to perfectly compliment my rough ’n’ ready tunes.
Sam had to return for a second session, though not because he lacked the talent or preparation to finish in the first, but because he and I spent most of the time in studio “nerding out” over all things music—unquestionably, for me, one of the highlights of the entire production.
Next, with guitar in hand and cables running under the door, I shut myself in the walk-in closet of my back bedroom and set about recording the acoustic guitar tracks. It was in this same closet that I squeaked out over 40 separate vocal tracks between and during weeks of sinus infections and bronchitis which plague me annually during the spring months. It was also here that Brittany D delivered her exceptional vocal performance on “Company,” which would become the “hit” (and I use the term loosely) duet track from the record.
Next, I delivered the raw tracks to producer/engineer/musician Nick Smith for electric guitar overdubbing and final mixing and mastering at Dipping Vat Studio, located literally in the middle of the woods in Monticello, MS. Nick’s guitar skills are incomparable (see the track “Just For Fun”), and the studio’s location could not have been a more fitting end point for the record’s production. It was also there that Nick tapped Mark Guion for a saxophone overdub for the track “Not The One To Say (I Told You So).” Besides being the local high school band director, Mark is an incredibly talented and accomplished musician, and he delivered a stellar sax track to cap off production.
The finished tracks, in all their bare-boned glory, were delivered to digital retailers worldwide in September, and on October 21, 2014, Unfiltered peaked at #92 on the iTunes U.S. Singer/Songwriter chart.
Since then, I’ve started a new band, played more shows in more places than ever before, appeared on great local programs such as Music from the Shady Side, started this website, and gotten to know even more great musicians and fans. But I think a highlight for me will always be the day that proved, beyond a doubt, with the support of fans and the help of exceptional, talented people who care more about making music than making money, albums recorded in closets, half-finished studios, and backwoods on shoe-string budgets can find a place in this world.
I’m trying not to get too sappy here, so I’ll end now by saying, with all the gratitude my figurative heart (‘cause, you know, a literal heart is a muscle) can muster, thank you all!
*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented site contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the blog section of colepowell.net.