In a one-room shack in the middle of the woods on Bainbridge Island, Nick deWitt saw potential. Its usefulness was minimal: It had no kitchen, and a tricky well pump that switched off on its own accord. But a little insulation, drywall, paint, and some recording equipment was all it took to transform the makeshift tool shed into Cupcake, a handcrafted studio tucked back in the trees.
Night Canopy With the Flying Fox (Jan Norberg from Bats of Belfry) and TV Coahran. Comet Tavern, 922 E. Pike St., 323-9853, www.myspace.com/thecomettavern.com. $5. 9 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 22.
Listen to a sample of "Signs of Life" from Of Honey and Country.
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Last year, as the days grew longer and that sweet smell of spring filled the air, the island retreat would be christened by a project that started out as nothing more than a favor to a friend. Local singer-songwriter Amy Blaschke had some songs, and deWitt (who first heard her play some of them at a stripped-down show in the basement of the Madison Valley house they now share) was itching to use the studio.
The longtime musicians (deWitt played drums for five years in the recently dissolved Pretty Girls Make Graves; Blaschke landed her first show at the Redmond Firehouse at the age of 16) joined together, holing up at Cupcake for two weeks, to capture Blaschke's songs on tape.
"I initially set out just to record," recalls deWitt, "I only really wanted to record her, and I had an idea for a couple of songs of hers. I didn't have any expectations, but I thought maybe I'd run it by her. It got to the point where things were running along so well that she kind of just looked at me and said, 'Go for it!' and I said, 'Alright, you asked for it."
Neither had anticipated how well the collaboration would turn out. Their creative chemistry worked so well that deWitt's contribution to Blaschke's material progressed organically, from engineer to producer to, eventually, full-fledged band member handling multi-instrumental duties.
"It was just a really creatively safe environment," Blaschke says of the pairing. "There wasn't ever any question of that might be a bad idea, so I got set free in that regard."
The two (along with the recent live addition of local photographer and former Catch member Jenny Jiménez) dubbed their project Night Canopy, and their 12-track LP, Of Honey and Country (due out March 13 on Go Midnight), is reflectiveof a climate ripe for experimentation. Songs that started out in a bare-bones form were nurtured into fully formed pop numbers. However, they are far from drenched in overproduction. Rather, they evoke a feeling of natural beauty that was there at the start but was brought to a vibrant place as the two worked together, testing out their ideas.
Blaschke's songwriting is tender and delicate, with a touch of country. While she sings of pastoral and simple things (birds, pine boxes, singing someone to sleep to win them back), there's nothing simple about the record. Like a patchwork quilt, each lyric and piece of music is thoughtfully placed, combining to breathtaking ends, a result that's at once warm and complex.
Album opener "Seasick Casanova," a silver-spun number, is peppered with references to lonely ships, sailors thrown overboard, and cockle shells, which are woven into a swaying doo-wop structure and overlaid with the sound of waves crashing. Overall, found sounds pop up throughout the record. Whether they be the tranquil twittering of birds on "Double or Nothing," the chain saw on "Whistling" (captured while deWitt's brother hacked up a tree on the property), or the good old tricky well pump (duly thanked in the liner notes), all contribute to the organic nature of the record.
That spring, as new life sprouted all around them, the two musicians experienced somewhat of the same as they headed into uncharted territories without a map. And as good fortune would have it, they came out on the other side with everything intact and a lot to show for their collaboration.
"There were times when we'd hear exactly the same part at the same time," says Blaschke. "It did feel like there were some phantom musicians there, actually."