The Memory of Trees
Jason Tyler Burton
Wyoming winters are long. Typically I spend a lot of time playing shows, trying out new material at the local open mic night, and playing outside in the snow. But this year was different. First, the pandemic cost me shows. I had one in February. It’s the only show I’ve booked for 2021, though I’m hopeful for more in the summer and fall. Then there was a weird foot issue that had me not enjoying time on skis. And so I decided to figure out a home studio set-up and record a few songs. I set up in the spare bedroom of my house in Pinedale, and using a couple decent microphones and a handful of instruments, set out to make something while learning a bit more about the art of home recording and mixing.
These three songs are the result of this trial and error (okay, mostly error) process. These aren’t first takes or first mixes. I tossed the first couple versions where I could hear myself being more concerned about the quality of the recording than the quality of the performance. So instead, I recorded live takes, just vocal and guitar, with no click track, paying attention to the thing that matters most, the song. Then I painstakingly overdubbed mandolin, banjo, electric guitar, bass, and drums - a yoga block on a suitcase, a banjo head, tambourine. I added my own voice as harmony (something I’m usually loath to do). Finally, I asked Michelle Humber to come sing harmony vocals on a song. Her voice is the only sound on here that doesn’t come from me.
Collaboration is one of my favorite parts of the musical experience. So playing producer, engineer, mixer, and musician was not always fun, but it was a worthwhile experience. I learned so much, and growth and learning is something I hope never ends. I like my generalist approach to life, and as such, you won’t hear an expert specialist on this recording. I’m not an expert musician, mixer, or songwriter, but I did all those things anyway. I wonder how many times I’ve been held back by comparing my generalist self to the specialists.
The songs are breakup songs and songs of loss. You know, the songwriting cliches. There’s Paper Angels, one of my oldest songs and the first song I remember writing that my friends meant when they said “good song!” There’s my most recent song, In Those Pines, where I inhabit a fictional family who are devastated by the California wildfires in 2020. And there’s Stationary Objects, a song I wrote as tribute to John Prine by trying to write like John Prine. I knew that was an impossible task.
But impossible tasks are only ever made possible if we put in the effort. And here I am, twenty plus years into this singer-songwriter game, putting in the effort. And as I say to kids I coach in rock climbing, the effort is what matters. And here, then, are the fruits of my winter effort, The Memory of Trees.