When it came time to record her first full-length effort, Ashley Monical was very familiar with the location that was selected for the sessions.
She couldn’t say the same about the core backing musicians. In fact, the singer-guitarist had never met any of the producer-selected players who joined her in Wimberley, Texas, to lay down basic tracks for Facing the Shadow.
“When I pulled up,” the 30-year-old Monical recalls, “I was a nervous wreck, thinking, ‘I’m at my dad’s house, and I should feel super-comfortable, but I don’t know any of these guys.’ ”
It was producer-guitarist John Evans’ idea to have the Austin, Texas-based Monical record Facing the Shadow last year in nearby Wimberley at her father’s remote property, which had a cabin and a separate garage with a second-floor apartment. Equipped with engineer Steve Christensen’s mobile recording rig, Evans and his handpicked, not-yet-introduced-to-Monical players — drummer Falcon Valdez and multi-instrumentalist Scott Davis — set up shop in the apartment the day before she got there.
“We probably started recording about an hour after I arrived,” Monical says. And over the course of the two weeks spent recording in Wimberley, Monical — a 2010 American Idol contestant who subsequently performed with Halley Anna Finlay in the Texas duo The Wildflowers — quickly bonded with her debut album’s collaborators.
“We all stayed in the cabin, pretty much the whole time,” Monical says. “They would drink beer or whiskey, and we’d play poker. Some nights we watched movies. In that kind of situation, when there’s no one else around and you’re creating something with a small group of people, it can get really tight really quickly.” (Facing the Shadow also features guest appearances by singer Emily Bell and violinist Eleanor Whitmore, whose contributions were recorded elsewhere, while keyboardist Trevor Nealon — who plays with Davis in The Band of Heathens — stopped by Wimberley one day to track his parts.)
“People around me keep asking why it’s taking so long, but it unrolled the way it needed to,” says Monical, who launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in March to help fund the album’s release on Firecat Records. “There are so many small decisions, like getting the artwork done the way I like it. And I would be listening to the album, then I’d give [engineer Christensen] a tweak. Then I’d listen to it a few weeks later and have another one: I’d want the snare drum to have more reverb, or whatever.”
Overall, Monical says, “I haven’t listened to [the album] too much, so it’s still somewhat fresh for me.”
That said, she’s already “pretty much finished” writing her next album, adding that it will be different from Facing the Shadow, which is highlighted by the sultry, soulful ballad “A Child I Was” and the Tift Merritt-styled mid-tempo rocker “Running.”
“As long as songs are coming, I need to keep putting stuff out,” Monical says. “Seeing how long it took to get this one out, maybe I’ll start recording the second one before the end of the year. … I’d like to release another album in 2016.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Ashley Monical tour dates and appearances (schedule subject to change):
• Sept. 18: Live Oak Music Hall — Fort Worth, Texas
• Sept. 19: Magnolia Motor Lounge — Fort Worth, Texas
• Sept. 26: Linda’s Fine Foods — Wimberley, Texas
• Oct. 16: Lone Star Music — San Marcos, Texas (in-store performance)
• Oct. 17: Saxon Pub — Austin, Texas (official release party)
• Oct. 20: The Basement — Nashville, Tenn.
• Oct 23: Blue Plate Special radio show/WDVX-FM — Knoxville, Tenn.
• Oct. 29: McGonigel’s Mucky Duck — Houston
• Nov. 7: Third Coast Theater — Port Aransas, Texas
• Nov. 13: Buggy Wheel — Coleman, Texas
• Nov. 14: Railroad Blues — Alpine, Texas
• Nov. 15: Padres — Marfa, Texas
• Nov. 20: Java Joe’s — San Diego
• Nov. 29: Starry Plough — Berkeley, Calif.
• Dec. 7: Magnolia Motor Lounge — Fort Worth, Texas
Photo by Jackie Monical