The plan was to get a new pickup installed on his acoustic guitar, a 1990s Gibson Blues King Electro. But by the time JM Stevens left Austin Vintage Guitars that day, he had himself a 2013 Gibson J-45 — and it’s already paid dividends.
Stevens says he used his Gibson J-45 to write nearly all of the songs on Invisible Lines, his first solo album, released November 8 on Chicken Ranch Records. Looking back, Stevens says purchasing the instrument was symbolic, as it happened after he’d put Moonlight Towers, his longtime Austin, Texas-based band, on the shelf.
“[I thought], ‘OK, I’m starting a fresh thing here, and this guitar feels really inspiring to me,’ ” he recalls. “It’s a new toy. You want to sit around and play it all the time, and the more you play it, the more stuff you’re probably going to come up with.”
Stevens wrote the album over the course of a year, and as those songs and others were coming together, he’d test them out solo in downtown Austin at venues such as the Cactus Café as well as at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where he would “go out there on a Tuesday at 1 p.m. and play a two-hour set” for people who never heard of him (although he did cross paths with a few friends there who were on their way out of town).
When it came time to record Invisible Lines, Stevens, a co-owner of East Austin Recording, says his goal was to “keep it as live as we could” in terms of tracking the lead vocals, bass, guitar and drums.
“We practiced a lot ahead of time, so when we got in to record, we just ran the songs down,” says Stevens. “We recorded [the core parts for] all of them in one day. We did three takes of each song and picked the best — with no click track. We wanted to keep it loose and give it that live feel. I was listening to [Neil Young’s] Tonight’s the Night a lot, so I wanted it to have that wooziness to it.
“After that first day, I did a rough mix of everything and thought, ‘We’ve got a real solid core here.’ So then I went back and overdubbed some acoustic guitars here and there and brought in some different players: keyboards, pedal steel and the horn section. They were adding to something that was already pretty far along, so we moved pretty quickly on it.
“I probably spent more time mixing than anything — 10 days of me in here being a complete caveman, not leaving the studio.”
— By Chris M. Junior
JM Stevens on tour (schedule subject to change):
Nov. 13: Anthony’s — West Point, Mississippi
Nov. 15: Bar DKDC — Memphis, Tennessee
Nov. 16: Halfway House Concerts — Chattanooga, Tennessee
Nov. 18: Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge — Nashville, Tennessee
Nov. 22: Martin’s Downtown — Jackson, Mississippi
Nov. 23: The Pearl — Lafayette, Louisiana
Photo by Sean Lane