Months spent thinking about the wilderness — particularly the possible existence of feral children — ultimately impacted the creativity of Jenee Halstead.
“I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be so cool to write an album that was inspired by that’ — sort of Kate Bush-y,” Halstead recalls. “But I just sort of put it on the shelf.”
Not for long, though. When the Boston-based singer/songwriter went to Washington to record with collaborator Evan Brubaker, she had second thoughts about releasing a collection of songs that resembled her previous two efforts.
“I think I looked at him and said, ‘I have to start over,’ ” Halstead says. “And he said, ‘You do; you have to start over.’ We had been milling around [Brubaker’s] house for two days, going into the studio and trying to put stuff down, and it was like, ‘Ehhhh.’ So there was really no going forth [at that point].”
By deciding to start over, “all the stress just rolled off my shoulders,” Halstead says. But in reality, she replaced one form of stress with another. Writing and recording replacement songs inspired by her wilderness obsession (nine total to go along with two other tunes she decided to keep from the original batch) meant working around Brubaker’s other studio sessions. It also meant Halstead needed to spend additional time in Washington — with little money coming in.
But the move paid off. The extra time with Brubaker allowed Halstead to play him music by the aforementioned Bush as well as PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and Tom Waits. And doing so opened the door for Halstead, who felt she had reached a dead end “writing country-ish-style songs on my guitar,” to comfortably pursue a different musical direction.
“These darker songwriters finally surfaced,” she says. “These were people I had been listening to for years, and I just really never knew how to incorporate them as influences [before].”
Writing sessions for what would become Halstead’s recently released Raised by Wolves album took place in Brubaker’s kitchen. And instead of character-based songs, Halstead decided to write in the first person.
She recalls, “In the morning, we would meet, and I would say, ‘This is what I have.’ And then with our laptops, it’s very unromantic — facing each other, looking at the lyrics and editing.”
Eventually Brubaker would cross the street to the studio and program rhythm tracks, with Halstead joining him later to offer her input. Then Brubaker and Halstead would track the key instruments and go from there. In the end, they played the majority of the instruments on Raised by Wolves, calling in select musicians as needed to handle other parts.
“For me, in my mind, this was really becoming an electronic album, and I didn’t want organic elements,” Halstead says. “But Evan is really good at taking two things that seem diametrically opposed and putting them together.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Jenee Halstead on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Aug. 17: Milkboy Coffee — Ardmore, Pa.
* Aug. 19: Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon — Providence, R.I.
* Aug. 23: The Haven — Jamaica Plain, Mass.
* Aug. 24: Bull McCabe’s — Somerville, Mass.
* Aug. 26: Theater in the Wood — Intervale, N.H.
Photo by Caleb Cole