Brave Little Howl didn’t know exactly what they were getting into on that chilly night on White Rock Lake, last December on Friday the 13th.
Travis Wright, host of I’m a Fan of… podcast, had asked the indie-folk band to play a small concert to a select group of diehard fans, friends and family to possibly record a few live tracks.
“The band had been on my podcast before, and they had approached me about doing some sort of intimate setting,” Wright says. “We were just going to play those songs on the podcast as a fun recording, but my wheels just kind of started turning with that.”
Wright wanted that intimate setting to be somewhere atypical of a performance space, and having a show in somebody’s house seemed like too big of an imposition.
A frequent visitor to White Rock Lake, Wright one day noticed a group of people setting up a birthday party at the Big Thicket cabin and asked to took a look around.
Even without a stage, a PA system or even a bar, Big Thicket was the performance space Wright had been looking for.
“It was the perfect little setting, and you can just rent it out and do whatever you want with it,” Wright remembers thinking. “That’s when the bigger idea of making this an entire recording instead of just two songs started, but I didn't tell the band at first.”
Rather than placing a microphone in front of the instruments like in a recording studio, Wright placed about 10 microphones around the performance space to record the performance as though the listener was in the room with the band that night.
Brave Little Howl took their seats in the cabin that night, sitting in front of a simple sign Wright had made with the band’s name illuminated in individual light bulbs. They did exactly what Wright had hoped they would do all along and played their 13-song set without any perceptible flaws.
The result, Live from Big Thicket, is available for purchase Oct. 2 through the I’m a Fan of… website.
This is a record that truly accomplishes its goal of placing the listener in the Big Thicket cabin that night. In the album’s liner notes, the listener is instructed to “only listen to this record when you can play it in its entirety” as “failure to follow instructions will result in a diminished listening experience.”
If the listener takes these instructions to heart, turns off electronic distractions and really tunes into the music, they will be rewarded with the faint sounds of beer cans opening, chairs creaking and a number of other ambient sounds that, with your eyes closed, truly make one feel as though they are in Big Thicket with Brave Little Howl.
Like Fleet Foxes or Band of Horses, Brave Little Howl captivates with its harmonies, and like Wilco, the band’s warm storytelling invites listeners to make themselves comfortable and stick around a while.
What is perhaps even more amazing about this collection of songs is the fact that the band couldn’t really hear themselves play that night.
“There were no monitors, and the only amplification we had was for the keyboard,” Brave Little Howl guitarist Marc Atkinson says. “The hardest thing to really understand from our standpoint is the voices were going away from us. The instruments are going away from us. We heard very little of what was actually happening.”
What we hear on the record was touched up as little as possible.
“We didn't do any editing, and we did it as little mixing as possible,” Wright says. “All we're doing is making sure it sounds the way you heard it in the cabin.”
Aside from one digital track, “That One Time I Died,” to promote the record on Spotify and a video for “Can’t Say” edited from smartphone videos captured by attendees that night, the recording of that night will be released exclusively on vinyl.
“This album was intended for you to shut the world off and kind of absorb it,” Wright says. “It's not a fast food album. When you find this album, when you get the time to listen to it, you're going to love every bit of it.”
The prospect of committing all of your focus to a double live album may seem like a lot to ask, but there really is a certain magic to the Big Thicket album that's worth discovering. Perhaps it’s the same magic found in listening to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, or the magic we feel any time we give ourselves over to any kind of nostalgic experience. It’s the joy of quiet simplicity in a world of chaos and noise.
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It’s a magic the band sensed that night.
“The experience itself was very engrossing,” Atkinson says. “When it was over, it felt like it happened in a snap.”
Watch the video form "Can't Say" below: