It’s official, after 10 fast and furious Februaries, the NL RPM Challenge has produced more than 1000 local albums. This year, about 130 local albums were written and recorded in the month of February, and every weekday for the rest of the month the Editor of the Overcast will haphazardly select and feature one, to merely skim the surface of what was released. See the full list here. Feel free to fire along some fun facts about yours to firstname.lastname@example.org (with the understanding this series can only cover 15-16% of albums released).
Day 6: Steel Cut Notes’ I Woke Up Like This
The album notes go out of their way to acknowledge things like “untrained vocal chords” and “no experience,” but they’re wasted worries: the vocals are a strong element of this album. Virginia Mitford’s voice is stunning, and it pairs to Stephan Walke’s warm bluegrass tones like wine to chocolate.
These two were meant to be making minimalist duets like these, together, and if this is their first crack at it, time will shape them into something pretty special. Here’s a stand-out track, featuring a third stunning voice (April White), that does a lot with vocal interplay to drive the dynamic heart of the song:
As for the music, the genuine, unpretentious, often haunting sound is unburdened by the throes of a professional endeavour or any adherence to a musical rulebook, to the point of being of the album being all the better for its earnest artistic delivery. The best of these songs hit the place in a listener only the best, truest music can reach.
What the album lacks in professional recording studio polish, it more than makes up for in artistic authenticity and straight-up homemade innovation: some of these tracks feature percussion as original as rocks being shaken in an air duct.
While the duo have played music together before, Steel Cut Notes’ RPM marks their first time writing and recording music together. The RPM Challenge is known for igniting collaborations, and Steel Cut Notes was no exception.
“It felt good to do something other than Gillian Welch songs together,” Walke jokes, adding that “it was a great way to get off our asses and make something, despite our doubts; nice that so many people do it in one month—feels collective.”
One track on the album, “Land of the Midnight Sun,” sets a short story to nice minimalistic music in the background. Another standout is track 9, “The Lid to My Tupperware,” shot through with endearing lines like, “be the lid to my Tupperware … when I’m around you I can’t contain myself,” and featuring singers harmonizing with kazoo solos.
They might have saved the best song for last though. “Lullabye for the Sleepless” features their roomate, Jen Cake, no stranger to RPM albums and collaborations.
“She’s one of our wonderful roommates, and a good friend, who we make music with sometimes,” they said. “We weren’t going to let her go through the month without singing a song with us (and stomping her feet when we needed to record a low beat).”
Will we be hearing more from Steel Cut Notes? “Sure. Why not?,” they say. “Feels like this could be a springboard for more songwriting.”
As for the band name, it has a fun origin, and predates the record by 4 years. They were coming back to NL on a plane, “and Virginia came up with the name [because] we needed to pretend to be a band in case the airline hassled us because of too much carry-on — plus steel cut oats are a great breakfast, we’re very domestic and food oriented.”
That’s evident in the album’s lyrics. There’s a tonne of gardening, farming, and bird references, which stems from their “hopes of homesteading, and having a goat and garden and so on; it”s always with us. The song about birds was largely Virginia thinking about spring in the Yukon, and it was a way of expressing our desire to sing and make music, but being totally new to it.”
Not only were they new to recording, they only had two weeks to bang out the record, because Walke downloaded and used a free 14-day trial of Mixcraft software.
“‘He Once Loved an Ocean Wave’ was recorded spontaneously on the last night, with no plans other than to make sounds with things before the software expired,” he confesses. “We got rid of a couple of Virginia’s vocal tracks on that song because it was too creepy and gave me a nightmare, but the rocks in the air duct and hitting the guitar with a pen I think went well.”