Reviving the Singer-Songwriter
In the era of Crosby, Stills and Nash music was recorded and performed with a simple purity that is rarely seen in the heavily produced electronic melodies that dominate today’s popular music. Although technological advances in recording equipment have pushed music into new frontiers, in many ways it has also taken some of the heart out of music. Musicianship, velvety vocals and meaningful lyrics have been eclipsed by a dull cacophony of synthesized beats that ceaselessly play in the background of our lives. Fittingly, a band named The Sweet Remains, is working to exhume “the sweet remains” of the singer-songwriter tradition.
Formed in 2008, The Sweet Remains is comprised of three singer-songwriters—Rich Price, Greg Naughton and Brian Chartrand—all of whom had solo careers before coming together as a trio. Price’s second solo album debuted a song called ‘I’m On My Way’, which was featured on the 2004 multi-platinum Shrek 2 soundtrack. Naughton’s indie-rock debut album was co-produced by late Grammy-winning recording artist Phoebe Snow and Chartrand is the creator and co-frontman of the touring musical revue "Live from Laurel Canyon”. But when the three found themselves together in a hotel room in Newport, Rhode Island, they had the epiphany that three singers might better than one.
“Sometimes, three voices can create a very different experience when you're hearing the lyrics and the melody. Picking and choosing the moments where you drop down to one voice can really elevate a lyric. It's interesting to play with where the voices are harmonizing or if there's a counter melody—it’s another device for storytelling,” said Price.
But crafting intricate melodies isn’t the only benefit to having three singer-songwriters in one band. Often, Price and Naughton will finish each other’s lyrics, giving their songs a universality that wouldn’t be present without collaboration. It was in the spirit of co-creation fostered by the band that led Naughton to write and direct his first feature film, The Independents. Loosely based on the experiences of The Sweet Remains, the film chronicles the epic journey of three musicians travelling across America in search of musical glory. The film has been met with praise from critics and is currently making the rounds at indie film festivals across the US.
“It was really important to Greg that the music be authentic and not lip-synced in the film, so he asked myself and Brain to co-star in it. We were surprised but figured we’d do it and it’s been a really gratifying experience,” noted Price.
Fostering creativity and promoting singer-songwriters isn’t just saved for the silver screen. While on tour in Valdez and Anchorage this week, The Sweet Remains have been hosting a number of workshops for local musicians.
“We did a workshop and small concert at a high school in Valdez and we talked about some of our influences. They knew some of them, but others were met with blank stares,” chuckled Price. “But really I think it was just cool to learn about what kind of music they are into and honestly, any chance to talk about songs and songwriting is a lot of fun for us!”
Although The Sweet Remains have been hosting workshops, Price admits that they have also learned a lot from their participants. As the music scene continues to evolve, the band has had to find new ways of getting their music heard and understanding the ways younger generations consume music plays a big part in that. In fact, the band will be deploying an innovative way to utilize Spotify to encourage fans to listen to their full album.
“Over the next 10 months we will be releasing one song from the new album each month. We are hoping that by doing a slow release, people will take the time to listen to each song rather than only a few tracks. It’s kind of like encouraging music to be consumed like it was when it was on cassette or CD. You had to listen to the full album because you were paying for it,” said Price.
Recalling the yesteryear of music, The Sweet Remains have also pared down their performances.
“About a year or two ago we started doing part of our show around one condenser microphone and that's really been a revelation for us in a lot of ways because it sort of brings the music back to that hotel room in Newport, Rhode Island,” Price explained. “On this tour we are bringing a percussionist, but it will largely be two guitars and a condenser mic.”