Farm-fresh approach to recording
Folk musician David Mallett’s do-it-yourself album is full of rich tunes
BY BILL CRAIG
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Mar 25, 2004
When David Mallett started out in the music business back in the’60s, he had a clear vision of the direction he expected his career to take.
“For a long time, I had aspirations of being Neil Diamond with fans and people hanging around to tune my guitar and stuff,” Mallett said over the phone from his Maine home.
Mallett has more than a few items to brag about. He scored a legitimate hit single with “The Garden Song.” (You and your kids may know the tune as “Inch by Inch.”) His songs have been recorded by Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Pete Seeger and the Muppets. And in 2000, the Bangor Daily News recognized him as one of the 58 most memorable Mainers of the 20th century.
Perhaps most important, though, on the strength of 11 high-quality albums and decades of road work, Mallett has quietly carved out a richly deserved reputation as one of the contemporary American folk music’s most skilled singer-songwriters.
But he’s revised that Diamond goal.
“I’m now kind of like a journeyman plumber,” Mallett said. “I have a little bag and a little guitar. I come in and I do my job and move on.”
That little bag now contains songs from Mallett’s latest, and many say greatest, album, “Artist in Me,” which hit the streets Dec. 1. Recorded in a farmhouse on Mallett’s property, the record is literally a do-it-yourself, do-it-at-home project.
“I recorded it at home in an old farmhouse that I have here that was sitting empty. I always wanted to see how that would sound. I rented a studio and they brought it in and set up the gear. We set up and recorded it right here. It was real nice. It was like ‘Music from Big Pink.'”
Mallett discovered that working at home suits him quite nicely.
“Recording at home is OK. It’s like the wave of the future. It’s more comfortable and you don’t have to deal with the price of gasoline.”
The result pleased both Mallett and listeners such as the editors of FOLKWAX, the folk-music zine, which made the album its Album of the Year.
“The album turned out great. The sound turned out bigger than I thought and the response to it has been more than I could ask for. It was low-key and I didn’t involve anyone but me and the musicians and the engineer for a long time. . . . This one is very stripped down with just me and the bass player and a couple other things.”
Mallett is hardly the first guy to discover the joys of recording independence, but he’s quick to point out the business, as opposed to the artistic, perks of the strategy.
“I feel like I’m in charge. I’m kind of a hands-on guy and I like to know what’s being done now for my product,” Mallett said. “With record companies, there’s always so much involved. Most of my fans like to buy my records from me. They take satisfaction in knowing there’s a direct connection. It’s like being a microbrewery in a world of Budweiser.”
This week’s trip to Virginia is part of a multi-time-zone spring itinerary that will take Mallett to, among other spots, New England, Texas, Washington and Oregon. Mallett long ago grew tired of being on the road, but he’s never lost the passion for performing.
“That’s my main source of income – doing gigs and connecting with people. The travel has grown very old. I like being home. But performing brings out something in me that I don’t get anywhere else. It’s the way I relate to people.”
So while his career will probably never reach those Neil Diamond heights he once dreamed of, Mallett is quite content with his current place at the top of the folk-music world.
“It’s kind of a weird way to grow old. But I like working. If I get two or three weeks off, I get real ugly.”