She immediately got to work and wrote, recorded, and produced her album with the help of a few friends. She spent hours in her home studio fine tuning the songs, sounds, and the lineup of the album until she was happy with the final result. Once the recording process was finished, she had it pressed into vinyl and called it Amateur Cartography. Allison is an inspiring person with an enviable work ethic.What has taken other artists years to do took her less than one year to complete.
We asked The Gator to tell us a little more about the process behind the album and for details about the album release show featuring Fires in Japan and Due North this Sunday at PJ's Lager House. Here's what she had to say.
Hip In Detroit - How did it feel when you reached your Kickstarter goal?
The Gator - "The actual moment it happened, I was watching Simpsons with my roommate on a Sunday evening, and there was disbelief at first. Then I was overwhelmed and pretty relieved. I was relieved because I was going to make the album either way, and reaching the goal meant that I had a solid path to creating and manufacturing the album on the timetable I’d designed for myself.
It was also incredibly moving to get so much support. It was so nice to have something work out. Several of the backers’ donations were fairly substantial. Since that time, any time I have gotten a little frustrated, I immediately think of them and remember how much someone thought I was worth supporting. It’s quiet and special. Except for sharing this right now, I keep it to myself and I keep it in mind all the time."
Hip In Detroit - Where did you record the album?
The Gator - "I recorded the album myself in Drifting Sun Studios, which belongs to my very close friend (and then-roommate) Chuck Huber. It was also in the home where I lived at the time, so I would go work on the album any time I wasn’t at work. I used two mics to capture the acoustic guitar, one mic for vocals, DI for the couple of bass parts, and a couple more shotgun mics for percussion. All of the tracking was simple, and I recorded it all onto GarageBand. Then I moved everything into Logic and mixed it. I employed several friends’ ears as mixing assistants, and eventually got it right. Bill Henderson at Azimuth Mastering in New Jersey mastered the tracks, Aardvark Mastering made the lacquers, and then it was off to production. The tracks hit every corner of this country before we were done with them- from Michigan to California to New Jersey to Colorado to Florida to Tennessee to Washington to New York to Illinois… I got a lot of help along the way.
Cheapshow, and Jordan Wright, Jordan Von Zynda, and Eric Plunkard of Due North all sang on the album as well. Basically, if you hear a pretty harmony on the album, that’s Jordan Wright. Jordan Von Zynda did almost all the percussion, with a little bit done by Greg Kreiling, my long-time music partner and best friend.
I did the whole thing myself because I had acquired all these skills over the years- from working in a studio, from recording in all kinds of studios, and from just fiddling around with DAWs at home- and I had run into a wall trying to record any other way."
Hip In Detroit - How long was the recording process?
The Gator - "I started officially tracking in late December of 2012 and finished mixing in late February 2013. My experience has always been that if it starts taking too long, you’re completely screwed and the album will either never be completed or it will end up awful. I pushed as hard as I could to stay on track and complete the music as expeditiously as I possibly could. Reflecting on it right now as we discuss this, of all the albums I have ever been a part of, I think I am most pleased with the process for this Gator album. Though I desperately missed doing it as a band. I liked not having to argue with anyone, though!"
Hip In Detroit - How many songs made it to the album?
The Gator - "The album has ten songs. Five on side A and five on side B. I enjoyed, as I always do, sculpting the album properly and making the track order coherent. The flow of the tracks on a proper album should tell an over-arching story. Different from a concept album, which I’ve also done in the past, a well-designed album needs to bring the listener into the story just the same as a great book would do. And especially on vinyl, the four corners are important: the first track of the first side, last track of the first side, first track of the second side, and last track of the second side. I am very happy with the choices I made, however I do see places where the songs themselves could have lent themselves better to their places. So I will have to write better songs for next time.
The first song on the first side wasn’t chosen for its sound, but rather for its opening line and for when I wrote the song and for its rebuilding sort of feel. The opening line is, “There was a time when all of this was the best night of my life.” I’m 30 now, and I wrote this a couple years ago after my last band, Utility Monster, had disbanded and I was once again not in a band. A weird thing happens when you’re a musician who is not in a band. You lose your spot. You lose where you thought you fit in. So I started the album there because it just seemed to say what I meant. I ended side A with a track that I just thought sounded cool ending with the sound of the needle picking up on the record player, so there isn’t much more to it than that.
Side B starts with a sort of old Western build. It's one of my favorite songs on the album, which, as the story always seems to go, almost didn’t even get recorded. Not just almost didn’t make it on the album, but truly I initially had no intention of recording it. But now it’s one of my favorites. Then side B ends with one of my most favorite songs, and a real barn-burner at that. Not to mention, it has everyone involved in the album singing and playing, so it’s a good way to end it.
I did write enough songs that I could cut a couple dozen, and that felt really healthy. When I was about 20 I realized that you have to write a whole lot of real shit before anything even remotely listenable starts to grow, so I guess I’m just glad I started so young. Cutting songs feels good. It feels like growth."
Hip In Detroit - What is the title of the album? Is there any significance to the name?
The Gator - "The title of the album is Amateur Cartography. It’s actually a phrase out of a Weakerthans song, called "Aside". It was actually the first Weakerthans song I ever heard, in 2002. The line always stuck out, and my sister, Marissa, and I used to laugh when we’d hear it. But as I would make the list of songs to include on the amorphous “next album” I wanted to make, it was obvious that they were all about not having a home. To be sure- I always had a physical house or apartment in which to live. I don’t mean to make it sound like I suffered on the streets. But I lost my home in 2009/10, then moved, and moved again, and moved again, and moved again, and moved again, and at no point could I grab back on and feel like I had a home.
The idea of not belonging to a place has always been part of how I relate to the world, but in the last few years it just manifested in such a face-slamming sort of way. It’s an experience a lot of us are having. And you can claw back at it for a while and try to dig your toes in and find a place, but eventually you just kind of say, ok, let’s see what kind of freedom this rootlessness offers. Every song on the album deals with the theme of home in one way or another. And I kept making mistakes with deciding where to move and where to go. Since that Weakerthans line was always in my head, it just seemed like the appropriate title. I don’t know. It just makes me laugh."
Hip In Detroit - Do you write the music or the lyrics to a song first?
The Gator - "It’s never the same for me. A few years ago I identified how the writing cycle works for me, so I think I can actually give you a decent answer for this one. First it gets to a point where I start to think I will never write another song, or I will have no ideas for songs at all, or I will suddenly be looking back and have no fucking clue how I ever wrote a single song or chord structure or how anyone else writes songs, for that matter. It’s never really panicked me, it’s just a downhill that comes around and the end/start of this writing cycle.
Then I start to get ideas for lines for songs. A few at first, often at times where I have no chance of writing them down or remembering them. At work, while driving, in dreams, often. But then I’ll manage to keep some and start keeping notes in text files on my computer. I have always written in text files on the computer. Notepad is my best friend. I have very occasionally hand-written some things, but I have horrendous handwriting, and also I can’t write as quickly as the words come out, and they get forgotten. But that’s the other thing- a lot of the ideas I get early on just get forgotten, and I have learned that that’s ok and it’s part of the cycle. Now I let them go more easily. Maybe someone else will catch them. But I collect all the lines in text documents titled “June Notes 2013” and stuff like that.
So the lyrics sit around. When I come up with some music, I will either pull some of these saved lines in to begin with, or I will start with some new lines that fit the music, and fill it in with the already-written lines. I like seeing what becomes of a line that I thought meant a very specific thing, when I take it and put it into the meter and context of something newer that is being written. Then I find out what it really meant. I don’t know. It’s kind of flaky, probably as flaky as I’m willing to readily admit to being, but I think that writing or creating art of any kind is all about being in the right state of mind to let it flow through you. That’s not meant to sound spiritual, or metaphysical, or self-important. It’s just that there is a lot of stuff going on in the world and if you sit down quietly and let it all affect you, it might come into your head and bounce around in your brain and come out the pen in a unique, once-and-for-all, hopefully artistic way."
Hip In Detroit - What inspired you to write this album?
The Gator - "The songs themselves had to happen. But making the album was a few different things. One was simply that If you are to be a serious musician, you record. I have always thought that. That’s why the first band we had in high school recorded when we were 15. I wanted The Gator to become a real thing, and I had wanted to do a solo album for a while, so I did. The other reason is that Chuck (Huber, Drifting Sun Studio owner) challenged me to complete the album in six months. That was what originally started the whole Kickstarter thing.
And as discussed, it’s a bunch of songs about home, and lack thereof, and replacement thereof."
Hip In Detroit - What can people expect to see and hear at the record release at the Lager House on August 4th?
The Gator - "So much fun. Fires in Japan and Due North are playing as well, and we’re also working on some songs to play together. Gator shows are usually just me and the guitar, and sometimes a lot of hand percussion handed out to any Due North gentlemen who show up and stand in the front. It’s going to be a big family party. Everyone is welcome. I don’t have birthday parties, I don’t throw parties, I didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah or graduation party, and I’m probably not going to get to have a wedding. So… come to the album release party? It’s going to be a great time. And PJ’s Lager House is just a great venue, with a great sound guy.
We’re going to dance and sing together. And everyone can still go home and go to bed and get up Monday morning and get to work just fine."
Hip In Detroit - Where will the album be up for sale once its out?
The Gator - "The album is currently at a few local record stores: Hello Records in Detroit (Corktown), Found Sound in Ferndale, Solo Records in Royal Oak, and Flipside in Clawson. It is also available at thegator.bandcamp.com. And most importantly, it’s always available at shows."
The show is $5 for 21+ and $7 for 18+. Copies of the record will be available for $8 at the merch table or can be bought online as Allison mentioned. The Lager House is located at 1254 Michigan Ave. in Detroit and doors for the show open at 8 p.m.