If you’ve ever been to the Bloomington Farmer’s Market in the past few years, there’s a good chance you’ve already encountered the band Busman’s Holiday. Most Saturdays, Lewis and Addison Rogers can be seen busking for the passersby.
Equipped with only a guitar, a drum set made partially out of an old Samsonite suitcase, the band has been a staple of the music scene in Bloomington for years now. And now, they’ve taken that busking energy, and brought it to the recording studio.
Their newest album titled A Long Goodbye, is being released April 1 by the Indianapolis-based independent record label Joyful Noise Recordings, with a release event at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center on April 4.
Here they are performing two original songs from their newest album—”We Are We” and “Baby Blue”—live in the WFIU studio:
The album marks new territory for the band. They’re recorded before—they made a short EP back in 2008, and about two years ago, they recorded a cover of an old 1959 Fleetwood’s song, “Mr. Blue”, that was featured on Radiolab, the nationally-syndicated radio program from WNYC.
But this is their first full-length album, and it features the involvement of a Grammy-award winning producer. So, how did Busman’s Holiday go from local buskers to collaborating with music industry big wigs?
According to Lewis, the story begins with a bit of strange luck. “Like most great stories, our great uncle died, that’s how they start.” The band received an inheritance from their great uncle.
Their friend David J. Woodruff, who currently works as the graphic designer for Joyful Noise, was working at the time at an Artist Management company in town. Woodruff suggested that the band use their money towards a record producer.
At the time Lewis thought, “you know, there’s one fella that we’d like to have, because he had just won a Grammy. And we had thought, that’s out of our range. But he’s great, he’s this guy named Mark Lawson.”
Lawson is a Canadian record producer who helped produce the band Arcade Fire’s album The Suburbs, winner of the coveted Album of the Year award at the 2011 Grammy’s. Woodruff managed to get in touch with Lawson, sent him some demos of the band, and Lawson was impressed.
Recording in the Petite Église
When Lawson talked to the band on the phone, he initially agreed to help them mix the album.
Lewis responded, “‘Oh, no, we need to record this album!’ Then he says, ‘Ok. How feasible is it for you to come to Montreal.’ And I said, ‘Very feasible.’ And he says, ‘Well, I got the keys to Arcade Fire’s studio. We should try to do this.’”
The band then travelled to Farnham, Quebec—a suburb of Montreal— to record the album in a 160-year old church called Petite Église. The church was purchased by Arcade Fire, and the band converted it into a permanent recording studio.
The new record bolsters Busman’s Holiday’s stripped down sound with strings and horns, using some Montreal-based musicians, including Jamie Thompson from the band Islands.
Addison said that Lawson created a “family” atmosphere within the studio, orchestrating meals and allowing the musicians to live in Petite Église during the recording sessions. At the same time, Lewis added that Lawson’s “hands-off” approach to the recording session let the album come together more organically.
The Creative Process
How do you describe the music of Busman’s Holiday? Their inviting personalities are an essential part of their sound: turning melancholic longing into warm and optimistic pop.
Although, for Lewis, the idea of any kind of “genre label” is creatively stifling. “I’ve never been one for genres in general. You’re trying to make the best music you can. Whatever that is. Whatever is the most original to your ears at that moment, that’s where you’re going towards.
“I think if you start to think of genres, it gets harder for me, because then you start to think, ‘Oh, well, there’s rules to that!’ The creative process start smushed and bogged down. You start to think, ‘But I just want to make what I want!’”
The brothers collaborate as songwriters, and they feel that their differing musical backgrounds help the process. While they share the singing duties, Addison plays drums while Lewis plays “the rest.” According to Addison, that usually means that “Lewis is taking care of music.”
Lewis said that Addison’s differing perspective helps because Addison can, in his words, “reign me back, if I get too crazy,” musically-speaking.
Addison added, “if we were both a couple of novices who knew what sounded right but didn’t really know how things worked, or if the both of us were incredibly knowledgeable and knew how things came together, we wouldn’t be able to collaborate as much as we do.”
Even with the new record and extensive touring, the band still won’t give up their busking roots.
Their initial foray into busking started out for completely practical reasons. Lewis said, “we like being able to take one trip from the car, that’s why we play acoustic music. And I don’t like microphones because it takes you away from the audience.”
Since then, it has helped them out creatively. Lewis said, “I think that’s what busking lends itself to. You get better at giving your energy whenever.
“A big part of busking,” Addison added, “has always been that there’s little separation between us and the people who are listening. Which is great. We’re trying to have a dialogue or conversation with people when we’re performing. So, to not have any barriers like that is really nice.”