“Last December, I was eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast and it just hit,” the vocalist/guitarist says from a control room at Sound Images, where bandmate Adam Pleiman is employed. “We all have these multi-tiered lives with music and family and friends, and mine is kind of intense with those things because I’m ADD and a creative spirit. So I was trying to come up with something that would literally involve my wife, who’s a horse lover and an advocate of animal rights.”
The umbrella idea was fairly basic — take the 12 songs that had been recorded for the Roots/Rock band’s sophomore album and reworked after splitting from its previous label, and offer them for download through the Struts’ website (www.thekentuckystruts.com), one track a month throughout 2011. Then at year’s end, release a physical album.
Seems simple, until you factor in the other parameters that Lipscomb incorporated into the plan — finding 12 artists to design graphic images depicting a horse at least marginally inspired by one of the songs. Fittingly titled The Year of the Horse, the album would also benefit area horse rescue organization Speak Up for Horses, which will receive 50 percent of the proceeds from the artwork sales (and a portion of the proceeds from the release show).
“A lot of these things are kind of fly-by-night organizations, but (Speak Up for Horses) seemed like they were reputable and had some cred because they’ve done some huge rescue projects,” Lipscomb says of the cause. “And it’s based in Falmouth, so it all just fit.”
Musically, the tracks for The Year of the Horse were largely finished when the Struts were ready for the first download in January. The quintet (Lipscomb, multi-instrumentalist Pleiman, guitarist Brian Teismann, bassist Brian Mahan and project drummer Brian Kelly) made a few minor adjustments to the recordings over the course of the year but kept relatively close to their original tweaks.
“There were plenty of things we put on and took right back off,” Pleiman says with a laugh.
“And there were some mixes available for (the monthly) download that were, like, a different vocal line than what made it to the album.”
Lipscomb sees a fairly big departure for the Struts on The Year of the Horse, from the band’s musical depth to the more brooding nature of the songwriting.
“The maturity level from the first record is way up and it’s a lot darker, too,” Pleiman says. “You’re so deeply entrenched in your parts as you’re playing it rather than from an outside point of view, then you play it for somebody and you’re forced to think, ‘Oh, this is what they’re hearing. This is a pretty mature and dark record.’
“I love it. We grew up and got a little sadder.”
“There’s a lot of minor keys and a lot less banjo,” Teismann says. “I think this recording is a truer version of us and how we sound live.”
Although 2011 has seen the completion of The Year of the Horse, the Struts began recording the songs back in 2006 but parted ways with producer Erwin Musper when their creative intentions diverged (“I have nothing bad to say about him,” Pleiman says, which Lipscomb seconds, adding, “What he appreciated was the opposite of what we appreciated, simple as that …”). The monthly download idea forced the band to move forward on their long delayed sophomore album and clear the deck for new material.
The order of the finished album, co-produced by the band and Mike Landis and engineered by Pleiman and John Curley, will not mirror the downloads’ January-to-December schedule, as the creative sequencing of the material was entirely different than the mechanical motivation for posting the songs on a monthly basis.
“The first three months we had to pick tracks that were close to done,” Lipscomb says. “It was a tough album to sequence, because there are a lot of definitive beginnings and endings.”
Given that the songs came well before the concept for the project, the inspirations for each are distinct. Lipscomb, the Struts’ primary songwriter, counts “life, relationships, challenges” as motivating influences on the songs, but sees a very different fire under the project in its entirety.
“I’m in advertising, I’m an art director/marketer, so I think of how to make it compelling for the experience,” Lipscomb says. “As for the (visual) artists, I’m associated with a lot of different artists, so I put out 30 different calls for entries and within a day, 12 of them, from Minneapolis to L.A. to Nashville to whatever, jumped on the project. How they interpreted the songs was up to them. I tried not to influence them, I just said, ‘You have to celebrate the horse. Don’t cut the horse’s head off.’ ”
The downloads were free, but the listener could receive a print of the song’s accompanying image for a $10 donation. Most of the original artwork will be exhibited at the Struts’ release show at the Southgate House this Saturday. The artists — Joshua Black Wilkins, Keith Neltner, Matthew Shelton and Karen Heyl, among them — will receive 25 percent of the album’s proceeds. That idea translates to the physical release of The Year of the Horse — ordering the CD online enables the listener to choose which of the images he or she would like as the album cover.
“So we’re hoping everyone buys 12 copies,” Pleiman says. ©
(Above artwork by Angie Lipscomb)
THE KENTUCKY STRUTS (www.thekentuckystruts.com) celebrate their new release Saturday at the Southgate House with guests The Sundresses.