I have known Travis Calhoun for nearly all of my performing career. I met Travis, who performs under the moniker Afterlife, outside Cafe 22, a local haunt in Buffalo, Minnesota, where the local teen bands could play. Over the years I have collaborated with him on various musical projects, spent long nights philosophizing, and watched him in the midst of his creative endeavors.
One of my personal favorite pieces of his was “Bathroom Jazz”, a musique concrete composition consisting of various noises found in his bathroom, such as handles, cupboards, and a faucet.
Currently his own audio engineer, Travis has refined his recording technique over the last four years, starting with his hip hop album, Modern Man.
“My setup was pretty cheap and low quality,” he explains, “but I began learning the basics of how to record. Previously I had recorded some projects with other people and we always sort of had a ‘good enough’ attitude. So for the first time I began taking on a ‘needs to be better’ attitude.
“I realize that my recordings aren’t perfect, but I began trying to get my songs as good and as flawless as they could be.”
Modern Man contained seven tracks and took about a year to write and record. Immediately after its completion he set to work on the songs that would become his current album, Lonely Moon. The momentum from the previous project yielded seven fresh songs, five eventually making it to the final cut, but life would ultimately intervene.
A marriage, a move to a new house, and other various interests such as astronomy pushed music to the back burner. His output slowed to about two songs over the course of a year. These songs, “Through It Together” and “Until the Absolute End”, would also make it to the final product. They were love songs, both dedicated to his wife.
Another wrench in the spokes of this project came when an old friend and fellow musician, Reese Mankenberg, briefly moved back to Minnesota. They began jamming together, and wrote and recorded a new seven track album (Another seven track album? Weird! There seems to be a pattern here…) titled Iceland under the band name ZABRA?
What does ZABRA? mean?
Just try to think of questions that one musician might ask another during the lengthy recording process. I’ll give you a hint, you get quite hungry.
I had the good fortune of featuring quite a bit on this recording, tracking drums, lead guitars, and banjo. My favorite tune from this album is the second track, “Revolution”, a hauntingly beautiful story song with an anthem-like refrain that sends chills up my spine every time I am lucky enough to perform it.
Iceland took a year to complete, and once it was finished Travis returned to the album he had originally set out to create.
His marriage was disintegrating by this time. He took an extended camping trip to collect himself and fast in the woods. Two songs for the album were written in the forest and recorded on his phone, “Damage” and “A Pact For Us To Kill”.
“I actually recorded both with my phone and even used the original phone recording on ‘Damage’,” Travis told me. “I turned it down. Then layered another vocal and guitar track, and added keyboard. If you listen closely you can hear the birds chirping in a couple spots.”
The last track, “I Am In Servitude”, was a spur of the moment creation.”I wrote and recorded it all in one night,” says Travis, “beginning by recording a track of slow strumming using only two chords, F# to B for about 4 minutes. Then I just began improvising all the other tracks over it. A couple lead tracks, bass guitar, and keyboard. Then I came up with some lyrics and a melody. And recorded a bunch of harmonies on top.
“The whistling sound in the beginning is actually, ridiculously enough, a nose flute. There are also some quiet maraca sounds a few times. And the little percussion sounds at the end are nothing more than hand claps.”
The icing on the cake was “Lonely Moon”, a moment of inspiration that became the title track. “I was actually planning on titling this album Out Of The Abyss,” he says.
“It wasn’t until about two weeks before I was set to do a final master on all my tracks, while lying in bed one night, the phrase lonely moon just came to me. I liked the ring of it and felt that it better described the tracks and feel of the album. So I then wrote the title track ‘Lonely Moon’, put it as the opening song and that was that.”
Like all of Travis’ work, Lonely Moon is an eclectic collection of neo-folk music, and it is folk music in its most literal sense. It’s less about the sound and more about the creation.
The music is a direct current from the artist’s imagination. Unhindered by traditional academic forms, common theoretical practice never tampered with Lonely Moon. The chords are discovered, the songs handed down into one another over time—a sort of “singular soul folk music” if you will.
After completing Lonely Moon, Travis began frequenting open mics in the Twin Cities area eager to perform his music. He has since experienced a renaissance of repertoire, adding many, many cover tunes to his set in a short amount of time.
He is currently working bars in the rural area west of the Twin Cities—many of the same places that I hit. In fact, we will likely be performing together regularly.
You can hear all of the Afterlife catalog on Travis’ bandcamp page, as well as check out the ZABRA? project. Keep your ear to the ground of the central Minnesota music scene, there’s a lot of unique performers such as Travis on the rise.
About Robert Leo Newton
Robert Leo Newton is a singer-songwriter, music teacher, and recording artist from the Twin Cities. He is a fourteen year veteran of the indie progressive rock scene. (Read more…)
(Robert Leo Newton, 2015)