Interview: Society of Broken Souls Embrace a Challenge on ‘Midnight and the Pale’
Lauryn Shapter and Dennis James have been making music together since 2003, first as Truckstop Souvenir and now as Society of Broken Souls. As of Friday (April 13), when they released their new disc, Midnight and the Pale, they're five albums deep into their working relationship -- and "oceans away," according to Shapter, from where they started.
"You can definitely sense the trajectory," James tells The Boot, reflecting on the duo's path from their first Truckstop Souvenir disc, 2006's Leave Nothing Behind, to now. "But I definitely feel more comfortable."
Shapter and James sum up their evolution from then to now as, quite simply, being "so much less green," but stronger songwriting skills and a greater proficiency at their (many, and varied) instruments is only part of the story. Society of Broken Souls' core exists on that first album, lyrically, vocally and melodically -- but their palate has expanded.
"[Back then, we had] a purist approach, of trying to make an album that sounded just like we did live," James explains -- which meant two voices and two instruments, and that was that. "[We've gotten] a lot more expressive and a lot more creative and inventive in how we decide to present the music."
"I always felt like it was kind of a lie to pile on all these instruments that we didn't play live," Shapter adds. "I don't know why I got that notion ... An album does not have to be a true presentation of everything you do live; it's a different way of expressing the songs, and you should use every tool at your disposal."
For Society of Broken Souls, those tools include gritty electric guitars, raucous drum beats and jazzy piano, not to mention fiddle and acoustic guitars. Although they have, in the past, brought guest musicians into the studio to add musical flourishes here and there that they couldn't achieve themselves, on Midnight and the Pale, Shapter and James went at it alone. The only reason they can't play their new songs the same way live as they did in the studio is that they'd have to clone themselves to make it happen.
"But we still have the same energy," Shapter says, "and the essence of the song is still there."
Before officially starting the process of making Midnight and the Pale, James and Shapter decided they'd do everything themselves this time around -- literally, everything (Shapter even designed the album cover). Along the way, they thought about calling someone in here or there for an instrumental addition, or for another bit of help, but stuck with it, "if for nothing else than the satisfaction of doing it that way," says James.
"And the challenge," Shapter adds.
Indeed, James and Shapter found themselves facing professional challenges along the way. For James, having a set deadline "was definitely a learning experience" -- one that led to "a lot of post-midnight recording sessions," notes Shapter -- while Shapter struggled to visualize the end result as they created.
"I see so many flaws and problems along the way that I can get really discouraged ... I think what i had to learn in this process ... is trusting that all of these pieces that feel so separate and so disjointed are going to come together," she admits, drawing an analogy to looking at an Impressionist painting: "During the recording process, I'm standing three inches from the painting, and all I can see is the dots."
Society of Broken Souls' Midnight and the Pale -- the finished product of their own thousands of dots -- is now available. Visit SocietyOfBrokenSouls.com for more details.
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