A show by the Pebble Light doesn’t really feel like a show at all. Various people wander on and off stage, strumming along or shaking tambourines as the mood strikes. Travis Sehorn — the one core member of the loosely organized band — leads players through songs that often sound like they were made up on the spot.
Endings are loose, or simply roll into the next song. Amplification is minimal if it exists at all; and Sehorn’s singing style — quiet and introspective — compounds the sense that the Pebble Light is more about the communal joy of open-ended music-making than any kind of orchestrated performance for an audience.
So the very idea of a Pebble Light album seems, in a way, a contradiction to the band’s vibe. After all, albums are immalleable documents, far removed from spontaneity. They have lyric sheets and performer credits and song titles and tracks that begin at a certain point and end at another.
They are, in short, things; not experiences.
Sehorn and producer Kier Atherton (a musician in his own right, who serves as the most frequent sideman in the Pebble Light) were well aware of this issue when they set out to create “Ovum Bloom,” a nine-song album that’s being released at a show this weekend.
“As we began the album we wanted to make sure we preserved that feel of the live shows,” explained Atherton. “It didn’t make sense to do something completely different that’s all rehearsed and arranged.”
So the two musicians decided to take a novel approach to the recording sessions for the album. Musicians were invited to come and play – but they weren’t allowed to hear the songs until they were actually in the studio, on the microphone. Players came in one at a time, adding layers to the basic tracks put down by Sehorn and his guitar. None was given more than three “takes,” but every musician who showed up ended up in the mix on the album.
The result is an album that sounds at once live, spontaneous, and yet quite carefully produced.
“If someone’s playing a song they haven’t heard, they make mistakes but also do really cool new stuff,” said Atherton. “With digital mixing, we could take out the mistakes and keep the magic that I don’t think would happen if you had professional musicians who already knew the music and had rehearsed their parts.”
The album makes clear that a good part of what makes Sehorn’s songs seem so spontaneous is his lyrical phrasing. Thoughts and melodies don’t always synch up — sometimes one is longer than the other, sometimes the shape of the words and the shape of the melody run counter to one another.
Arrangements are generally sparse and loose, with organ, piano, guitar, and backing vocals appearing and disappearing like ghosts — the shadows of all the people who’ve played with Sehorn along the way.
For those who seek carefully sculpted, radio-friendly rock, this isn’t it. If hum-along, scruffy folk music is your thing, “Ovum Bloom” could be your album.
The Pebble Light will celebrate the release of the new album in a show at the Badlander this Saturday, Mar. 1. Fredrick’s Teeth and Zen Saloon will also perform at the show.