Making Music in the Box: A Creative Journey Off-Road
Marian Call understands her creative process. She’s a confident songwriter, performer and producer with over a decade of experience supporting herself touring and selling records full time from her home base in Juneau. “I can’t tell you how often I get interviewed, and people only want to talk about how I make money or my social media strategy,” she said. First and foremost, Call is an artist.
Her training in music is deep. She grew up studying classical voice, music theory and jazz, then continued to Stanford University where she studied choral and orchestral composition. It turns out, she begins 70% of her compositions on airplanes. Call knows what triggers her creative energy and how to support it, and she realized, while creating her most recent studio album, that she was ready to move in a new direction. “A lot of my favorite artists that I’m listening to create the kind of stuff you could never do live.”
She says she decided she “wanted to learn a new instrument: my computer.” That way she could create sounds and libraries of sounds to make music in her home studio. She is also energized by the idea of using sounds from her own previous recordings — she already owns the rights — and upcycling them into new songs.
Upending the process that led her to record 10 albums, tour all 50 states, Canada and Europe turned Call into a beginner, of sorts. “It’s been kind of humbling. I don’t think I’ve done anything I’m new at in a very long time.” To learn to create, mix and master 100% digital sounds, Call decided to become a student. She calls the result, “elementary and frustrating and awesome.” When she records live sounds she feels skilled and adept. With her new digital tools and processes, Call knows the quality of what she wants but is still learning to get there. “I can’t say how exciting it is to try and push myself out of the AABA-verse-chorus-single-voice-guitar world,” she said. “I am reaching for more than I quite know how to do yet, and I really want to grow into the new sound on my horizon.” With the help of a trusted producer and friend, Brian Ray, she learned the basics of her new software tools.
The next step in Call’s learning process was practice. Devoting time to her new producing style meant a big lifestyle change — a pause in touring and performing. With travel and touring in her blood and flying embedded in her creative process, it was a big adjustment. She was ready for it. In the months she spent off the road and in the studio, Call accomplished her goal of creating sounds, loops and tracks that became songs for a new EP. Her goal was five songs, and she’s up to seven or eight, so she’ll get to make some choices in releasing the collection. She says that the physical act of releasing a song or an album without touring still feels strange. “It’s really weird to work on a song or work on an album, release it, and then just stay home and not do anything about it.”
“I hope it’s not totally over,” Call says about touring. “I’ve loved that part of my story. So much of what I’ve written has come out of that place.” But she also feels a pull towards community, settling and home. “I feel really lucky that my fan base has stuck with me so long that I can do something like this. But I’m also getting older and I can’t keep touring forever, so I have to figure out how to transition into whatever happens next.”
Through it all, Call seems invigorated by the learning process and excited about the creative potential of making art in one place. She’s working on a book of poetry and looking forward to real-time collaborations with Juneau artists. Meanwhile, she keeps honing new skills. “When I go into the studio with a bunch of musicians I feel totally competent, and in control, and like an artist there, and I don’t feel that way yet, making beats and working in the computer.
Call knows her competence is growing and she attributes it to the work she has done in the past year. “I tell you what, I never would have started trying to do this without the grant,” she said, mentioning her 2017 Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award. “Because of the grant, I got the equipment, I bought the software, I bought the plugins, I bought the downloads, and I went and I learned.”