Coastal Cabins are a young indie rock group out of Minneapolis composed of Jack Ross and Robert Marston. The duo just released their self-titled debut EP last week. Its delicate arrangements and rich vocals immediately caught my attention. Ross and Marston are students at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, who met in high school and bonded over their shared love of music and songwriting while working at a grocery store together.
Their sound belies their youth, and their songs have graceful depth that is refreshingly rare for a debut -- especially when you consider they recorded it on their own and self-produced the material as well. It's easy to imagine hearing a lot more from Coastal Cabins in the near future. Gimme Noise is happy to spotlight these talented young musicians and their story, as well as their gorgeous debut EP.
Gimme Noise: So how did you two meet, and how long did it take for you to start making music together?
Jack Ross: We met early on in high school, but became friends while both working at a local grocery store. We had talked about music with each other, and after learning that we were both writing our own music we thought it would be a good idea to start collaborating.
Robert Marston: It's hard to say how and when it all really started. When we were somewhere around 15 we started writing together. At the time we didn't necessarily think it would turn in to anything. "In a Glass Dream" was actually one of the first attempts we ever made at a complete song. The original song itself was thrown away but we kept the name for our EP for a little bit of personal nostalgia.
Many of the songs on your debut EP began as home recordings -- what were those initial sessions like, and how easily did those tracks take shape?
JR: I had been recording things on my own since I was about 12, and that's always just been the natural way of doing things, for myself at least, when it comes to making music. I had been recording things at different times for different songs on the EP, just adding parts as I went. There was never any structured time or "sessions" for any of the songs, basically when I just felt inspired enough to record a guitar part or a drum part, whatever was ready to be recorded at the time, I would do it. All of the tracks on the EP took shape this way, just adding things as I went until I felt each song was complete.
RM: I had never done any serious recording until we started working on this EP. I had fiddled around with some different software and such but never had the ambition to make something complete. The creative parts of the project were all fairly balanced, but the production side was almost entirely Jack. But hey, I'm learning.
How long have you been working on the five songs that make up your debut?
RM: We started writing "Fourth Street" almost two years ago now, of course the song grew and changed as we started to figure out who we wanted to be as musicians (not that we really know), but the basic ideas of the song are all the same. The gap in time between some of the writing definitely contributed to the different vibes that come through on certain tracks from the EP and it was something that we thought about a lot, even sort of worried about as we started wrapping things up.
JR: The bulk of the EP was written the past few months, since about April when we started recording things with the intention of creating this EP. Most of it just came together as we went, as sort of a continuous writing process, but other things came together rather quickly. Funny story, we had started writing another song that we had always intended to be on the EP, and I had recorded an acoustic guitar track for it back in May. But as time went on, we had focused most of our energy on the other songs and kind of just left that song to be figured out near the end of recording this EP.
However, as we approached our final mixing session near the end of July, we still had no lyrics for this song and we just didn't know what we wanted to do with it. We tried out a couple different approaches, but nothing was working and we didn't want to force it. So we ended up just saying screw it, let's write something new, which is how the opening track "Beach" came together. That song was written and recorded in about a day (the lyrics came from a different song I had written back in high school), and we recorded the vocals just hours before our final mixing session. Sometimes pressure becomes the best motivator, and that song ended up being the first song on the EP. I got about two hours of sleep that night...
How did your material evolve once you headed off to Luther College? Did having the Jensen-Noble Hall of Music at your disposal help these songs grow in scope and depth?
JR: Things evolved quite a bit once we were at Luther. That's sort of how the idea came about to expand our sound by adding instruments such as trumpet, saxophone, and cello. We had met so many talented musicians that it really wasn't hard to say, "Okay, well I know so-and-so and he's awesome at trumpet, let's try bringing some trumpet into this song." Having Jenson-Noble at our disposal was a huge privilege, we recorded all of the piano on the EP (notably on "In a Glass Dream," where we both played two grand pianos side by side) there. Honestly, just being surrounded by such a strong musical environment there had the greatest effect and influence on our sound, it gave us the opportunity to expand beyond what we had available to us at home.
Luther prides itself on having a strong, world-renowned music program. How has that environment enhanced and encouraged your musical ambitions as well as your sound?
RM: I actually enrolled at Luther to study music, and I'm fairly set in my ways. I'm a choir geek, and the program there is perfect for me. All that being said, whether you're into choir, band, or indie rock the culture surrounding music down in Decorah (where Luther is located) provides you with an outlet for it. There are tons of crazy talented people, and it forces you to better yourself. Not only that, but in a place like that you're constantly talking with people about new music that you've heard, and it opens your ears to a lot of cool new tunes that can be inspiration for a song of your own down the road.
Did you self-produce the EP as well? How challenging was the process of polishing up the songs to get them ready for official release?
JR: Yes we did, we did all the recording and and most of the production on our own. It wasn't too much of a challenge getting them ready for release because for the most part, we had a pretty clear vision of how we wanted things to sound. We didn't go in to the mixing sessions with many uncertainties. For the most part everything had already been put into place during the recording process. We mixed with a local producer named John Wright at his studio down in Savage, whom I had come in to contact with a few years ago. That was the only major aspect of the EP's production that we didn't handle by ourselves.
RM: We definitely knew what we wanted the look, sound, and feel of the project to be, and achieving it took a bit of work, but it was pretty enjoyable. Watching something that you've put so much effort into finally start to fall into place is really rewarding. The production process was definitely a learning one for me, but as we look forward we'll have a much better idea of what it takes.
Obviously, it's easier now than ever to record and release your own music from the comforts of your home or dorm rooms. Have the modern musical/electronic tools that are available to you affected how you approach your songwriting and recording?
JR: Yes, most definitely. It has enabled us, among millions of other musicians to create something on our own, without the necessity of going to a recording studio under a time limit to do so. By doing everything ourselves at home, we don't have to worry about mistakes in the studio costing us money, or the money aspect at all that's inherent in recording at a studio. We can go our own pace, add things on our own, whenever we want and pretty much wherever we want. Almost this entire EP was recorded through my audio interface into my laptop with just two microphones, a mobile recording setup that I can take anywhere. We recorded significant portions of the EP (notably acoustic guitar) in our dorm rooms, and almost everything else at my makeshift home studio that I've been putting together the past few years. With that ability to record pretty much wherever, it has become an essential aid to the songwriting process. If I'm fiddling around on my guitar or synthesizer and something cool happens, I can record it right then and there before I forget what I had just played or came up with.
Have you performed these songs in front of a live audience much yet? And if so, how did the live experience and bringing these songs to life on stage help shape or strengthen the material?
RM: We're in the process of getting a full band together right now actually. As the EP developed and it called for things like saxophone and cello we knew that putting a live set together would be a challenge, but it's something that we're ready to take on for the sake of making the music that we want to happen, happen. The most we've done live with these songs are basically acoustic versions of them for five or six friends at a time.
Do you have any plans to play in Minneapolis any time soon? Is it a challenge to try to promote and share these songs while also balancing the classroom commitments of your freshman year in college?
RM: We've been talking a lot about live performances, and with our search for a band in full swing I guess you never really know. We'd love the opportunity to put on some shows in the near future, and we've made plans to get in touch with some people from places that we think might be able to make that happen.
JR: The prospect of playing live, especially here in Minneapolis, has been brewing and we plan to make that happen soon. It hasn't been too much of a challenge promoting and sharing these songs while balancing out the commitments of college because so far, most of the work we've done with our music has taken place this summer. We both work part-time jobs here at home, but we still managed to make things come together. We'll see what happens when we go back to school this fall -- only time will tell.
Do you already have new songs ready for a future follow-up EP, or did you concentrate all of your creative energy toward your debut?
JR: Yes, we've been writing new material for a debut album. Once we finished everything with this EP, it felt natural to be able to just sit down and become inspired enough to start writing again.
RM: The EP took up a good amount of time and energy, but we've had a few ideas along the way that we're starting to work with; and with the pressure of meeting the deadline we set for ourselves on the EP gone, both of us have come up with and started to collaborate on some new material that we hope people will respond well to. Basically we put time and effort into what we felt we could be most productive with at the time, whether that was finishing a song for the EP or writing for something entirely different and new, whatever was inspiring us most in that moment.
Are those your own home movies featured in your video? Those tranquil images perfectly complement the song itself. How did the video come together initially?
JR: No, I put together that video for our debut single, "We Were Young," off the EP using footage that I found on the internet through the Prelinger Archives, which is all public domain. The first part of the video was home movie footage that had been taken at Yosemite National Park in 1943, and the second part was from an educational film about the pros and cons of modern transportation called "Going Places," from 1948. We wanted to release our debut song as a music video, because we thought that would be a much more appealing way of putting ourselves out there instead of just a "play" button. I wanted the video to be a glimpse back in time, and so I spent an evening at home just seeing what I could find. Those two pieces of footage were exactly what I had in mind, and they worked perfectly. The video was put together over two days, and we loved how it turned out.
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