The Copper Field's debut EP, The Standard and Poor's, sounds like a rough cut the band took after a long night of drinking and swapping stories. And in fact, that's more or less the way it happened, as the home-produced record was recorded between frontman Michael Grey's living room and bassist/producer Joe Christensen's computer.
"There's a good human element in all of these tracks," said Grey, chatting with me about the EP and the band's progress over the last few months. "They're not studio perfect at all; they're very stripped down, very intimate."
Indeed, from the opening song, "Desire," where Grey's voice begins coarsely with an almost-twang, counting the time and then starting with a few simple guitar lines, the feeling is as though the band has just transported the listener into their living room or backyard for a few modest tunes.
On "Desire," Grey paints a gentle picture with his grainy voice, clearly enunciating every syllable: "My spirituality is runnin' on empty/I'm gonna build a downtown in my mind/Don't wanna be afraid anymore/I wanna run with you to that door/Sit right next to you and adore." The song quickly expands, with sweet backing vocals on the chorus and a little electric guitar, and unravels itself in a slow-burning kind of way.
The rest of the record continues in the same tone, with the next song "Radiant" quietly building, crescendoing up to the fiery, tormented chorus. Grey has a voice that meets somewhere between John McCauley and Elliot Smith, and the music of Copper Field is in the same honest vein as both of those musicians. At four songs long and about 20 minutes, The Standard and Poor's is just short enough to give you a taste of the talent and leave you wanting more. The tracks are raw, partly because Grey's voice is appealingly unrefined, and partly because the recording of the EP leaves plenty of room for making--and accepting--mistakes and roughness.
"Something's not in sync, and to us that's the beauty of it--we can hear the imperfection and we left it, partly because we had to but also because we wanted to," explained Grey. "I don't think a lot of groups in town are doing that."
The work on the EP is new territory for both Grey and Christensen, who both come from a realm of music that is far more rock 'n' roll than what they aim towards with Copper Field; Grey is known for his playing in Mercurial Rage, and Christensen is formerly of White Light Riot. Coming from both of those high-spirited, very precise acts, the music of Copper Field is at once unexpected and utterly refreshing. In asking how Grey and Christensen arrived at this definitive break from their previous projects--categorically, Copper Field is acoustic lo-fi--the gentlemen share short laughs and start retracing their steps.
"Michael just had all these demo songs that he sent me, and I liked them and we wanted to record them in a non-produced way," offered Christensen.
"Joe saw something and he pushed me into trying to make it better," said Grey. "He really pushed me to take it to the next level. What Joe has done is he's listened very thoroughly--he took those ideas and made them better. Then, with the quality of the recording, the integrity of what I was going for was just made better."
"When you're going for something more intimate, it's much more interesting to try to preserve that," continued Christensen. "My role is trying to preserve what Michael is trying to get across. The project is super loose, and I like that." Then, sharing a look with Grey, Christensen added with a crack of a smile, "Besides, we've both always been scared of 'the band.'"
"It was really important for me that he bought into the idea that this wasn't going to be perfect... I think I told him that I just wanted to see some accidents happen," grinned Grey.
"It's more like real life," added Christensen.
"That's it! 'Copper Field--like real life!'" laughed Grey.
Though Grey said it jokingly, the debut EP from Copper Field works in the human vein of music, as Grey's lyrics pull on common themes of weariness, love, acceptance, and weathering the hard times, while the record is full of jagged patches that are at once endearing and entirely candid. Standard and Poor's is a record that should be celebrated specifically for that diamond-in-the-rough feeling; in every visit, Grey's voice reveals something else to the listener, and Christensen's sensitive touch lends itself well to the subtleties of the music. Experience the Copper Field for yourself this Friday night at the Aster Café. Copper Field will be joined for the EP-release show by Jon Hunt and Christian Erickson of Blue Sky Blackout. Show starts at 9 p.m. $5.