Denver singer-songwriter John Common wanted to do something different for his latest release, The Low Wines Vol. 1.
His previous recording style usually involved doing a couple of takes and then waltzing over to the control room to listen to them. But not anymore. That approach, notes Common, causes a push-pull between the hemispheres of the brain. It's confusing. He's found a better way.
“It took me a long time to realize this,” he says. “There is a mental and emotional space you should be in when you are recording. And there’s a totally different space when you are listening that triggers your critical brain, your editor brain.”
Just to be safe, he didn’t listen to any of the takes on The Low Wines Vol. 1 for at least a month after recording. It was a little scary, but overall, it made the recording process much more fun. And Common, who has fronted a variety of bands, including alt-country outfit Rainville and John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light, loves the final product. It’s the acoustic record that people have been asking him to make for years.
The EP offers three stripped-down songs that include Common’s singing and acoustic guitar, more vocals by longtime collaborator Jess DeNicola, and spacey, atmospheric guitar work delivered by Joe Mazza. The production is much more sparse than his previous work, but it never feels thin. The lyrics are raw and personal, more than anything Common has put out before.
"These songs can really connect to people and help them a little," he says. "Not that I’m out to help people with music, but what I’m hearing from people is that it's resonating with them."
The Low Wines Vol. 1 also includes a cover of the Ramones' “I Wanna Be Sedated." Although at first it might seem out of place with the other songs, Common thinks it works in the mix.
“I love putting in a cover once in a while,” he says. “It’s got to be a song I really love, and it’s got to be a song I can do something different with.”
Common says he falls in and out of love with his musical career, though not the writing and the music itself; the grind of producing and then promoting a record can be exhausting. The Low Wines Vol. 1 contains some of the most naked and vulnerable music he's ever produced. He made it for the sake of making art, and he's not overly concerned with whether or not it sells. It's music from the heart.
“There’s no hiding behind anything,” he says. “It’s thoughtful, and it’s written, but it’s not hiding behind a lot of production and instruments. It’s scary to put out a record like that, to be this plainspoken.”
Low Wines was made in the summer of 2018; the three musicians gathered at Common’s house with a producer and a film crew and spent a weekend recording the tracks and drinking cocktails. The recording process was also different than in years past, because everything was recorded live, with no separate takes from any of the musicians.
“I’ve never made a whole record where it was all of us in the same room at the same time with the bleed. What you're hearing is one take live, in one room," Common says. "You get what you get. You have to capture the moment. If someone makes a mistake, too bad.”
He says that fans have been connecting with the videos of the sessions, which are available online. So at least for the near future, the trio wants to perform small, secret gigs at houses and away from traditional live-music venues. As Common puts it, “We aren’t some fucking cock-rock band trying to sell more Budweiser. Fuck that.”
One of those non-traditional shows, the EP release party, happened February 29 at the house where the album was recorded.
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“It’s such a great musical environment,” Common says. "And people fucking love it. We’ve been playing these smaller, secretive shows. People are like, ‘This is so much more fun than only getting to see you in a bigger venue.’”
The three liked the recording process so much that they reconvened earlier this year and recorded eight or nine more tracks over a couple of days, some of which will make up the second volume of The Low Wines. Common sees a vinyl release bringing together both EPs in the near future. He’s already written more songs and wants to add a rhythm section to the current lineup and produce another record.
“You have to keep mixing it up,” he says.