Seated in front of the soundboard at his home studio in Castle Pines, Mike Paul Hughes reveals telltale signs of his day job as an engineer. There's his rapid-fire technical talk about the basic elements of sound and recording -- details about megahertz and latency issues. But the signals go beyond mere technical talk. There's an attention to detail as he parses guitar lines and offers input about keyboard runs, a kind of obsessiveness that's fitting for an engineer who's worked on putting together space expeditions and million-dollar projects for Lockheed Martin. It's a connection Hughes, a member and one of the creators of the Stone Soup Soldiers music project, is quick to embrace.
"Music and engineering is about people skills," he says. "You can't have a big spacecraft system come together without people who are super talented and super geniuses. I think my systems engineering background has helped me pull Stone Soup Soldiers together. I don't know which is more challenging."
In 2009, Hughes put up an ad on Craigslist looking for fellow musicians, an outreach that came from a simple desire to "do something different" in terms of recording and composition. After eventually connecting with guitarist Sean Gill, keyboardist Gary Slaughter, vocalist Joy Jaeger and other players, the project quickly developed into something greater than a typical weekend jam session.
Their musical output quickly took on a world music feel, a style that fused scales and modes from India with South American folk instrumentation. A casual gathering of musicians soon morphed into a unique business approach, one that saw the crew composed largely of part-time musicians playing new roles as composers of film and television scores.
It started with feedback from a Bollywood director on Facebook, Hughes said. "I met him on chat and he was a filmmaker. He heard the stuff on our website, and he liked it, and he said, 'Hey, would you want to do a film for us?' Hughes recalls. "We did a four-part song with disco, Euro-dance a Latin part ... It was a collage." That musical montage appeared in the Bollywood film Janleva 555. The Stone Soup Soldiers crew went on to record music for another Bollywood film, Salt and Light, as well as an independent British short film titled Forget the Brave.
The music has drawn on the different players' strengths and styles, from the soul-informed vocals of Jaeger to the metal-informed guitar of Gill. It's a variety that gave the Stone Soup Soldiers their name - the title refers to an old folk tale about the power of cooperation that features hungry strangers convincing townspeople to give them food.
"One appeal of it is working with people who can do things that I can't do," said Gill, whose background is solidly rooted in rock and metal. "I want to get out and work with people who can sing better than I can ... I enjoy that part of the process. When I'm in a metal band, all I am is a metal guitar player. Here, I get to break out the classical guitar and play banjo."
The appeal is similar for Jaeger, a Louisiana native who plays locally in soul outfits and cover bands. "I'm always looking for another way to explore musical influences," she says. "I think a project like this is just really good for someone like me, because it helps me to be more creative and more inspired."
Three years after Hughes put up his first ad looking for fellow musicians, the Stone Soup Soldiers operation has grown and formalized. The core crew works out of Hughes's basement studio, and the results can be found on its first CD, a release that features the kind of world music aesthetics that first caught the attention of filmmakers.
This weekend, the crew will host local musicians like country player Mike Aldridge, University of Colorado music professor David Bondelevitch and jazz/fusion player Steve Hahn at the studio. The event will also feature Paul Myhill as a special VIP guest. Myhill, the founder of the nonprofit TrafficJam.Org has drawn widespread support for his organization focused on stopping the trafficking and enslavement of children worldwide. Myhill's made inroads with musicians like Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne and Sarah McLachlan through his work.
The event on Saturday is a celebration of the Stone Soup Soldiers' film work, as well as its new album Side Street. On a deeper level, however, the gathering of about sixty invited guests at the band's home studio is a push to find more filmmakers, to create a buzz and add to the band's growing filmography.
"What we really want to do" Hughes concludes, before the quartet starts work on another tune for a Bollywood film, "is land a film score."
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