Art Contest was supposed to have a new album out last year. Dubbed Two Songs, we got a taste of two of the tracks in late 2015. Things were sounding good. A little while after, drummer Garret Burke’s house was broken into and his audio equipment was stolen, containing the masters of the new record. A slew of difficulties followed that you can read in detail about here, but the end result would be re-recording the entire thing from scratch. Now, about a year and a half removed from the robbery, and Art Contest is putting out their redone version of Two Songs. We caught up with guitarist Cole Monroe to see how the ordeal has sat with the band.
Fecking Bahamas: As a band, you both moved to Athens, GA. Where did you both originally come from, and why did you choose to move to Athens?
Cole Monroe: I’m from Greenville, SC. Garrett is from Hilton Head, SC. We met in Clemson, SC and decided to move to Athens, GA. A nearby town that had a thriving music & arts scene vs. an affordable cost-of-living was the main motivator for our move.
FB: Is the music-scene in Athens particularly welcoming to the kind of music you play?
Cole: The music scene here definitely feels welcoming! The community is largely open-minded, and there is a general sense of appreciation for hard work in a creative craft. There are focuses on particular styles of music and art here in Athens, but the town is literally compact enough that most every artist or musician doing something diligently gets kept in the loop and in the thoughts of these folks.
FB: From the tone of the few tracks we’ve heard from Two Songs, it feels like the landscape of your music has changed – it feels more eclectic, like you’re embracing a wider range of sounds than were present on ‘Math Major.’ Was this a conscious decision?
Cole: Technically, yes! We didn’t necessarily sit down and utter ‘ok let’s make this one wider and more eclectic,’ but both of us definitely made a conscious attempt to expand upon the ideas we had previously laid down as Art Contest prior.
In the time period in which this album was put together, both Garrett and I went through a lot of change (locations, occupations, music tastes, friend groups, emotional states, etc.). I think this album reflects that transitional time.
FB: A huge part of Two Songs‘ history is the loss and subsequent ground-up recreation of the entire album. How do you feel that the process affected the finished product?
Cole: Well, producing it a second time gave us the opportunity to improve, reflect, and perfect particular areas of the album. But also, at the same time, we definitely went into it with a ‘Fuck it, whatever let’s get it done’ mindset that led to us taking unconventional, practically ‘jenky’ approaches to recording and piecing the album together. Some would consider what we did to be goofy. I didn’t use any guitar or bass amps to record, for instance. We also were never together for the recording process: I recorded all the guitar alone, then Garrett recorded all the drums alone, and I overdubbed vocals alone in individual sessions.
FB: Could you tell me some more about your state of mind after losing the masters and finding out the original sessions were corrupted?
Cole: Simply put, it was devastating. I had never felt a sense of hopelessness about my music like that before. I think it truly called into question, for both Garrett and me, what pursuing a craft like musicianship really meant to us, more so for us.
FB: After essentially giving up on the album for a while, what made you want to pick up and start from scratch?
Cole: Musicianship is my passion. Art Contest is my primary outlet for my musicianship. To give up and pursue something else just wasn’t an option I would genuinely consider. Realizing this gave me the motivation to start again. It’s a procedural passion, one that I enjoy the process of and not just the product of. That helped me view the second recording process as an opportunity rather than an ordeal.
FB: When you did work up the nerve to re-record everything, did you view it as an opportunity to have another pass at “perfecting” the tracks, or were you trying to match the originals as closely as possible?
Cole: I touched on this just a little bit previously. We were certainly not trying to match the original recordings – those were produced in a decent studio in a proper fashion. Instead, our focus was on simply executing the recordings in a doable yet still passably professional manner. We made the album in our homes. There was a big emphasis on adding as much character into the songs as possible, since producing sleek, super hi-fidelity tracks wasn’t really going to be a thing this time around. The end result is something really, genuinely unique to us.
FB: What did you take away from the process?
Cole: If anything, I would say the main takeaway was a lesson in perseverance, and how to manipulate a bad situation into something that works for you, not against. That was already a theme in our live performances: our delivery is prone to fuck-ups, but we typically turn those into unique executions of our songs.
FB: Two Songs is out today. What are some of Art Contest’s other plans for this year?
Cole: I can’t talk about that too much right now. In short – more songs, more shows, more expansion.