Reel to real
Pat Hull goes live, straight to analog for new EP
For most of his decade or so in Chico, singer-songwriter Pat Hull was able to completely lose himself in his music. That’s changed pretty significantly over last couple of years. “I’m creating music now knowing that I have a new priority that’s No. 1.”
Hull is referring to the responsibilities that come with being the father of a 2-year-old son. In a way, though, he’s also talking about the artistic wellsprings that helped spawn his new EP project, Origami Sessions.
“When music was my No. 1 thing, I was so close to it that I’d kind of drown myself in it,” said Hull. “I realized I can remove myself from being so tied to it. There can be a greater creativity because I’m just letting go.”
Letting go a little was the central thrust of Origami Sessions. Local recording engineer (and Origami owner) Scott Barwick took the helm for the album, and Hull was joined by regular collaborators Sean Raeside on drums and Evin Wolverton on guitar—as well as several guest musicians—to cut a fully analog, live to 8-track reel-to-reel tape recording. With a smattering of new songs featuring Hull’s rich free-form folk, the EP feels loose, live and warm, adding a new resonance to Hull’s intimate songcraft.
The approach was no accident. Hull wanted to capture the kind of spontaneous vibes of his live performances more than he had on past recordings.
“When I play simultaneously with guitar and my voice, you can hear the difference in the delivery,” he said. “It’s a less calculated vocal delivery. It’s all just kind of happening. Nothing is really perfect.”
Beginning with the sensual piano-and-guitar chiller “Surrender,” Hull’s epicene vocals flutter in unpredictable progressions, the live feel of the sessions emboldening his typically smooth tenor to explore uncharted melodic real estate. The trend continues on the fantastic “My Flame II,” a song that receives a bit of an update from its origins as a live-show staple that Hull’s been playing for a devoted local fanbase he’s been nurturing over the past decade.
Allowing for the live element to enhance and change songs over time is a natural developmental impulse for Hull.
“Excessive performances of songs will just do that, inherently,” he explained. “You don’t even know the songs are shifting.”
Origami Sessions is also the first of Hull’s releases to be pressed to vinyl, and he’ll celebrate with two record-release performances—one in Portland, Ore., and one in Chico (Saturday, March 18) at the Chico Women’s Club. The EP’s early spring arrival precedes an impending full-length release for Hull in the summer, dubbed Marrow. Started over two years ago, the album’s unusually long gestation period was the result of basically the exact opposite process he took with the EP.
Hull traveled to Bennington, Vt., to record the basic tracks of Marrow with producers J.J. Beck and Michael Chinworth (aka The Mothers, with whom Hull has worked extensively in the past), and left the record entirely to the duo’s whimsies. The result, as Hull puts it, was a shockingly slick take on his normally subtle sonic approach.
“It was like, ‘Here are the songs. I’m gonna play guitar and sing, and you just tell me when you think you’re done with it,’” Hull recalled. He was recently sent the mixes after two years. “The more I sat with it, the more I started to understand it, and I went from going through a grieving process to really enjoying all the routes they took with it.
“The survival of a song depends on this evolution of it morphing into other things.”