Today marks the long-time-coming release of Hell or Highwater. This album has had a strange journey since the backing tracks were first recorded on February 17th, 2004. It was the first time I “experimented” with the old school technique of filling a room with great musicians, giving them simple instructions and recording what happens. In about 10 hours of recording, we captured all 10 of the instrumental backing tracks. I had a room full of trusted friends with talent to spare. Jeramy Koepping was at the board, and he captured the performances with skill, while I played piano in the live room with Josh Ottum on guitar, and long-time Dolour collaborators Phil Peterson playing upright bass, and Paul Mumaw on the drums.
I must have been in some sort of race with myself in those days. I remember the day we recorded Hell or Highwater was the day that New Old Friends arrived from the CD manufacturers. And that’s where the first stumbling block came in. Dolour’s 3rd LP (New Old Friends) hadn’t even been released yet and now I was lapping myself with Hell or Highwater. Looking back, maybe I should have slowed down a bit to see these records through, but I could feel myself developing as a songwriter and artist and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture these moments in time. By the time New Old Friends was officially released (through Made in Mexico Records) in November 2004, Hell or Highwater was already over 6 months old in my mind, and I was already considering the next move. Made in Mexico suggested, given the short length of HoH, that I record more songs for it, which would also give them a chance to delay the release. Not a bad idea, but never wanting to look back, I ended up recording Storm & Stress in early 2005 which took Dolour to a completely different place musically.
Although many people saw the Traveling Mercies’ exploration of Americana, gospel and blues as a 180 from the sunshine pop of early Dolour, one listen to Hell or HIghwater and you see this is the missing link. Elements of country, rockabilly, blues, and gospel began to surface through the filter of the jazzy-baroque-pop-ish arrangements.
Years went by, and I continued Dolour in a very on-again/off-again fashion, but when I received an offer from Japanese label, Quince Records to release Hell or Highwater (coupled with Storm & Stress which was also still unreleased at the time), it gave me the chance to finally put this music behind me. This “double album” was released on CD in Japan (and very few American retailers) in September 2007 as The Years in the Wilderness. I was very focused on my new project, The Traveling Mercies, and didn’t really pay much attention to it’s release. Although I loved the artwork by Toby Liebowitz (who has just done the new Fleet Foxes album cover), I was never really comfortable with HoH being attached to S&S, feeling that each record was made to stand on its own. With November 2010’s digital debut of Storm & Stress and now Hell or Highwater, I’ve separated these “fraternal twins.” Now you can enjoy these albums as they were intended – on their own. I love how my brother Brandon Tutmarc’s new artwork (featuring photos he took during the studio session), takes me back to that long – but very creative – day I spent with Jeramy, Josh, Phil and Paul.
I hope this (admittedly long-winded) back story gives you a little perspective on this album, that I feel was a big turning point for me. But more than anything I want you to just close your eyes, turn off the lights and enjoy the music!