For the past year, most musicians have had a less-than-busy calendar and recording has become a much different process than in the past since band members need to socially distance.
But for local East Lansing resident Kevin Ream, the beat has gone on. Ream, a member of the East Lansing band From Big Sur released a solo record “Hemlock” in February 2021, not long after celebrating the band’s vinyl release of their fifth studio album, “Infinite Morning” in June 2020.
Ream is a multi-instrumentalist, engineer, and producer and owner of Cut and Run Records and Studio in East Lansing. He spoke to ELi about his early days of music.
“I began playing drums when I was three,” Ream said. “I remember taking my drums to show & tell in kindergarten and playing with Mrs. Mangels, who was on piano. I got my first guitar when I was in second grade, but didn’t take to it for many years. I come from a musical family. My dad and his brothers have always played in bands and still do.”
Ream describes Cut and Run as his musical laboratory, a place that has remained a creative space, despite the global pandemic. “I work on lots of different projects from building and modifying equipment to producing podcasts and albums,” he said. “I’ve worked with a small handful of artists, but hope to grow that community as we get settled into the studio.”
The producer wet his feet professionally in the music engineering world at age 19 at Grand Rapids’ Station C Studios, but he started recording his band’s and his friends’ music on a four-track machine when he was just 15.
“I think I have a really good thing going right now with the equipment I’ve accumulated, but more importantly, the experience producing and engineering 50-something albums over 25 years has given me [a really good thing],” Ream said.
Isolation from the rest of the From Big Sur band members laid the groundwork for the latest solo record release. “This album started out as something to peck away at during the pandemic,” Ream said. “The prolonged pandemic made the completion of “Hemlock” possible. It was all recorded during the pandemic in isolation, but I did have some help. The guys in From Big Sur helped out on a track, and I also got some invaluable sax and baritone guitar from Will Metz and Rod Sanford.”
The special guest parts were recorded at each musician’s home and sent to Ream for mixing. There was even creative collaboration, with co-writes coming from Christopher Wardell and Ream’s four-year-old son Louis.
While “Hemlock” came at a very strange time, solo releases are nothing new to Ream, who released one every year for nearly a decade. Now, he says, it happens more like every three years.
“That’s usually how long it takes to have a sonic or literal concept,” Ream said. “I also need about 30 decent songs to whittle down to an album.”
The album’s 11 mellow and acoustic experimental tracks seek inspiration from Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Hank Williams, Brian Wilson, and even some local artists.
“I think Jen Sygit’s last album, produced by Dominic John Davis, is one of the finest albums made anywhere in the past few years,” Ream said of the Lansing singer-songwriter. “She never gets enough credit or publicity.”
In comparison to From Big Sur’s content, “Hemlock” represents a more mellow side of Ream’s songwriting. “I feel like this album is a little safer and comfortable, while still experimenting sonically. That probably has a lot to do with it being written and recorded during the pandemic. There’s also new thoughts and ideas that I wrote about that may have never occurred to me had there not been a pandemic.”
Transitioning from constant gigging and touring has been hard on many musicians, booking agents, record labels, and music venues. Ultimately, Ream is optimistic for the return of live music and the cohesive Michigan music community.
As for his next project, he’s already plugging away on a record from Adam Jones, an original member of From Big Sur, who passed. “He was working on an album when he passed,” Ream said. “I’m currently finishing off his album with the help of a handful of friends and former band members of his. He left behind some great songs. I can’t wait for people to hear them.”