There's a level of "hands-on" involvement in recording an album that's not much more than twiddling some knobs. And then there's the devoted DIY approach Provo indie-folk duo Porch Lights took with their debut album, Caverns.
Employing unconventional methods to create sounds, such as scattering dried plant tops on a snare drum so the tiniest crunch can be heard just before the drum is struck, and purposefully shaking a faulty cable to cause it to short out and make the vocals decay, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Corey Crellin and vocalist/pianist Emily Brown weren't afraid to get their hands dirty during the recording process. They also didn't shy away from letting the songs take on a life of their own, rough edges and all.
"The sound that we really wanted was we wanted it to be real, and so I feel like the imperfectness of the recording makes it perfect for me," Crellin says.
Crellin, normally a solo musician who'd make bedroom recordings without the goal of performing them or getting them out into the world, didn't go into the studio to record the songs from Caverns thinking he'd walk out as part of a band. But after vocalist Emily Golightly contributed guest backing vocals on "Cabin in the Woods," Crellin realized he wanted the album to have a continuous female presence. He invited Brown—a former vocalist in Provo folk-rock group Book on Tape Worm who has also released a couple solo albums—to join in. She recorded harmonies on several tracks at Provo's Studio Studio Dada—which Crellin says was chosen because "it's not like your normal studio; it's part of a house"—and the project suddenly turned a corner.
"When Emily came on, [the music] took on the more of, like, magical quality that you would actually really want to share with people," Crellin says.
Once they decided to move forward as a band, Crellin and Brown chose the name Porch Lights as a reflection of the human, unembellished nature of their music, which they allowed to retain its immediacy by not buffing out mistakes with studio manipulation or other trickery.
"We really wanted it to be real," Crellin says. "Even in the nature of the songwriting, there's nothing in the music that was held back or garnished up or meant to appear as something other than the raw feeling that it was."
Featuring mellow electric guitar, lap steel, banjo and gorgeous sonic texture, the delicate final result is as beautiful as if were dusted with gold, but also has a familiar, comfortable feel. It's also often heartbreaking, with so much emotion woven into the lyrics that more than a few of the songs—"Brick House" and "Lover's Pills" especially—have a way of piercing the soul, which is echoed the album title.
"I did Caverns because every song on the album is about a cavern that I've felt about something," Crellin says. "An empty space that I felt like needed to be filled."
Since coming together as Porch Lights in April, Crellin and Brown haven't applied their outside-the-box thinking just to how they create their music, but also to how they deliver that music. Porch Lights usually seek out intimate spaces such as houses and libraries for shows—their album-release concert will be held in a backyard overlooking the entire Utah Valley—with the hope the audience will emotionally engage with the music.
"The point of us making music has always been to make very personal connections with people," Brown says. "I think that's the goal we have with Porch Lights ... to transfer emotion, because no matter what we wrote a song about, it's going to be about something very specific and very personal to someone else. We just want to be able to let people experience that and confront their emotions."
And that connection probably wouldn't have been possible if Porch Lights had tweaked every detail of Caverns to be perfect. For Crellin, trying to relate to overly produced music is impossible "because I feel like it's inaccessible." That's what makes Porch Lights' welcoming music so magical: It exudes the warmth of the two people who made it.
"We're not perfect ... not just as musicians but as people," Brown says. "So I feel like we want to come through as people in our music."