The whole episode was a setback, but as she and Antanaitis started writing new songs in the aftermath, she says they rediscovered why they got into music to begin with.

"You don't realize it when you start out, you're just making stuff for the sake of making stuff, but what you're doing is giving a voice to something you didn't know how to say," she says. "We got down to the basics of what we really enjoyed about music, and we ended up going pretty far with it."

Nine of the 22 songs they wrote became "Hello Paradise." They've been working on and off at this album since they left the label, mainly at the basement of the couple's Remington home, where they built a home studio that they dubbed Night Worm.

Ford says they wanted to take their time with the album and play with all the second-hand equipment they'd bought to pimp out their dingy studio. The upside of going at it solo is that, without a label, there was no pressure to follow a timeline.

"There's some songs that have been redone 30 times," Ford says.

To release it, they went to Friends Records, a micro label started last year by Brett Yale and Jimmy MacMillan to release mainly vinyl records.

"They wanted to be creative in their way and not have any restrictions," Yale says.

The label allowed them to release the songs as they were finished, which they started doing in early 2009.

Eventually, all of the songs were available on the website to stream or download for free before the official release date in January, an unconventional move that they say takes for granted what major labels are fighting.

"With the music industry now, things are ending up online anyway. To put it out there yourself controls that," Yale says. "This brings the fans in directly, as opposed to them finding them music on a file-sharing site."

That's a decision that comes with a risk, says Carpark Records' Todd Hyman, who represents Dan Deacon, a Baltimore musician with a national following.

Radiohead famously did it in 2008, but they're a mainstream band that could depend on legions of fans to pay full price.

"If you come out giving away your music, you are setting yourself up for a situation in which you know you won't be making much money on record sales," he says.

For a small band, the path is not as clear, but he's not counting Celebration out either. "Every band and every release is different. What works for one band may be totally wrong for another," he says. "I suppose the jury is still out, but it could be a good strategy for Celebration."

Yale wouldn't say how many albums have been downloaded or how many of them have been sold. He says sales are ultimately important only in covering the costs of production.

In addition to the pay-what-you-want album downloads, the band is also selling a $15 package that includes vinyl, a CD and original art work by Ford.

Ford plans on releasing the rest of the songs that came out after their breakup with their old label online as they're ready, part of what they're calling their Electric Tarot project.

The plan underscores their sense of experimentation, but it's also as much of a gamble as the past three years have been.

Although they have written two more records' worth of material, she still doesn't know how they're going to find the money to produce them.

"We don't exactly know how to make a dime," she says. "We don't even know how to make any money. We just do it because we love to do it."

erik.maza@baltsun.com

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