For musicians, putting out a much-labored-over record can be likened to the birth of a child, albeit one in which the "parents" had a great deal of control. Imagine the excitement when two immense projects reach completion around the same time. That's how Jonny Rodgers and the Soldier Story's Colin Meyer are feeling right about now. Both Rodgers and Meyer are set to release albums this week, albums that find the two collaborating with each other on both sides. They'll celebrate with a dual-release show for Rodgers' Everything All at Once and the Soldier Story's Rooms of the Indoors at Spaceland Ballroom on Oct. 3.
Jonny Rodgers has already left an indelible mark on New Haven's musical history, first with his brother Steve (owner of Spaceland Ballroom and its sister venues in Hamden) in Mighty Purple, and then on his own. These days, he's turning his lush recorded studio projects into a delicate balancing act of a one-man live show, by way of tuned wine glasses, a guitar and some looping software. "What you see is what you get," he says. "I'm creating everything on the spot. It's kind of like a tightrope act a little bit, like if I mess up one thing, the whole thing falls to bits." He's literally on the spot with every live performance, having to create parts of a song that will interact with other pieces, all while trying to preserve that musical spark. "My goal is to have musical magic happen instead of it just being a bunch of interlocking parts that work well together," he says. "I'm always happiest musically when there's something that I'm trying to get absolutely perfect that's always thwarting me a little bit, and glass is a lifetime of that, I think."
Part of this musical magic is ensuring his 19 wine glasses are tuned properly. "I feel like it's important to give the public a well-tuned instrument," he says. Tuning involves half-remembrance of correct water levels and half-adherence to pre-made marks on some of the wine glasses, using a tuning app on his iPhone to get in the neighborhood of the correct pitch. "I fine-tune them with a turkey baster, actually, which is not the sexiest way to do anything, but there you have it," he says. Hey, whatever works, works. Once tuned, the wine glasses are played with absolutely clean hands which must stay wet during the performance for the contact with the wine glasses' rims creates sound. But what's best for the wine glasses isn't always best for the guitar. "My whole show is like this exercise in compromise," he says. He's also had to become a bit of a "water nerd" when taking this show on the road, since the tap water in certain states just can't be used for this kind of thing. "In Indiana, I actually had to ... buy spring water from elsewhere to get a performance to come off correctly," he says.
Rodgers recorded Everything All at Once during a month-long residency at New York City's Butter studio in August of 2012. "The deal was: 'Here is an amazing studio, here's some awesome gear, here is a salary so you can live in New York for a month while you're doing this, and create some great music.' That was basically it," he says. While holed up in the studio, Rodgers wrote 12 songs during his first three days, seven of which ended up becoming Everything All at Once. He called in some friends to lend their talents to the project, including the Soldier Story's Colin Meyer, who performed all of the record's drums and some backing vocals. "It was really nice to be able to invite friends in to do it, and basically just have an environment where I wasn't doing anything but creating all the time," he says.
When he's not keeping busy performing or recording, Rodgers gets to work on film soundtracks. His latest musical appearance is actually in theaters now: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon. Nathan Johnson, a former roommate of Rodgers' who started working on Don Jon while both were still living in New Haven, has worked on a number of Gordon-Levitt's projects, including Brick and Looper, which were written and directed by his cousin Rian Johnson. Gordon-Levitt's idea was to have three distinct musical styles all carrying the same theme. Rodgers' contribution came in the form of the electric guitars used for Don Jon's third act. "It was a dream gig for me," Rodgers says, of working on the project with Johnson and Gordon-Levitt in Los Angeles last year. "I've been a guitarist primarily for so many years, and it was great to get to do the entire last act of a film basically just with solo guitar." Rodgers and Eric Tate also got to experiment in Firehouse 12's studio making glass samples and recordings for Son Lux's score of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.
As of March of this year, Rodgers and his wife relocated to Oregon, where the two live on and operate a farm while working on their respective arts professionally. He's currently writing material for another album, that is "extremely heavy on glass music," he says. He's also able to collaborate with Colin Meyer and other musicians via the Internet, something he said helps him to feel less sad about not being in New Haven to perform with him anymore. Before he left, Rodgers helped Meyer write some melodies for the songs that ended up becoming the Soldier Story's Rooms of the Indoors. Rodgers refers to Meyer as a "one-man powerhouse," and says he's "just basically waiting for the world to figure out that he's amazing. Some of the rest of us have already." Join them on Thursday as they both unleash the fruits of their collaborative labors.
Jonny Rodgers, with The Soldier Story and Joy Ike
Oct. 3, 8 p.m., $10-$12, Spaceland Ballroom, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden, (203) 288-6400, spacelandballroom.com.