Earlier this week I sat down with Travis Wilburn of Pilots & Errors to talk about his new home-recorded album Annex, a great collection of melody-driven songs that he released last week. Among other things, we discuss his recording process and the role his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky (where I also happen to reside) played in the creation of the album. The interview below has been edited for length and clarity. Enjoy!
What was the genesis of Annex and the inspiration behind it? Did you have a theme in mind when you started writing it or did it just kind of transpire into one?
When I was writing it I was trying to wrap up some ideas from July (debut release). A lot of nostalgic ideas, things having to do with home—the physical place of Lexington. When I first started writing songs for this album, it was during the recording process for Broken Hearted Friends (second release). The song “Dog Days” is the oldest one on here. That was a little over two years ago.
It’s surprising to hear that “Dog Days” was the first song recorded because that one stands out from a lot of your songs as being different, with just the banjo and mandolin. You don’t use as much reverb on it.
With that one it was difficult to get a version recorded that I was pleased with. April of 2011 is when I started doing Broken Hearted Friends, and that was a song I kept getting hung up on. The album version is about the fourth or fifth different version I attempted. I’d go through it and hate the way it sounded and then I’d play it live again a couple weeks later and realize I wanted it to be on the next release. I just felt good about it. The album version wasn’t the first song I recorded for Annex, just the first song I wrote for it. I wrote it on guitar, but on the album the only instrument played in the entire song is banjo. There are four layers of banjo on it.
Really? I kind of thought I heard some mandolin in there somewhere…
The banjo is capoed up on the 7th or 8th fret. As soon as I started playing around with that arrangement, I felt like I finally had it. After I finished that song and was pleased with the version I had, everything snowballed after that. I was really able to get it together and get the album going. I’m glad it worked out, because lyrically I felt like it had to be on whatever the next release was.
Touching on what you mentioned earlier, you wrote on Facebook a while ago that you had to go to North Carolina to write about Kentucky–Lexington in particular. I know Annex has been pared down some. Do you still feel it’s essentially about Lexington?
Yea, I think so. It’s definitely pared down. At least for me, though it may not be explicit to other people in the lyrics, when I think of this album I think of Lexington. And Carolina is even touched on a bit. It was important for me to be able to start writing about the things of home when I wasn’t in the midst of living there. The name of the album and the track “Annex”—that’s one of the parking garages in downtown Lexington. And “Von Aly” is the alleyway right down the street from where I lived for the past year. So if the title is nothing else, it’s definitely Lexington-centric. Emotionally, when I think of the album and listen to it, it’s Lexington to me.
How did you decide which songs made the cut?
I wanted to have an idea and theme come across. I recorded these songs all the way through last fall, winter, and spring, and even into summer. I’m used to recording in a week or two weeks time and releasing it the week after that. So I think there’s definitely a thread running through these particular songs both lyrically and emotionally. I feel like they are all connected.
How many songs were there in the pile to choose from?
Fifteen solid, completed songs, so it’s literally cut in half. One reason I did that is because I didn’t want it to come across as boring. And as much as I try to put some variation in the songs, I feel like with a home-recorded album, at least at the stage I’m in now as a recording artist and songwriter, I don’t even think I would want to listen to fifteen tracks of mine in a row. I think thirty minutes is the perfect length.
So what comes after Annex? Are you taking a break? Working on bonus tracks? Tweaking songs that didn’t make the cut?
I’m back and forth on this because I’m still closing the door on Annex and at the same time trying to figure out that next step.
I’d think you have to take some time to soak in the joy of releasing it and getting it out to people.
I think I will. I don’t want to move on from it quite yet. Eventually I might re-work some songs from these sessions for a larger, more official release like this one was, or maybe just do a quick release of some b-sides that didn’t quite make it. A lot of them are recorded and I like their sound–songs that just weren’t part of the theme or didn’t add to the cohesiveness of Annex. So something soon, probably several somethings, which is kind of exciting. Maybe a few EPs. Some experimental stuff under a different name. Maybe some instrumental things. I’ve got some time coming up set aside to figure all that out. I don’t want it to be another two and a half year wait. I do want to say that. Whatever it is will be something a little more free-flowing and organic instead of contemplating down to the second every single thing I do, which I did with Annex. We’ll see.
Download Annex for free