Jack Greenwood brings together friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers on debut album
When Toy Car Studios was getting its roots laid down just north of Eau Claire a few years ago, Jack Greenwood (a.k.a. Travis Kohnhorst) was helping the studio owner Justin Green build the thing from the ground up. They worked out a deal where Greenwood traded his help for some on-the-house studio time, but on his very first day working, Greenwood’s fingers met a table saw in a pretty gnarly injury. (For real; he showed me a picture).
“To serve the song, I think collaboration is the coolest thing. Making stuff up with your friends is cool. I like the creativity of these people, so let’s see what we can all do together.” – Jack Greenwood, on the collaboration behind his album Flying Softly
While driving himself to the hospital, he got a text. It was Green apologizing profusely for Greenwood getting hurt helping out and offering up the studio to record the debut Jack Greenwood album pro bono. A silver lining.
Thus came the genesis of Flying Softly, a ten-track record five years in the making, featuring some 16 musicians (mostly Chippewa Valley folks), a handful of post-production engineers, a couple of support players, and probably over 100 hours of studio time, once you add it all up.
While writing most of these songs (the oldest of which – “Time Bomb” – dates back to 2014), Greenwood was living in Eau Claire playing under the name Travis Lee. In the time since, he moved back to his hometown of Wausau for a couple years, and most recently to Austin, Texas in October of this year. In that time too, it’s worth noting that Toy Car Studios opened and closed its doors. After helping Green get the studio off the ground, Flying Softly was actually the last album recorded there. Earlier this year, Green sold his studio, a bunch of his gear, and his family packed up and moved out of the Chippewa Valley.
Snatching the opportunity, Greenwood made the absolute most of his time at the now-defunct Toy Car, getting experimental with his sound, which bounces around between pop, rock ‘n roll, and soul with grooves aplenty and the occasional psychedelic flourish. To achieve his maximalist vision, Greenwood invited friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers out to the studio to put their touches on his songs, throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. The result, he said, is more than gratifying.
“To serve the song, I think collaboration is the coolest thing,” Greenwood said. “Making stuff up with your friends is cool. I like the creativity of these people, so let’s see what we can all do together.”
Getting that many people involved seems ultimately chaotic – and it kinda was – but that end result, Greenwood said, is worth it. This is a record with some serious bite to it: Fluttery horn sections, growling synths, dreamy Rhodes all intertwined and sparkling around Greenwood’s slinky vocals and guitar work. It’s the work of a big, talented, tangential group of musical misfits.
“It’s funny because a lot these musicians that worked on the record, they could be sitting at a bar or something and they wouldn’t even know who each other are – and not know that they recorded a song together,” he said.
Throughout last winter’s snowmageddon (official term), Greenwood would commute to the studio from Wausau and stay for like three days in a row – tinkering with songs, bringing in musicians, seeing what they could do – and often he’d crash on the studio futon, get up, and do it all over again the next day until slowly, it all came together and vibed correctly.
“If it didn’t feel right, we didn’t go with it,” Greenwood said. “I’ll try anything if it sounds cool.”
After wrapping the record, Greenwood packed his bags and now he’s getting settled in Austin (he went from Music Capital of the North to Live Music Capital of the World), coloring himself just a little bit nostalgic for Wisconsin winters and working on new music.
For his next batch of songs, he wants more of that same multi-tier collaborative effort that brought him Flying Softly. He wants the teamwork that made the dream work the first time. But no matter where his next steps take him – touring, recording, writing – he’ll always have those nostalgic times out at Toy Car Studios, snow beating on the doors outside, whiskey flowing, the room filling up to the ceiling with music.
Flying Softly by Jack Greenwood is out now. You can stream the record on Spotify and Apple Music, or buy it on Bandcamp. To learn more and follow along, find the Jack Greenwood page on Facebook.