Daytrotter

I would like to tell you about a gem. Not a precious stone, but something bigger and better. I say bigger, because the thing of which I speak is life-size. I say better, because the thing of which I speak has more dimensions than even the finest cut diamond. I’m talking about Daytrotter. Daytrotter is basically a group of people who work together for a common goal: to capture great music in it’s purest form. That musical capturing (in the form of two hour sessions) occurs at Futureappletree Studio One in Rock Island, Illinois. All Daytrotter sessions are engineered by Patrick Stolley and/or Brad Kopplin, and although I don’t know much about the recording or engineering aspect of things, here’s what is written about the process on the Daytrotter website: “The Daytrotter recordings are made with minimal mic’ing, through discrete preamps and with some limiting to the mixing console, where they are printed to 1/4” analog tape running at 15 inches per second (usually BASF 468). The analog master is later transferred to a computer and converted to MP3. There is no set formula or pattern to the recordings, no specific mic setup, etc. They are all live, no overdubs, straight to tape.”

The first thing that captivated me about the Daytrotter sessions was the simplicity of the recordings, without ever sounding sparse. I find that refreshing, since simplicity is something which is all too often missing in other recordings, and I feel that a lot of albums are overproduced. The music Daytrotter records and produces reminds me of what I first loved about each artist (or sometimes makes me fall in love with a musician or band’s music for the first time). Even if Daytrotter records a musician or band that I don’t particularly like, I still enjoy listening to the songs, because I always appreciate a fresh perspective on anything, especially music. During a Daytrotter session, the musicians are free to be themsleves and play their music however they want, without the pressure of pleasing a producer, record label, manager, etc. The recordings are honest, sometimes brutally so. What you hear is what you get, occasional cracks in vocals or wrong notes on guitar and all. What the folks at Daytrotter do is not unlike what an artist who paints portraits does. If a painter creates portraits of people through paint, so does Daytrotter create portraits of people through music. Well, the Daytrotter staff create artistic portraits as well… The crew boasts thirteen graphic designers, who create interesting and unique graphic drawings of the musicians. Not only that, but Sean Moeller, founder of Daytrotter, writes insightful reviews about each individual musician or band recorded at the studio. That’s a lot of writing, because each week Daytrotter records five different musicians/bands for a total of 20 new songs — or in some cases, new takes on old songs. Not bad, huh? Oh, and did I mention that all the recordings are downloadable for free on the Daytrotter website?

The following interview was conducted with Sean Moeller via email:

When did you found Daytrotter, and how did you come up with the idea?
SMWe started Daytrotter in February of 2006. It was just a hybrid of an idea that I’d had floating briefly around for a few days — mostly a whim — that we just decided to start doing and here we are. It was just something that I thought we’d be able to do and that we’d be able to do well. I thought that we could help out some of these bands that people had never heard of or more people should have heard of. We’re still at the point where a lot of what we do is preach at the choir, but I’m hoping we can continue to gain readers and listeners and be the sort of thing that getting one of your songs on an Outback Steakhouse commercial can do for your career.

How did you come up with the name for Daytrotter?
SM: t’s really just a couple of words juxtaposed together. There’s really no reason behind it at all. I liked it and now it’s a real word out there in the world. Kind of bizarre.

Have musicians ever used their recordings from the Daytrotter studio for anything, such as a special edition CD? Does Daytrotter do anything with the songs other than post them online?
SM: We’ve had a couple of people do that in the past: Will Oldham, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Blitzen Trapper, David Vandervelde, Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos, Headlights, Dirty Projectors and a few more. We are all about the posting of the sessions. That’s it. We don’t have time for anything else.

Do you have a favorite session or individual song among all the Daytrotter recordings?
SM: I couldn’t possibly have a favorite session or song. Completely impossible question.

I happened to come across an old article (from 2006) on the Daytrotter website, which stated, “One featured band and four new songs each week.” How did Daytrotter grow into hosting five sessions each week, for a total of twenty new songs?
SM: We’ve just gotten to the point where we’re doing this as a full-time thing and we’re recording 10-12 sessions every week. It’s gotten crazy because we still are logging up the great sessions and not getting them up there fast enough. We still have plenty of bands that wonder when their session will be heard, but we like to think that whenever these things go up, they’re going to have a positive impact. I think it’s going to be very soon that we’ll be releasing 7-8 or more sessions every week. It’s coming.

What other plans do you have for the future of Daytrotter?
SM: That’s the only plan of any real thought that I can let you in on right now. there are some cool things to come.

Have you ever turned down a band down that approached you about recording at the Daytrotter studio, either because their music wasn’t good, or for another reason?
SM: All the time. If everyone who asked was allowed to record with us, we wouldn’t have any credibility at all. Everyone that we record is recorded because we think they’re great.

Who has been at Daytrotter since it’s inception in 2006, and did you know them beforehand?
SM: Right now, it’s me and our chief of the paint and pen — artist Johnnie Cluney — who have been with this thing since its inception. I’ve known Johnnie for a good amount of time. We’re neighbors basically.

How has the number of people employed by Daytrotter increased over the years?
SM: It really hasn’t increased as much as we’d like. We’re doing well, but not really well enough for us to be able to go out and hire a ton of people. We’ve added a few people to the staff, but what we really need are some terrific, creative and ingenious writers with generous hearts to help us grow up some more. That and more awesome, aspiring illustrators. Those would be good.

If you don’t mind me asking, how do you and the rest of the staff make a living if all the songs are downloadable for free?
SM: It’s all based on advertising revenue. That’s our model.
 
You were a writer for multiple music magazines. Do you have connections in the music world, and if so, have they been important to the success of Daytrotter? How do you get the word out about Daytrotter?
SM: The contacts that I made in the form of bands I grew relationships with and labels and publicists across the country, those were invaluable when I started Daytrotter and they’ve just gotten more and more numerous as we’ve continued doing this. We don’t really spread the word at all. It’s all word of mouth and a lot of the bands who we’ve had in telling their friends how much fun it was. It’s a huge help.

Do you contact musicians’ management to bring an artist in for a session, do the musicians contact you, or both?
SM: It’s a lot of both now. It’s pretty even.
 
I understand that the musicians you record are mostly alternative and indie, and music is their life, but what is it that makes them want to stop by the Daytrotter studio to lay down recordings? What do you think they get out of it?
SM: They get a really fun, laid back and creative experience in a touring time that is usually pretty mundane and repetitive. It takes them out of a comfort zone and puts them into a different zone that also ends up being comfortable. And they get a great recording out of the deal too. Everyone likes to be recorded to tape. That’s just a proven fact!

There are two kinds of “music sluts”; those who sell themselves to the music industry, and those who are owned only by the music itself. I view Sean Moeller as the latter. I have the utmost admiration for the man, and he is a personal inspiration as well as now being a hero of mine. Sean hasn’t sold out along the way, something which is all too rare, especially in the music world. He brings a certain freshness to everything he does, and has infectious passion for great music. The music world, nay, the entire world, is a better place because of Sean Moeller and Daytrotter.

I encourage you to explore the website and recordings for yourself, but here are links to some of my favorite songs from past Daytrotter sessions:

Marlboro Man by The Felice Brothers (pulls my heart into it’s black enchantment, and makes me want to weep. Just what I love in a song…)

You Got To Die by A.A. Bondy (a bittersweet song Blind Willie McTellie’s mom used to sing to him. Love Bondy’s guitar playing).

A Place In the Sun by Jennifer O’Connor (a Stevie Wonder cover. Jennifer’s voice is incredibly sweet and tender singing this. So soothing it could be a lullaby).

All The Night Without Love by Elvis Perkins (a flowing song which holds uneasiness and angst).

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