The Pitch: When did you start your solo project? What inspired that? Have you always written your own songs?
David McMillin: The solo project was really in full swing from 2006 until mid-2009. I spent a lot of time on the road on my own, putting a lot of miles on my car and opening for some great songwriters that really inspired me to continue pushing my writing in different directions like Shelby Lynne, Josh Ritter and Martin Sexton. I had been writing songs for quite some time, and I released two full-length records and two EPs before the Fort Frances project moved into full swing.
When did you all meet? I think I read that you all had played together before forming the band.
Aaron and I met in 2006 through a mutual friend (who now happens to be his wife) when I began recording my first solo record. Aaron played drums on it, and we actually met Jeff during the tracking of the record. He was an assistant engineer on the session, and we all became fast friends. Jeff started playing with us for some of the solo work in early 2009 that eventually transformed into Fort Frances. He continues to lend his engineering expertise to the band's recording process -- he mixed The Atlas.
Did Jeffrey and Aaron have their own projects, too?
Jeff and Aaron are both very accomplished musicians outside of Fort Frances. Jeff is actually a drummer first and has picked up bass for the band. Aaron just finished a record with a jazz trio in Bloomington, Indiana.
I assume you all still do your own things musically. Will you guys pursue tours with those projects, too?
Right now, the focus is touring under Fort Frances, and we're going to stay focused with the hope of spending more and more time on the road. While we all still pursue our own creative endeavors, we share the biggest excitement about the possibilities with this band.
Was it hard to combine everyone's styles or was it a natural process?
Since we've all known each other outside of rehearsal rooms, load-ins and sound checks, it makes the musical side of things much easier. Everything is gradually becoming more and more collaborative now, too. We all have very different influences, so it's especially exciting to see and hear what we're working on now.
So, you're all from Chicago (and mixed the album in Chicago, I see)? If so, why'd you end up recording in Maine? I suppose it's because that's where the producer was?
I first went to Maine during the fall of 2008 to work on some solo material with Sam Kassirer and fell in love with his place, the Great North Sound Society. Great North is an old farmhouse built in the 19th century, and Sam has converted it into a studio complete with sleeping quarters.
The appeal of Maine was two-fold: working with Sam was the first big pull. He's a great producer, piano player and all-around creative master. He worked on the last two Josh Ritter records, which I think are incredibly well-done.
Second, the hide-away aspect of Great North is something that inspires a real sense of magic in anyone who is there to write and record. Everyone hears stories of musicians tucking away in the woods for extended periods of time, and those stories are actually true. I can't say enough about how important it is to get away from the noise of the city, the buzz of a cell phone and the hum of a television. I don't think we would have been able to capture the record like this if we had recorded in Chicago -- or any other city. We really needed to get out of our element, and we were able to do that in Maine.
When did you record The Atlas, and what inspired the songs and style of the album? Is it an "individual song" kind of record, or a story telling album?
This record has actually been done for a while. Most of it was written over the course of 2009 in an apartment in Chicago, and we tracked it in November 2009. It took nearly all of 2010 to mix it, mainly because we wanted to connect the songs on the album in similar fashion to some of our favorites: The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The record was written to be a cohesive piece, one that's better heard in its entirety, and we spent a lot of time staying true to that goal after we finished recording.
The album really sounds cabin-y (new word). Did you guys want the sound to be open/free?
Great word! Yes, that natural reverb sound was definitely part of what we were aiming for with this record. We recorded quite a bit of it in an unfinished section of Great North. It's eventually been built into a nice live tracking room, but it was essentially just the frame of a room when we were there (hence that "open" sound.) We used it as a vocal chamber and even tracked some drums there, too. It got pretty cold during long sessions in mid-November, but it was well worth it.
So, I noticed your Twitter tagline is "a band from Chicago with a name from Canada"? Any reason why you imported the name?
This name stems from a certain incident during our solo touring days and a refusal of admission at the Canadian border. Outside of damaging US-Canadian relations with our criminal escapades, we are also big fans of alliteration.
How's this tour going so far? Any memorable events or bands played with?
We've been on and off the road this spring and early summer and played with some great bands including Gomez and Chamberlin, a band from Vermont with an excellent debut record. In this particular week, we're really excited about being part of the Underground Music Showcase. We're also thrilled to play in Kansas City because Jeff actually grew up there.
Anything new coming up for you guys? Releases, etc.?
We're excited to play at the Mid Point Music Festival in Cincinnati, and we'll be on the road for part of the fall, too. While at home, we're working on recording a new batch of songs that we're planning on releasing in the early part of next year.
The Chicago trio plays RecordBar on July 26. Doors open at 9 p.m. The band's opening for Horse Opera and Key Party, $7, 18-and-older.