Producing and releasing a full-length studio album is no easy feat for any band, especially an independent act with a limited budget. The recording process can be stressful and frustrating for even the most professional and experienced musicians. Manufacturing copies and distributing them properly can be a painful headache, too.
Fortunately for Charleston-based rock band Fowler's Mustache, a young ensemble with a sense of humor silly enough to name itself after local TV meteorologist Rob Fowler's facial hair, the album-making process can be a rejuvenating and healing experience.
Acoustic guitarist and singer Matt Stanley, bassist Chris Richter, drummer John Tankersley, and guitarists Thomas McElwee and Nick Collins formed Fowler's Mustache in 2009 as a garage-based quintet with Southern jam-rock and funk/soul leanings.
While their earliest gigs were loose and a bit meandering, they quickly tightened up and fine-tuned their sound, writing numerous original songs and rendering a wild variety of classic rock, soul, punk and psyche-rock standards and obscurities.
With the addition of keyboardist Matt Goss by 2012, the band was on a roll, performing regularly at local music halls, bars and festivals.
But things came to a sudden halt in August 2012 after Collins was severely injured in a car accident on Interstate 526.
Collins was lucky to survive his ordeal. Fortunately, with the full support of his bandmates, family and friends, he recovered and pushed ahead into 2013.
Despite the challenges and circumstances, Fowler's Mustache picked up where it left off, finishing its latest recording project with Collins on board.
The members of Fowler's Mustache are at once relieved and overjoyed to celebrate the official release of their new studio album, "Goodnight Mother Earth," with a show next week at The Windjammer on Isle of Palms. The show is part of an annual day-after-Christmas tradition for the band and the venue.
Collins bounces back
Collins, a Mount Pleasant native and founding member of the band, barely made it through the accident. Doctors considered Collins to be one the "one percenters" who survive such injuries.
Collins, who was 26 when the accident occurred, spent what was left of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 fighting for his life in a hospital room at the Medical University of South Carolina, recuperating from multiple surgeries, including the amputation of his left leg.
"There were good days and bad," Collins remembers. "I had the best nurses and doctors around me, as well as my family and friends who would stop by every single day. I was very, very rarely alone, which helped a lot with the mental aspect of recovery. Although I had some of the most painful days and nights of my life, I found that having friends and family around can really take your mind off things."
After months of intense rehabilitation and strength training, Collins gradually eased back into action. He settled back into his family's home in Mount Pleasant and focused his efforts on writing and playing music with his Fowler's Mustache bandmates and performing occasional solo gigs.
Collins is wheelchair-bound for now, but he's functional, optimistic and full of rock 'n' roll spirit.
After making a few adjustments, he fine-tuned his broad repertoire of cover songs and originals and started booking local shows at his favorite hang-outs.
"Due to me sitting in a wheelchair, I have to hold my guitar more over my shoulder, almost like a stand-up bass," Collins laughs. "At first, my stamina was definitely lower than it has ever been, but I picked up most of the songs and licks pretty quickly. I felt very comfortable as early as February to play with the full band."
Despite the fact that Collins was accustomed to playing between two and five nights a week, he admits he was pretty nervous about getting back on stage at the early shows. His fear dissolved once he got rolling, though.
Joining bandmates and friends at East Cooper venues such as Wild Wing Cafe, Awendaw Green, Art's Bar and Grill and Finz, he sang, strummed and soloed with skill and enthusiasm.
"The second I started playing, I literally could not get enough," he remembers. "I'd almost forgotten how much I loved to play music. But I was surrounded by my close friends and family, and that made me confident to start booking again."
Through the course of 2013, Collins has continued to undergo additional surgeries and rehabilitation sessions, but he's also made time to record and perform.
"Since I've been home from the hospital, I have been exploring every aspect of music, from Latin-jazz and bluegrass to funky rhythm and beats," Collins says. "But I've never had so many lyrics flowing freely out of my mind. I started to realize that some of my best songs were things that I had strong emotions towards. And with everything that I've been through the past year, I have so much to be thankful for and so much joy for the little things in life."
New album, new beginning
Working collectively, the members of Fowler's Mustache had already started shaping a set of new originals for the "Goodnight Mother Earth" sessions well before Collins' accident.
While he recuperated last fall and winter, the band's plans for recording the album went on hold indefinitely. But by early spring, they felt comfortable and confident enough to kick-start the project again.
"We started recording this album in 2010, so most of the major work for the album was already done by the time of Nick's accident," says guitarist McElwee. "The entire process got pushed back about a year, but we weren't concerned about the album at that point. We just wanted to make sure our friend was OK. There was no schedule. While Nick was recovering, we finished the mixing and got it mastered."
The band tracked the 12 songs on "Goodnight Mother Earth" in the recording studio facility at Encore Music in Mount Pleasant.
Engineer and proprietor Ed Blanton oversaw the sessions and mixed all of the tracks; he handled Fowler's Mustache's previous release, "The Album," in a similar manner.
Local producer Jeff Hodges, the owner and chief engineer at Mount Pleasant's Charleston Sound, mastered the collection.
There's an eclectic mix of styles on "Goodnight Mother Earth." From double-guitar Southern jam-rock ("Back Porch" and "None More Drink" in the vein of the Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic) and shuffle-beat blues and New Orleans-styled soul-rock ("Swamp Boogie"), psychedelic funk, elegant Americana ("Bedroom Tune") and upbeat pop ("Island Daze" and "Movin' On").
Local vocalist Mary Gilmore of East Cooper pop-rock group Mary's Got a Band shared harmonies and lead vocals on the funky, riffy groove-rocker "Sugar Momma."
"Every band, no matter what they are categorized as, has their own unique musical fingerprint that identifies them," McElwee says. "That fingerprint is always made up of the different members' personalities, musical tastes, musical habits and general sonic preferences. We all have our own little weird collection of artists, songs and ideas we love to incorporate, but our main goal with our sound is that it sounds like us, not like anyone else. I think the new album gives our listeners a big sampler platter of what we can do, musically."
The band expects to welcome a handful of special guests on stage at The Windjammer on Dec. 26.
"Our plan this year is a little different than in the past years we've had this day-after-Christmas show," McElwee says. "We usually invite a friend's band to play and open for us, but this year, we will be providing entertainment for the whole night. We've all had such a crazy year with finishing this CD and with Nick's recovery; we're all just looking forward to having a great night with all our friends and family during the holiday season. It's always the funnest gig of the year for us because of that reason. Everyone is in a great headspace this time of year to party and let their hair down. We are just hoping to tap into it."