Paper Dolls

Betcha’ five bucks I release four records this year.

The first one’s already out: “February 25, 2005,” aka “The Live Record.” I decided this weekend that I’m gonna’ put it on on iTunes. Gimme’ a few weeks on that.

I’m recording the second one this Thursday: an iTunes Exclusive release, like Aimee Mann’s or The Wallflowers’. Dough guitarist Guy Benny is producing at his Delancy Street studio. It’s an amazing place. Used to be a Vaudeville theater. The ceilings are over a hundred feet high. Anyway, the idea is, I play solo acoustic — a few new songs, a few old songs — and talk about ’em. Like a radio show. To whet you whistle for the big release…

“The Heartland LP” (working title only, promise). Jason Walsmith of The Nadas and I nailed down the details last week. I’m flying into Des Moines on July 30 to catch one of their shows, then spending the week recording with The Nadas. Crazy lucky me, eh? Judging by what I’ve heard of their new record, “Listen Through The Static,” and their live shows, we’re all in for a real treat. They’re music is everything mine aspired to be: organic, rootsy, lived in. I sent them a bunch of demos last week (all culled from The Morning Mix), and asked ’em to pick their faves. I expect we’ll record most of it live to tape, pretty short on overdubs. That’s the bonus of performing with a great band. Should be epic.

The fourth record may be where you win the bet. As you know, my most-excellent friend (and Smith Family front man) Kevin Anthony moved to Minneapolis. He dismantled the studio where we recorded “Almost Home” and “Love & Other Indoor Games,” but still has a small setup in his new home. He balked (rightly so) at recording the full-band record, but was game to record some solo acoustic stuff. So my current thinking (Kevin dependent) is that he and I will record the songs that don’t make the full band set. Like “Baby, Just Give Me One More Chance” and “Heartland”. You’ll recall that Kevin plays fiddle and mandolin, and is pretty deep into the country and bluegrass scene, so I thought maybe we’d make something small and intimate and folksy that has that sort of vibe. Dylan’s made a career out of it. Should work for me.

(I’m also going to be playing a few shows that week, but more on that as it comes together.)

Whether “The Heartland LP” will be a double album, or just one long record, or an LP plus a bonus CD, I dunno’. Heck, none of it may come together. Making records — especially ones recorded live with different musicians — is a bit of a shot in the dark. But I find that kind of exciting. And yunno’ what? That’s kind of the bonus of being me. I mean, my songs are like paper dolls or something. You can dress ’em up kinda’ punky, or folky, or whatever.

And I know what you’re thinking. “How are you gonna’ pay for four records?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “How am I gonna’ buy four records!?!” (Or maybe you’re thinking, “Who the hell needs four Benjamin Wagner records!?!”) All of which is fair. This may be a stupid idea for just that reason. The answer is that I don’t really know. I don’t expect to blow out the production on all of ’em, which is to say, no sixteen-page booklets and multi-colored album art. “The Live CD” and “iTunes Exclusive” releases aren’t really ever going to be pressed. They’ll exist in the ether as digital downloads.

Otherwise, I have no idea. You’ve probably figured out that I don’t do this for the money. I do this because I’m compelled to. It helps me sleep at night, and it helps me wake up in the morning.

I do have one idea for how to fund the whole thing: some kind of sweepstakes or auction where the winner gets a living room performance anywhere in the world. Well, anywhere in the U.S. anyway.

Any takers?

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