For those of us that aren’t directly involved in the writing, recording or producing of music, it’s often very easy to forget all the work that is involved before the postman delivers that new 7″ or we pick up an LP at the record store. For some artists, that process is a tumultuous one. For most, it is a huge emotional investment that truly is a labor of love.
Almost three years ago, February Records released “Staysail” by Two If By Sea, a five-song EP that received quite a bit of praise at the time. Two If By Sea is the brainchild of Teresa Daniele (The Haircuts, sarah, plain + tall). It is also, most likely, her final musical project.
February Records entered the scene at the tail end of the process, when Teresa was looking for help promoting and selling the EP. We asked Teresa to revisit “Staysail,” and tell us about what took place before we got involved. What she told us is a frank and honest account of music-making, with all the bumps and bruises. What follows is Teresa’s account, mostly unedited, followed by a few follow-up questions.
the inspiration for two if by sea was actually several years in the making, and traces as far back as my first stint on college radio (well over a decade ago) as the primary backdrop to my once insatiable zest and curiosity for uncovering new music. my experience as a DJ not only exposed me to bands i wouldn’t have had a chance to find out about otherwise, but it also introduced me to a number of like-minded people in whom a similar passion for music existed. before too long, we were experimenting with 4-track machines and other recording equipment while i slowly took to “honing” my craft as a “songwriter” – of course, never in the same league as my idols: beat happening, the field mice, the softies, and the cat’s miaow – all just to name a few, and all of whom i looked to for inspiration. still, the experience of writing my own songs and recording them with my friends left me feeling inspired in a way that i had never before experienced, igniting a primal feeling of exhilaration that unearthed a deep-seeded desire to continue with these pursuits beyond the life of these “radio friendships.”
in subsequent years, and facilitated by the internet, isolation soon gave way to connections of a different order, which eventually led to my earliest forays into long-distance collaborations with friends i made online. it was in this way that i eventually came to meet lisle mitnik byway of his musical project “fireflies.” no sooner had we exchanged a few messages back and forth before the idea of a joint undertaking promptly surfaced; and just like that we were swapping music files via email. all but one of the songs appearing on the 7″ had been written expressly for this new collaboration between us, while “unbraided wind” ended up being recycled from my first project called “sarah, plain + tall.” even though the material itself took little time at all to compose from a writing standpoint, the early momentum lisle and i enjoyed near the beginning of the project eventually faltered at the hands of busy schedules and the tedious process of recording and re-recording ad nauseam, along with the seemingly endless edits that were necessitated thereafter – all owing to the increased challenges associated with collaborations of this kind, where the players involved in the project don’t have the luxury of working face-to-face, or in real time.
more than a year had passed and the project seemed like it was stagnating a bit. there were a lot of false starts and reams of proverbial tape littering the cutting room floor when all was said and done. not wanting to burden lisle any further with the remaining work needed to complete the project, i solicited the help of another friend, kevin clark, to assist with another version of both “pale as white” and “signal hill.”
while all of this was going on, i was also in conversation with another label to secure the ep’s release following broad discussions on the subject during the making of “staysail.” but as talks heated up, so too did the acrimony in the wake of failed negotiations around the specific terms of the release neither party could come to an agreement on, the upshot of which found me suddenly destitute after it was announced i could no longer count on the label’s support towards this project, abruptly leaving me without a label to work with, and a handful of finished songs whose fate was now very much in question. of course, not wanting to abandon the project after all the hours and hard work i had put into making it happen, i was faced with the difficult decision to finance and release the record on my own, which, at the very least, ensured that the project would still go ahead, and also guaranteed that the ep would come out on my own terms and within a reasonable amount of time, without having to make any silly concessions along the way. while it proved to be a costly undertaking, i think in some ways that this rift between myself and the label in question proved in the end to be the best thing that could have happened for the fate of the record, because it gave me full control over a project that i worked too long and too hard on to let surrender to a third party complete veto power over its design and date of release.
so, with the help of another friend who was instrumental in his contribution to the final artwork associated w/ the record, i was finally able to realize this long-time dream of mine in releasing my very own 7″ record, notwithstanding the unique set of circumstances surrounding this modest achievement that also happened to stray from my original fantasies. and, of course, thanks to february records, i was soon connected with dan whose help promoting and facilitating the sale of the record was critical to its success in reaching an audience well beyond the limited scope i would have been able to access on my own.
since the release of the 7″ almost 3 years ago now, i have all but hung up my guitar strings, preferring over music-making the use of other outlets to my creativity. having only written and recorded one new song during this time – which eventually went on to appear on a collection of “b-sides” that my friend recently encouraged me to put out on his label, inyrdisk – i think it’s safe to say that two if by sea represents for me a closing chapter on a period of my life almost wholly consumed by music in all its forms. that’s not to say music doesn’t still occupy a very important place in my life, or that i will never write or record again in the future; but the experience of making “staysail” was really a very labour-intensive one that left me feeling at once very satisfied and relieved at having achieved one of my long-time goals, but also very emotionally drained and creatively bankrupt, as seen from my rear-view mirror. that being said, i’m pleased to say that following a limited run of 100 copies, to date, i’ve managed to find a good home for nearly all of the records that i originally had pressed, and this simple fact means more to me than i can ever fully express – that somehow on the merits of these modest recordings, i’ve been able to connect with a host of strangers from around the world in the form of such a deeply personal offering that “staysail,” for me, represents. in many ways, it’s the highest compliment you can ever have paid to you as an artist: truly the only reward and affirmation whose worth is measured in gold.
March, April & May: Aside from the unfortunate falling out with the first label you contacted about the EP, how did making “Staysail” compare with your other long-distance projects? Did they offer similar obstacles or was this a unique experience?
Teresa Daniele: “staysail” was far and away fraught w/ greater challenges than i’d encountered with any of my previous outings. in the past, i had only ever made recordings using analog techniques, which actually greatly simplifies the recording process by imposing strict limitations over your options. by the same token, i found digital recording to be a lot more labour-intensive and exhausting than analog, because it proved to be a dangerous enabler to my perfectionist tendencies, which at times found me getting too caught up in details that with 4-track recordings you just don’t have that same luxury to worry about. common to both techniques, however, is the simple fact that long-distance collaborations make it so much harder to get everyone on the same page musically when you can’t easily communicate your ideas. i wouldn’t recommend doing a record this way unless you’ve exhausted all your other options first.
M,A&M: Were you pleased with the finished product and was the experience worth it in order to release “your very own 7-inch record”?
Teresa: notwithstanding the difficulties involved in pulling it all off, i still remain very proud of this record and what i was able to accomplish w/ my friends, from the music to the overall packaging. whatever other people’s reactions to it, “staysail” for me lays bear all of its vulnerabilities without pretense, but hopefully with a little bit of charm as well.
M,A&M: Has the rocky experience of making “Staysail” at all shaped or changed your opinion of the indiepop community as a whole?
Teresa: no doubt it soured me to the pop world in many respects, but it also offered up some nice surprises along the way that helped to remind me why i even sought to make music in the first place. the idea that there are people out there whom i’ve never met, but who might also happen to own a copy of the 7″ that occasionally might get played on their record player – well that’s a really special feeling for me. having made this record also reminds me that if there is an audience for your music, they’ll find a way to hear it – they’ll seek it out all on their own from places far and near.
M,A&M: If the experience of releasing “Staysail” had been a purely positive one, would you still be making music?
Teresa: that’s hard to say. in a lot of ways, i think i make music for other people as much as i so do myself, so without that greater impetus, it’s hard to find the motivation to keep going, especially through all the setbacks and challenges that beset all artistic projects of this kind. that’s not to say i haven’t enjoyed what seems to have been a mostly positive reception to the release; but to have expended so much effort and energy on a record that hasn’t even found its way into the hands of a 100 different people, that fact is still a little discouraging in my view. but then it’s not like i play shows or churn out new material every 2 weeks – which in my view is consistent with the “publish or perish” concept. so maybe it’s a bit of a catch-22. it’s hard to get excited about doing stuff that doesn’t simultaneously inspire other people’s appreciation. but more than all of that, i finally accepted that i was better served in pursuing my real talents (among which i do not include music), notwithstanding this unvarnished passion for song that somehow coaxed me to wade in its alluring waters, for better or for worse.
Some copies of “Staysail” and the b-sides collection, “The Fondness of a Memory,” are still available. Click here to learn more.
Follow-up questions conducted via email and compiled by Dan Goodwin. Introduction and photo illustration by DG.