When I was in high school my dad worked at a television studio so I was able to sneak in at nights and use the recording equipment to put down my first recordings on tape. Since then I’ve spent the past 20 years recording albums of my music ranging in style from “grunge” (because I was a teenager living in Seattle during the 90’s) to progressive rock to electronic pop to ambient instrumental soundscapes. I’ve played on a few movie soundtracks including the SPY KIDS movies, and my musical interpretation of Pi and other mathematical constants have been featured on NPR, CNN, and CBS, and have over a million views on YouTube.
I've been writing the material for this record for the past few years. One of the songs is over six years old, and some of them are just a few weeks old, so it's really capturing my work right up to the present day. The music is a blend of folk and singer/songwriter, with touches of ambient field recording and sound design. Piano mixed with violins, banjo with a vintage CASIO. Hope and melancholy connect in subjects ranging from regret, doubt and loss, to confession, honesty and redemption. It's me coming to terms with my own mediocrity in the harsh face of stardom. Oh wait, that's Almost Famous.
I've started the recording process at home, but I'm excited to take it to the next level, in the studio with great analog gear, and collaborating with an engineer and other great musicians to add drums, bass, and even some orchestral instrumentation like violin, cello, and flute. But don't worry, I won't go overboard, if it's one thing I've learned in the last 20 years as a musician, it's that SPACE is key.
From a young age, Kevin Lee Florence was always singing – first in church, and then inadvertently around the house. It wasn’t until his early twenties, however, that Florence picked up the guitar and immersed himself in Neil Young, Damien Jurado, Paul Simon, and a host of other folk legends, despite being raised in an community that disparaged folk music. He found inspiration in his father’s vinyl collection and an inborn penchant for writing poetry, and gradually set about turning his passion into something viable.
It was only fitting that at age 22, a chance encounter with a Gillian Welch record in a Sacramento suburb spurred Kevin Lee Florence to consider creating his own music. Eleven years later, the Folsom, California native—now a resident of Portland, Oregon—is set to release his debut solo album Given via the local indie label Fluff & Gravy records.
Given represents the cream of the crop from his personally penned songs, along with two of Florence’s favorite covers: Paul Simon’s “Peace Like a River” and Damien Jurado’s “Ohio.” These gentle nods to two of his biggest influences help flesh out the simple, nine track record. Flecked with folk influences, finger-picked guitar lines and distinctive harmonies provided by his sister Kelly Florence, Given falls somewhere between Sam Beam’s hushed, vivid folk and Simon’s own conversational, quirky lyrical genius. The slow-burning hope of “Could Today be the Day” falls into a groove, and contrasts with harmony fanfare and drama on album closer “Kindness.” For the more traditional minded, “Shining Shining” is pure pastoral bliss, with bright piano accents and lush harmonies. Through it all, Florence’s understated, warm voice carries the record, wrapping you like a warm blanket on an autumn evening.
Recorded almost entirely live at Fivestar Studio, the finished album is a completely analog effort that features no digital processing. Fivestar Studios is located in the midst of L.A.’s artistic haven Echo Park, and the likes of Father John Misty, Dawes, Bonnie Prince Billy have recorded there. The album features a roster of world-class musicians, including bassist Jon Button (Sheryl Crow, Robben Ford), drummer James McAlister (Sufjan Stevens, Bill Frisell), and guitarist Danny Donnelly. Garth Hudson of The Band, Kevin’s personal hero, is featured on two of the album’s tracks.
Prior to launching his solo career, Kevin led the Northern California band Silver Darling from 2006-2010. A few short months after forming, the band was approached by Davis, Ca-based Crossbill Record, with whom the band released the full-length‘ Your Ghost Fits My Skin’ and the EP ‘Wrap Around My Heart’. A mix of high energy Americana and dark slow-burners; the band toured the west coast extensively sharing the stage with Jason Isbell, Damien Jurado, and The Cave Singers among others.
In 2013, Kevin and his wife Carol decided to leave Sacramento so that he could more fully pursue music, roadtripping between Los Angeles, Nashville and Portland before settling on the smaller, Northwest city. “Portland is the place to make music and Nashville is the place to sell it,” Florence said of the decision. “For music, friends and family Portland made sense for us.” It was in Portland that Kevin connected with Fluff & Gravy, who will release Given (summer of 2014). He and Carol currently live in Southeast Portland with their newborn son Levi.
Sometimes two artists meet at exactly the right time. And in collaborating, they crack open a deeper vein of gold. Acclaimed songwriter Catherine Feeny met jazz drummer Chris Johnedis after recording her rebellious fourth solo album, "America." She had just come back from the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, and he was returning from 2 years of working and studying in Thailand. Johnedis helped translate the varied rhythms of "America" -- which ran the gamut between vintage drum machine sounds and captured field recordings -- into a live show setting.
Two years later, working with producers Sebastian Rogers (Floetry) Sheldon Gomberg (Ben Harper, Ricki Lee Jones) in an intense four-day session in Silverlake, CA the two created a universe of sound that is spare, yet playful and propulsive for their eponymous collaborative album. Leveraging Feeny's quietly costly vocals and classic pop songwriting against Johnedis's exhilarating polyryhthms, the team masterfully maximized what a single ukulele, a solo voice, a looped guitar and a set of drums can be. Audiences across the US and Europe have been mesmerized by the spell Feeny and Johnedis cast on stage.