Running Through the Trees

This one is special to me. I mean, every record I help make is special to me. But this one is very personal. Shannon and I gifted the making of this album to this unbelievably talented local artist — Jonathan Mahler, aka Trusty Sea Creatures, from Tacoma, WA (where we live! This is not a coincidence). Jonny and I worked on this for a year.

And here’s the backstory:

I know it’s hard to remember anything from The Before Times, but try if you can to cast your mind back to spring, 2019. Shannon and I were doing what would prove to be the last of our regular springtime album fundraisers. And one of the incentives in this fundraiser was that, if we reached our top goal, we would find a promising up-and-coming local artist, and we would gift them the making of an EP of their music.

We had run across Jonny completely by accident a year before, at a coffeeshop open mic that we didn’t even realize was happening. We just wandered in because we wanted some coffee! But he stopped us in our tracks. His voice … the songs … it was amazing. We were transfixed.

We stayed until he was finished, and then we went over and chatted for a bit, and Jonny and I exchanged Instagram info. Over the next year or so, we stayed in touch, and at a certain point I offered to remix a song of his from his Bandcamp page that I’d become completely obsessed with — a song called ‘Unsuspecting Whispers.’ I ended up doing some additional production and changing a couple of things around, and he loved it. I’m pretty sure it was the first time he’d heard one of his songs professionally produced, and I think it was an eye-opening experience.

Flash forward to late spring 2019, and we had hit our fundraiser goals. Which meant that we had an EP, funded by our community, to gift to someone!

We went to a bunch of open mics and did our due diligence and saw a bunch of local artists. But Jonny was so far out in front of what anyone else that we saw was doing that it wasn’t really even a competition.

So in early 2020, we asked Jonny if he’d like to make an EP with me! He accepted, and we scheduled our first recording session at our house for March 9, 2020. And of course we all know what happened next; within a week, everyone was in quarantine, terrified of this new mystery disease that was tearing through the country.

But we still had a record to make! So we pivoted.

Jonny came into our situation with a number of years’ experience making home recordings. So we took that and ran with it. I helped Jonny put together a little home studio (remotely, of course), using his laptop and an inexpensive audio interface to get sounds into his computer. We built his rig around a recording program called Pro Tools, which is the same one that I use. And I spent the next year remotely teaching Jonny how to record and produce, while at the same time directing him through self-recording his own debut EP!

Because he and I were using the same software, it was a really cool process. He would do some recording, and he would send me his entire session over the internet. I would open it up on my music computer, fix and edit and tweak things, perhaps add some synthesizer parts, and send it back to him. He would work on it more and send it back to me. We went back and forth on each song in this way until it was finished, at which point I mixed the song.

At a certain point in the process, it was clear to both Shannon and me that this needed to be a full-length album. Having it be just an EP wouldn’t do the material justice — it wouldn’t feel substantial enough. So in late 2020, as we were picking up steam, I asked Jonny if he’d like to stretch the project to an album. He leapt at it, writing six new songs to flesh out the album, and we kept recording and working.

What this means is that this is the very first full-length album (by someone who isn’t Shannon) funded in its entirety by the community of people who support what we do. With the support that our Misfit Stars send our way each month, we were able to pay forward a finished, eleven-song, 44-minute-long album of original music by an independent artist who we believe in. And I was able to teach him a bunch about recording and production along the way — skills that Jonny is already starting to use to do collaborative work with other artists. It’s a best-case scenario.

And the manifestations of people’s support didn’t end there! Once the album was finished, Shannon and I mentored Jonny through the process of self-releasing and promoting it. We were able to teach him a ton about engaging a community of people around a body of work — skills that we learned over years of sharing our work with the people who support it. We hooked Jonny up with a friend we trust in Los Angeles to provide some simple label services and pitch his songs to TV. And we’re still working with him at this very moment, helping him continue to grow the story around this amazing work that he’s made.

Here are a few simple, concrete things that you can do to help us support Jonny and his album. Please do as many as feel comfortable to you.

  • SIGN UP ON HIS EMAIL LIST. Letting an independent artist stay in touch with you is the single best thing that you can do for them (well, aside from giving them a bunch of money).
  • Stream the album, add it to your streaming library, and share it with a friend who you think would enjoy it!
  • Connect with Jonny on Instagram.
  • Buy one of the excellent Trusty Sea Creatures tee shirts.

We’re aware that we don’t do music careers the way most people say you’re supposed to. Every time we pull off something like this, we feel like we’ve gotten away with something miraculous. Thanks for being on this adventure with us.

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