Bora York released scattered tracks from their debut Dreaming Free during the latter part of last year. We’re finally seeing the fruits of their labor after an intensive recording process that saw husband-wife duo Chris and Rebekah Bartels recruiting a full band, starting a production company, and learning the ins and outs of the dream-pop genre.
I spoke with Chris about how the band came to be and what’s on the docket in advance of their release show at the Triple Rock on Friday with Ben Rosenbush and the Brighton and Weaver at the Loom. Read about his thoughts on the project—and while you’re at it, stream Dreaming Free in full below.
Local Current: Who caught the music bug first? You or Rebekah? And how did you get started with composing music?
Chris Bartels: Rebekah has been playing music and singing pretty much her whole life. Her entire family is musical, so she grew up in a very musical environment. She’s definitely been singing and playing for a longer time than I have, though up until her later teen years she was pretty shy singing in front of people. Not so anymore.
When I was 16, I picked up a guitar only because I was bored one day. I had no idea it would become an obsession. Not long after I started, I was writing songs and recording with my old computer microphone. Composing and songwriting has been a huge passion of mine ever since, and I always get the itch to try different styles and start new projects.
All music projects begin after a kind of “ah-ha” moments. Your can-do spirit gets ignited. What was that “moment” for Bora York?
Yeah, I definitely agree. There’s probably a few, but I’d say for this project, the key “ah-ha” moment was actually less the birth of the project itself and more the birth of the sound that has become Bora York. The entire thing started as a folk album, and the songs just weren’t working. I was holding on too tightly to what I thought the project should be instead of letting it grow into what it could be.
Specifically, I remember one day sitting at home panicking because I hadn’t yet fully let go of the folk thing, and the songs I liked had clearly drifted from that. What I had at the time was far from a cohesive album. It was actually a school project as well, so there was a deadline looming. I had already put so much work into the songs I had, and I was worried that even if I was willing to give them up, I wouldn’t finish in time. I finally decided to let go creatively, and when I did, it’s like the album was given new life. Everything became exciting again. And no worries, I passed.
It seems like you are trying to begin an empire of sorts. The music isn’t just confined to Bora York — you’ve got other side projects as well. Can you tell us a little bit more about everything that the Bartels are doing musically?
Oh man, the word empire sounds a bit intimidating to me. Rebekah says maybe a “smorgasbord.” But, yes, I can’t just do one thing musically. I’m always experimenting with different styles and various sorts of opportunities when they arise. I launched my company Anthem Falls Music last fall as a sort of umbrella for my work. I’m calling it a record label and production house.
Besides Bora York, Elskavon is an ambient and modern classical project that I have been investing in a little bit at a time here and there for a number of years. It was always a low-priority project until I made it a priority in September, and released a full-length album a couple months later. I also hope to continue to write music under my own name. Originally, Dreaming Free was meant to be a follow up to my 2011 solo EP Morning’s Gold. And there’s a few other new projects brewing right now.
The production house side of Anthem Falls is writing and licensing original music for various types of clients like advertising agencies and video production and corporate companies. Projects have included commercials, promotional videos and short documentaries. This has been a lot of fun because it has opened up the opportunity to write and produce different types and styles of music I wouldn’t necessarily try on my own. It’s also helped me to start building a library of licensable material.
Rebekah is also a worship leader at our church and I help out on the team. That’s always been something we’re privileged to be a part of and we really enjoy it. I do also enjoy investing in other musicians’ projects as much as I can, whether it’s with production, songwriting or other media.
I’ll be one happy guy if I can support my family doing what I love: writing, producing and playing music. Rebekah and I are really enjoying every moment and every opportunity now. I know we’re blessed.
Creating your debut “Dreaming Free” has been a long endeavor. Can you tell us about the recording process for the record and some of the trials and tribulations?
Yeah, it has definitely been a long endeavor. Since it was started as a school project in late 2011, there was a semester of recording and a semester of mixing. Once I graduated, I decided to continue writing for the album and to also give it some time before the release for promotion and to have the opportunity to play live a number of times before a release show. Doing most everything DIY style takes a lot of time, but I also believe there’s value in doing it that way, at least for a time. I’ve learned a lot about the entire process of releasing an album and managing a band and promoting a release just through trial and error.
As far as specifics, I recorded at our apartment, my parents’ house, The Hideaway Studio in Minneapolis and McNally Smith College of Music. I’m fairly erratic when it comes to recording. I’ll work on lots of different things for just a single song on one day and then record only electric guitar parts for three songs the next day. I sometimes wish there was a more sensible pattern to it all, but I guess random is just how I work best. I mixed most of the album last summer, save for “Remaining” and “Ghost Lights,” which are both newer.
I’d have to say most of the trials and tribulations had to be with the whole process of letting go of the folk sound and embracing the indie-pop and dream-pop sound. It was a painful yet necessary process. Most everything else has gone fairly smoothly. It all just takes so much time, so patience and perseverance is key. Scheduling recording sessions and rehearsals can be tricky, but it’s absolutely worth it to have lots of people involved in the project. I’m so grateful for every person that has invested in this album.
Give us three musical influences and why. Go!
Washed Out. Incredible driving music, beautiful synth layers and ridiculous amounts of reverb.
Bon Iver. Enchanting walls of sound, infinite re-playability and falsetto.
Van Stee. Unique sounds and weirdness mixed with alluring pop sensibility, super catchy melodies and Minnesota-based.
I have to cheat and give a fourth: Sigur Ros. It feels wrong for me to list influences without them.
So, what’s next?
We’re excited to release Dreaming Free and play more shows here in the Cities and possibly tour a bit this summer and fall in support of it. We’d love to get moving on a music video or two as well. I’m already writing demos for new material and am excited to have the rest of the band be a bigger part of the writing process this time around. You’ll definitely be hearing more of Rebekah’s voice with new Bora York songs.
Once I let go of the folk sound and allowed the creative process to happen more organically, it felt like the songs started to come together. We’ll try and keep the same philosophy with new material, and we’ll just see where it goes.
Bora York play a release show this Friday, March 22, at the Triple Rock with Ben Rosenbush and the Brighton and Weaver at the Loom. 9 p.m., $8, 18+.