Local Current Blog

Observer Drift’s Collin Ward on the power of the home studio and the internet

Credit: Andrea Swensson/MPR

It’s a house like any other, a modest split-level tucked into the bend of a suburban residential street just across from a little park. You’d never know from looking at it from the outside that it’s home to one of the Twin Cities’ most promising young multi-instrumental artists — save for a small patch of concrete on the path leading up to the house that’s etched with his first name, Collin.

Collin Ward makes music under the pseudonym Observer Drift, a term he discovered while taking a Psychology course down the road from his house at Normandale Community College. He’s been working on the project for less that a year but already he’s released a full-length album, Corridors, in addition a new track called “Hiding Place” that he just debuted on the Current’s Local Show this week.

“When I started this, I wasn’t even going to put anything online,” Ward explains, perched on a stool next to a keyboard in his basement recording studio. “I was just going to do it because I wanted to, and just have it, and maybe show it to people here and there. I never really planned on putting it online because it wasn’t like a band, you know, I didn’t really think I’d be able to do live shows.”

But soon after creating a Bandcamp page, Ward started hearing from new fans — first here in Minnesota, thanks in part to a feature in City Pages, and then from listeners as far away as Poland and India. “With Bandcamp, anyone can find it,” he says. “It’s pretty awesome that these songs that I came up with in my basement that I grew up in, like, people all over the place are hearing it. It’s such an intimate thing to me, these songs I’ve written, I’m almost kind of like timid about when people hear it, but at the same time people enjoy it, so it’s kind of cool.”

Ward says the biggest challenge he’s facing right now is figuring out how he’ll transition the dreamy, nuanced layers of his songs to a live setting. Having recorded all the parts himself in various parts of his home (many segments were recorded alone in his bedroom, while some of the vocals were captured in the living room and even the bathroom), he’s concerned that adding more players will alter the sound. “I feel like it might be kind of hard to get a band together and make it sound the same. But I still really like the idea of trying to get a whole band back together, because I really like that, I think it’s a lot of fun,” he says. “I miss playing with a group, I had a lot of fun when I was doing that in high school,” when he and a group of friends would cover songs by Weezer, the Ramones, and Radiohead. “I’ve got three other friends of mine and we’re going to start practicing and see what we can come up with and see if we can get it to sound right. So within the next few weeks or months it’ll kind of start developing, hopefully start to do some shows.”

Observer Drift is the latest in a string of DIY artists who have holed up in basements and bedrooms to hone their sound and grow entire audiences of fans before playing a single live show. I ask Ward what he thinks of this phenomenon. “It’s weird. It’s awesome,” he says. “A lot of the bands I really enjoy, they’ll play live with a full band but behind the music it’s just one person. Like Toro y Moi, it’s just Chaz Bundick, and Wild Nothing is just Jack Tatum, he writes the music and then plays in a band, or Twin Shadow, M83. I definitely think that’s a big movement right now, just one person is behind the music. Because home studios are so available now, you can record all your music from home and put out pretty good quality music just from your house. You don’t have to go get a studio session and pay big money to be in a studio. I think that’s pretty cool to see, it’s a pretty big movement right now.”

For Ward, this intimate approach to recording also bled into a lot of his songwriting on Corridors, which he says is inspired by living in his parents’ house and re-living memories from his childhood. “Our family has this thing we like document everything on video camera, so we have tons of home videos. I went through and was watching tons of those while I was recording the album, just because it helps me to remember things from when I was really young, when I can’t remember things as clear. Watching those really just kind of brought me back, that’s where I was getting a lot of the lyrics from. Tracks like ‘Home Video’ — that track is the one that articulates that idea, it’s about a home video I was watching of my grandpa, who passed away about 10 years ago, and it just was really awesome home video of me and my grandpa kind of goofing around in our cabin.”

At 20, Ward is at that precarious age between adolescence and adulthood, and Corridors has allowed him to both revel in that coming-of-age period and find a new direction, one that will undoubtedly propel him into the next phase of his life. So far, he’s turned down a few offers from smaller labels but is interested in eventually finding a way to release Corridors physically. And between writing new songs, starting a side project with his brother, and fielding inquiries from fans around the world, he supposes he’ll eventually get around to playing his first show.

For more on Observer Drift, check out our Song of the Day post for the track “Corridors” here.