The first time it rained, the water flooded Russ Baggett's new sanctuary.
It was the summer of 2015, and the Some Army bandleader had just moved to Alabama. His wife, Hannah Baggett, had finished her doctorate at N.C. State and found work at Auburn University. The two bought a house in nearby Opelika, a small, conservative town that all but shuts down on Sundays.
Not long after arrival, Baggett turned his energies inward. He populated the basement with instruments and recording gear and began tinkering. He'd physically left the Triangle music scene, in which he'd been playing in various bands for nearly two decades, but he hoped to stay involved from a distance. He wasn't going to give up the introspective rock of Some Army, whose other members remained in North Carolina. In the basement of this small house with the big yard, he could record and share demos any time he wanted. There was nobody close enough to be bothered by noise, either.
"I can set everything up," Baggett reasoned, "and not worry about breaking it down every day when I leave."
But here came the rain, the water trickling in. Baggett has a few handyman skills—put him in front of a tape machine or a keyboard, and he's fine. But a sump pump? Please.
Still, he approached the household problem as he would a musical one: he figured out how to fix it himself. Like the move, he would make it work.
In 2013, Some Army's trajectory did not involve an Alabama basement. Months after releasing a remarkable, lauded EP, the still relatively new band launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign to fund its debut LP. In a little more than a month, they'd surpassed their goal and raised more than $7,000 to record at the esteemed Kernersville studio, Fidelitorium. They planned to release the record later that year: "As far as rock bands go," the campaign boasted, "we're organized."
Soon, though, it was 2014—then 2015, then 2016, and still no album. On Friday, Some Army will finally issue One Stone and Too Many Birds, three years, one month, and one week after funding the record.
As a Kickstarter campaign, One Stone constitutes something of a failure. It took three years, and the bandleader doesn't even live in the state. As a record, however, the sonically dense, emotionally complex One Stone is a success. There's the ebbing and flowing polyrhythms of "Infinite Mirror" and the twilit My Morning Jacket vibe of "Americana Strangler." "Stars Aligned" ends in a euphoric psych-rock deluge. Turns out, Some Army didn't put out One Stone until it was ready.
"If we could go back in time, we would have found a different way to put the money together to do the record," Baggett says. "That probably caused us and me to set unreasonable expectations for the timeline. Once the timeline gets fucked up, that becomes another dimension of the stress."
Baggett makes it clear that he's grateful for the friends and family who funded the album. As months turned to years, he updated them often. In prepping the incentives promised to the people who backed the project, Baggett has spent hundreds in postage alone.
"I feel like patronage is a thing that happens and has been a thing throughout history," says Some Army drummer Brad Porter, speaking somewhat from experience as operations director for The ArtsCenter. "Whether you are a painter, a sculptor, a musician, people have patrons."
As he sees it, crowdfunding is merely the information age's patronage system. That Baggett took so long to finish One Stone seems immaterial.
"Sometimes you gotta brood over it," Porter says.
"And nobody broods like Russ Baggett," bassist Joe Caparo says, laughing.
On a weeknight, Porter, Caparo, and guitarist Elysse Thebner Miller hold down a corner table in Carrboro's B-Side Lounge. Porter and Caparo "just saw Dad this weekend," Caparo jokes, when the two stayed with the Baggetts on their way to Texas for South by Southwest. Every member of Some Army still in North Carolina plays in other bands, which makes the separation and wait less fretful.
"I get my creative needs met elsewhere, which allows me to be just openly excited about Some Army stuff when it comes up," Miller says. "There's something about this project that, for whatever reason, always feels really fun and fresh."
The band members have never emailed more than they do now, she says, and the Opelika basement demos make for exciting listening. If there is a regret, keyboardist Patrick O'Neill offers later, it's that the band retreated from live shows in 2013 to finish the album but never really started back.
"In a lot of ways, we lost whatever momentum we might have had," says O'Neill.
Caparo wishes Some Army had played more shows in the past three years, too, but in many ways, he says, the unintended pause was essential. There was a lot of raw energy to the initial sessions, and the tracks wouldn't have sounded properly focused or had the same impact if they'd been rushed.
"The work Russ put in to make it feel more cohesive and polished was, in part, what made it more time-consuming," Miller says.
"I set the bar pretty high for myself," Baggett confirms. "Am I a perfectionist? I'm not a good enough player to be a real perfectionist."
Still, when a song doesn't sound the way he wants, the problem becomes a significant source of distress. He scrapped a few Fidelitorium-recorded numbers and put in additional studio time with some friends before taking everything on himself; he had produced and recorded the EP in-house, so he naturally drifted back to that approach.
Through 2014, Baggett shared a practice space with the Raleigh bands Gray Young and Goner. He was working as a waiter at night, so he'd arrive at seven or so in the morning, four or five days a week, and obsess over keyboard tones or individual guitar lines. A year passed this way. When One Stone was as close to complete as Baggett could get it, Hannah accepted her assistant professorship at Auburn. In July 2015, they left.
"It's hard to know what to think about it at this point," Baggett says of the album, allowing a chuckle. "It's taken so long that I'm at the point where I don't really care."
But he probably likes it more than he lets on; at least his bandmates do. Caparo had it in his CD changer recently to relearn the material. When the randomizer pulled up one of the songs, Caparo was impressed before realizing it was his own band. Miller says she hears different nuances through different stereo systems. Many of the sounds Baggett discovered and deployed in the long process between crowdfunding and release are only used once on the record, a reflection of the attention paid to every track.
"For whatever reason, the record finally feels ready to be put out," Miller says. "It needed to age a bit before."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Compulsory Service"