I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was sent the new release from a band called The Cabin Project. I will admit that I was unfamiliar with the band and I wasn’t sure if it was black metal or folk or EDM or what. I decided to go in blind and not read anything on them before I listened to Unfolded. The first track entitled “Chain” hooked in me in a major way in its unique and refreshing complexities to its many layers of sounds. The band is comprised of Katie Sawicki (vocals/guitar/keys), Zanny Geffel (vocals/drums) and Rebekah Hanson (vocals/viola). Their latest release Unfolded is self-described as “an album about despair, loss, hope, freedom, heartache, justice and love.” Their sound is layered in many different musical flavors including indie rock, folk, classical, pop and more. It’s a really unique sound that refuses to be put in a box or defined by a label that society seems so fixated on doing too many times. The album was released on June 24 and just a few days prior to that, I sat down with Katie Sawicki and Zanny Geffel and we discussed the origins of the band, the new album and much more.
I’ll begin with my music nerd question and ask if there’s a story behind the band’s name?
Katie Sawicki/The Cabin Project: I was doing the solo singer/songwriter thing for a long time and then I just hit my limit where I really hated performing alone and didn’t like being out on the road. I kind of left the industry and went into the studio; I still wanted to find a way to make music that inspired me. I started recording until I was inspired and that included adding a lot of layers, double vocals, some synthesizer parts that I hadn’t really played with before. I ended up, in that process, calling other musicians into the studio with me and that’s kind of how The Cabin Project started. The studio that I have in my house is an all Doug Fir lined room. We finished it and realized that we needed to release it and that’s when the recording project became a live project and it ended up taking on a life of its own.
How did the universe bring the three of you together to form this band?
Katie: I met Zanny through a friend; I’ve played with a lot of drummers in my time and she was definitely the match that worked for me. When you find someone that you’re musically in tune with, that you can be creative with and who inspires you to get better, that’s when you’ve met the person you’re supposed to be working with. I think the same thing happened when Rebekah joined. We’ve had other members come and go, but it wasn’t the right fit. A lot of it was me figuring out how to get the bass component and the string component right. Those are the two things production wise that I’ve been really, really attracted to, but I didn’t want four people in the band. So when Rebekah was able to pull off that low end and the orchestral strings piece, I was super stoked. We kind of knew that we had our trio and, for whatever reason, they’ve stuck around which is really cool.
Zanny Geffel: On that note, our backgrounds are very different. Rebekah and I have kind of similar backgrounds; I’m classically trained but she’s way more orchestrally classically trained. I have some jazz and Katie has the folk and songwriting experience. I think we are happy that we have a trio that does has a unique sound, but we’re also really focused on not allowing our audiences to participate in a sound that’s more dynamic than other rock music. It doesn’t have that bass element although Rebekah uses the bass and we fill it out with the synth. We don’t feel as though it’s one of those staples of the band, especially like in rock music. For a jazz combo, it’s a creative element that we’d like to work on and play with and add variance in a time when there’s a lot of similar music around for us.
I’m sure that having such a unique sound has its pros and cons?
Katie: The pros are that it’s always a good thing getting your music out there which is what we want to be doing. The cons are that people have a really tough time knowing what box to put us in and then pitch us to what radio stations to put us on, but we try to acclimate to where we are. Hopefully, it feels fresh to whomever we’re bringing it to because that’s the goal.
Zanny: Just a little thing to add there; I feel like for us and for the majority of musicians in the indie genre in general, we don’t really label ourselves as anything particular. It gives us a lot of freedom to explore our other interests and our songwriting process is really fluent in that way. We may want to sound happy and poppy, I mean we try to do that, but we’re also not bound to our restrictions of what we want exactly.
Was this new album self-produced or did you work with someone?
Katie: We did it ourselves; in the past I’ve done most of the producing, but this time I really wanted to open it up. Zanny worked a lot on the production and so did Josh Powell, the guy who recorded and mixed it at The Map Room in Portland. It ended up being a collaborative effort and really a lot of the production came from the arranging itself which was a full band effort.
Is this the first release to feature all three of you on it?
Katie: We did an EP in 2014 to kind of get our gears working together and the intent was to throw us all in to the writing process together. This was the first time that we recorded everything live and it really was just the three of us.
Was the move to Portland that you mentioned earlier a part of the attempt in making music that inspired you?
Katie: It kind of happened at the same time; I moved to Portland right when I released my last solo record. I toured for that record and when I came back I knew I was done. I think Portland kind of gave me a fresh start to do this.
I’m not very tech savvy, but there seems to be a lot of layers to this album that might make some of the songs difficult to reproduce live. How do you accomplish that?
Katie: I play guitar and piano often at the same time, Zanny plays synth, drums and sings and Rebekah sings and plays viola so it’s pretty true to form.
Zanny: In post-production work, we added bass on a few songs and we added overdubbed electric guitar. The one thing about that as we’ve been preparing for touring and revamping these songs is that Katie has been taking some of the overdubs that she did on guitar and somehow managing to put those in at the same time that she’s doing everything else. So, we’re all working super, super hard in each department because we want to have a big sound even though we’re just three people. Rebekah uses quite a bit of pedals to pull the bass in and distort her sound a bit.
Katie: I think one of the benefits to us being a trio is that we don’t play all of the parts all of the time. We pick and choose, which makes for a much more dynamic show as opposed to having everyone on stage plugging away the whole time.
We’ve addressed the musical aspect, but what about the lyrical approach; how is that handled?
Katie: In the past, I had always done all of the writing and the lyrics; I did the majority of the lyrics here, but I definitely tried to bring the other girls in. When Zanny or Rebekah had poetry or some words that they wanted to send my way, I tried to write a song off of those. I’ve tried to step back a bit on the whole process and be more collaborative and it’s made for way more interesting lyrics and arrangements.
Do you write when inspired or do you lock yourself in a room until a song is finished?
Katie: I used to do it that way and I wouldn’t present it to the band until I had demoed it, but this time I’ve made it a habit to just bring half written songs to the group. Then, I would let them take it to where it needed to go and then I would go off and finish it. We tried to do a little bit of both this time because it makes for way more interesting product.
How are you feeling as you anxiously await its release date?
Katie: I think we’re excited about it; the release tour is starting to come together and we’ve had more rehearsal time. There’s also been some nice press; I think that when you’ve been sitting on a record for a few months waiting to release it you don’t know what’s going to happen or what kind of life it’s going to take on. It’s been really, really exciting to hear what the world has to say about it rather than what we know about it because it’s our little baby.
Zanny: I feel the same way; I think we’re really excited to get it out there and we’ve been excited for a long time now.
Katie: We’re excited to release it because we already have our next retreat scheduled to start work on the next one.
Is there anything promotional wise for the new album that you’d like to mention?
Katie: We’ll be releasing a music video for “Highways” really soon and we just found out that we’re opening for The Oregon Symphony in September. That is really exciting for us because it brings together this rock world that we’re currently in with this other side that we’re passionate about as well.
Zanny: We also have Underground Music Showcase in Denver.
Katie: It focuses on the indie rock scene which I feel is underappreciated these days.
A fun question before we wrap this up. What are your pet peeves?
Katie: Just about everything I do driving wise is a pet peeve of the band (laughs).
Zanny: I think for all of us the umbrella for pet peeves is driving. Rebekah drives a lot for work, and I hate driving in traffic or anywhere.
Katie: I don’t drive fast enough (laughs).
I see that it’s time to wrap up, so I want to think you both so very much for taking the time to talk with us. Is there anything that you’d like to close with?
Katie: We want people to download our new record because it will take you on a journey of many different sounds.
Purchase Unfolded on iTunes