Two years ago, Petaluma-based singer-songwriter and bandleader Saffell seemed to have it all.
On the surface, he had a great relationship to the band members in his piano-driven
funk-rock ensemble. Gigs were coming, fanbases were growing, but Saffell found himself struggling personally and creatively.
“I got to the point where I’d been grinding so long like all musicians do,” he says. “I knew I wanted to keep doing it, but it was the way I was doing it. Something wasn’t working.”
So, he stopped to take stock and says he had to find a new balance in the joyful-versus-jaded approach to making music. For that, he stepped into the unknown, turning Saffell into a one-man show both live onstage and on his new LP, Lay It on the Line, which he debuts on Saturday, June 22, at Twin Oaks Roadhouse in Penngrove.
“There was a sound I had in my mind, of an album that I always wanted to make, but it required a lot more production, and I never had the money to do that,” says Saffell. Once the band dissolved, Saffell returned to the idea of that album just as he was gifted some recording gear and found a cheap grand piano. Suddenly, he had the tools he needed, and he spent the last two years diving deeply into the engineering side of recording, mastering live-looping and embracing the electronic effects that would become the basis for much of Lay It on the Line.
“I didn’t want to end up with a bedroom demo,” he says. “I wanted to have the time to learn, explore, investigate and reach those sounds.”
Keeping the music funky and fun, Lay It on the Line sounds like a full band effort in its made-from-scratch beats and blips, while also keeping the emotional core of Saffell’s songwriting intact.
“The trick is not to get lost in the tech,” he says. “I stayed rooted in the songwriting. I want the song to be able to live and breathe with just me, the piano and my voice.”
That said, the upcoming album-release show promises lots of techno-flair, with Saffell performing with synthesizers, organs and live-looping and with opener Sebastian St James and analog-visual artist Bill Wiatroski projecting real-time modulated images.
“One thing worth mentioning, live-looping is not meant to replace a band,” says Saffell. “I think it’s its own craft, as a different kind of artistry.”
Saffell performs on Saturday, Jun 22, at Twin Oaks Roadhouse, 5745 Old Redwood Hwy, Penngrove. 8pm. $8. saffellmusic.com.