If someone asked you to define the North Bay sound, how would you do it?
That’s the question that songwriter and Gremlintone Studio co-founder John Courage, nonprofit North Bay Hootenanny founder Josh Windmiller and the city of Santa Rosa’s Out There campaign begin to address on the recently released compilation, The Out There Tapes, featuring new songs by 13 Sonoma County bands.
“The big goal with this compilation is to help put Sonoma County on the map as a music center,” Courage says. “A lot of people around here know about the rich music scene, but I think it’s been hard for bands to break through, and I’m hoping to help showcase these bands” to larger audiences.
That mission statement aligns with Courage’s hopes for his Gremlintone Studio as well. “To me, this studio can be a really important tool in defining the ‘Sonoma County’ sound,” he says.
Courage formed Gremlintone Studio in 2014 with musician Francesco Catania as an all-analog home studio specializing in cassette recording. Its first major project was a series of cassettes for the Crux, Windmiller’s longtime experimental folk band.
Together, Courage and Windmiller conceived of the new compilation in 2015, and with the Hootenanny’s connection to the local Americana scene through events like the annual Railroad Square Music Festival, the album adopted that genre as its theme. “It seemed like a natural way to progress,” Courage says.
The two pitched the idea to Out There Santa Rosa, the city’s outreach program that promotes community gatherings and supports arts-minded projects. The program gave Gremlintone a grant to finance the compilation, which Courage largely put into upgrading his recording gear from four-track to eight-track recorders.
The Out There Tapes includes tracks from the Easy Leaves, the Brothers Comatose, David Luning, Sean Hayes, Ashley Allred, Misner & Smith, and the Timothy O’Neil Band among others, including the Crux and Courage himself.
The bands recorded their contributions live to Gremlintone’s eight-track machines, giving each song a vibrant, in-the-moment touch. “All the bands sound different, every track sounds different,” Courage says. “I tried not to get in the way too much. I just wanted to capture a cool picture of what they were doing.”
From start to finish, The Out There Tapes is an excellent amalgam of Sonoma County music that Courage sees as only the beginning. “We’ve conceptualized a follow-up,” he says. “But, I’m going to let this one get released and simmer and get the feedback from the city on if they’re willing to do a volume two that would pull in some more ‘outside’ music. I’m always scheming on how to represent the other facets of the Sonoma County music scene.”
‘The Out There Tapes’ is available
at local record stores and online at outtheresr.com.