Stillwater is a small town between two hills in the middle of America. Frankie Lee was born there and has been running from it and to it ever since. Stillwater is also a record about life in middle America. A “record” meaning simply that, converting sound into permanent form. This is the story of how that record came to be.
For the recording of the follow up to American Dreamer – “debut album of the year” Rolling Stone – Frankie Lee had visited a few studios and they all felt like the same big production factories. He had spent the best part of a year wrangling livestock and had a pile of cash on the table to pay for the biggest and best gadgets which he then found he ultimately had absolutely no interest in. Lee wanted to get away from people who thought music should be made in isolation booths or that bigger was better. All the people who wanted the next big thing. Lee wanted to be the last little thing, he just had to find the right space to do it in.
One day Frankie Lee was walking down main street in his hometown and it hit him that he could bring the studio to them. Luckily, the house he grew up in was available. His mum had lived in the same house in Stillwater for most of Lee’s life. It’s a small cedar-sided house on an acre lot on the northern end of town, tucked back in the woods on a small hill, it looks like a log cabin.
So they packed in their instruments, tuned the old upright piano and rolled out a tape machine next to the wood-burning stove. Music was made from morning ‘til night. For three days straight, they ate together, stayed together and played together. Cutting six songs the first day and five the next, most of what they captured was first or second take. The music is minimal and warm. Lee describes his sound as “Western Music”, steel guitars and synths blend with acoustic guitars and omni chords. The musical brush is gold and green, dipped in deep blue. He slips in and out of time throughout the record. One line in a song could be its first or last. The song-stories are a blend of his own romantic grit. Ex-lovers, lost land and hope flung out of a car window, fraying in the wind.”
On American Dreamer, Lee’s characters were set loose in a seemingly inescapable inheritance of self-destruction. On Stillwater, they seek a path towards redemption by returning home and confronting the past. Based on the loss of youth, with a focus on the dissolution of love, as well as the real life of the working class, Stillwater is a scrapbook of short stories, reveries and musical growth by one of America’s greatest unknown songwriters.