There’s a reason they call it a creative process. But for many artists, reinvention is often a daunting proposition—easier said than done.
For Raleigh musicians Autumn Brand and Daniel Cook, it was the dissolution of their acclaimed alt-country band New Reveille that forced them to take a unique look at how they would approach making music, and where those explorations might take them.
After New Reveille succumbed to a series of setbacks—including a bankrupt label, personnel changes and a global pandemic—Brand and Cook wasted no time deciding to carry on with a new project. But it took longer for the duo to discover what that might look like.
“We were writing stuff that was all over the map, and trying to zero in on ‘What is this?,’” Cook recalls. “We decided we’re not going to worry about whether or not these songs sound like they should live on the same album.”
To wit, the band’s first two singles clearly demonstrate their willingness to embrace sonic departures. “Dead Star Light,” a revised version of a song originally written for New Reveille, is a wistful ballad buoyed by swells of synthesizer, strings and pedal steel, before rising to a pleading chorus that feels like a distillation of earnest folk and dynamic pop. Its follow-up, “No King,” fuses the band’s Americana roots to a driving disco beat. But despite their obvious differences, the songs are united by the duo’s knack for fluid melodies that burst into powerful choruses. It’s a thrilling combination that almost didn’t happen. “A lot of the time we overthink it,” Cook says. “We almost didn’t release ‘No King.’”
After operating within New Reveille’s more rigidly defined sonic parameters, it took a bit of self-discovery for The One Eighties to embrace their eclecticism. It was a learning experience, too.
In crafting “Dead Star Light,” the duo had to subtract elements before adding new ones to reshape the song. Its early demos were recorded in a more traditional Americana treatment, with New Reveille in mind. “At first I was like, hell no, I can’t be a lead singer,” Brand says. “I don’t have a country-sounding voice. I truly was like, ‘I am not meant to sing this song.’”
So, Cook says, “We just started muting stuff.” Brand re-recorded the vocals in her own style, then the duo re-recorded and rearranged layers to make it into what would suit their new outfit.
In that rearrangement process, Brand recorded, then re-recorded, hundreds of layers of violin to bring the song to life and give it a fullness that a more spartan, if traditional, country arrangement wouldn’t offer.
“We get carried away with everything we do,” Cook says. “We had to free ourselves up to do that creatively at first. We were thinking, we can’t do that, but yeah we can. We can record a whole orchestra instead of just one fiddle part.”
Embracing the Mirage
As Brand and Cook work to finish a full-length album for a spring release, they continue to broaden the notion of what The One Eighties can be. Unreleased—and some unfinished—tracks offer new facets of the band’s sound. “Cinnamon” leans into the elegant folk that “Dead Star Light” introduced, while “Two Jet Planes” steers the band into more of an indie-rock territory, bringing Cook’s electric guitar to the fore. Another as-yet-untitled track, still in its demo stages, features prominent synthesizers recalling ’80s pop and new-wave.
“Some people would look at it like, you’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” Cook says. “But no. The art to it is what you do with it. The creative process a lot of times is trying to connect dots. How do we take this one thing and relate it to this other thing [when they have] nothing to do with each other. And when you manage to do that, something just happens. You just found something new.”
Taking the time to explore those possibilities, the duo has set the stage for a promising debut album that highlights the search for new ways to communicate musical ideas. According to Brand, roughly 85% of the songs were recorded in the band’s studio, with external input coming from session musicians, including Nashville stalwarts like drummer Fred Eltringham (whose credits include drumming for Sheryl Crow, Kacey Musgraves and Tears For Fears, among others), pedal steel player Allyn Love, and bassist Mark Hill; as well as local players including bassist Casey Toll, drummer Nick Baglio and keyboardist Charles Cleaver.
“All the songs have the same elements,” Brand says. “We’re just mixing them around.” Acoustic instruments complement synthesizers. Densely layered strings frame plaintive melodies. Pedal steel glides across all of it. There are common threads, for sure, but the freedom to push against the boundaries of genre, and even against the previous limitations of the duo’s own experiences, have transformed The One Eighties into an act ever in search of something new, no matter how intangible it might be.
At this point, Cook says, the duo is content not to have a clear idea of what the next song will sound like. It’s not about achieving a well-defined vision. Instead, he says, “It’s more like you see something on the horizon that you’re chasing, and it feels like a mirage sometimes. You don’t know its definition yet, you don’t know exactly what it looks like—but you kind of see it, and you know you saw it.”
And with The One Eighties, Cook and Brand are embracing the creative process, the search for whatever that mirage might be. Visit theoneeighties.com to learn more.