While conventional wisdom often advises against procrastination, Philip Gerard counts recording an music album an adventure that, for him, benefited from delay.
“It’s like that great unread novel, on the perfect rainy day you pick it up and say, ‘Oh God I’m glad I saved this for now,’” he said.
The Wilmington-based artist had wanted to make an album since he first picked up the guitar in the sixth grade.
He spent the following 50 or so years pursuing a successful writing career, and while songwriting and performing music remained a part of his life, the album plan had been put on the back burner.
In the meantime, Gerard became known for work including a popular series exploring the Civil War in “Our State” magazine, and is the author of seven books, 11 documentary scripts and numerous short stories and essays, according to information provided by the Surry Arts Council.
He is also an award-winning teacher in the BFA and MFA programs at UNC Wilmington, an editor of the Chautaqua Institution’s literary journal and serves on the faculty of the Goucher College’s summer residency MFA program in creative nonfiction.
A record store encounter with music producer Jeff Reid sparked the dormant dream of making an album.
“He said, ‘What’s stopping you,’” Gerard recalled.
The pair embarked on an 18-month recording process which resulted in American Anthem, an album comprised of 15 original songs culled from 30 years of songwriting.
“It was really a dream come true,” said Gerard, describing the album as “a celebration of the American experience.”
The songs were written through the years while the writer traveled throughout the country’s physical space as well as its historical one.
If writing about the Civil War, for example, he’d write a song in the style of the era and use corresponding instruments.
Working with Reid, the musician was guided through a process of really digging into the songs selected for the album, slowing them down, changing the keys.
“We took them apart and put them back together again,” he said. “It was a great process.”
Listening to his own very raw recordings forced Gerard to confront what had actually been recorded, not necessarily what he had wanted to record or had hoped he sounded like.
“You can’t fake it,” he said. “You can’t cheat. You have to face that.”
The honesty involved with the recording process not only helped him grow as an artist and musician but was one of its most enjoyable aspects.
“I always want to be in a room with someone smarter than me,” he said. “Then I’m enlarging what I’m doing rather than repeating it.”
The album was launched in February with a concert at Kenan Auditorium at UNC Wilmington, where Gerard was backed by a seven-piece band hand-picked by Reid.
“It’s a great old theater,” said Gerard, noting that venue was important when putting together a boutique tour for this summer.
“I wanted to play venues that were special and had historical significance,” to correspond with the album’s content, such as the Earle.
Gerard learned of the local historic theater on a trip to Mount Airy several years ago.
The Surry Arts Council had invited Gerard to make a dinner presentation that drew from his Our State magazine series on the Civil War, which referenced Surry County and Siamese twins’ connection.
“I thought, ‘Boy, to play there would just be a great experience,’” said Gerard, who may include the concert in a forthcoming book about the album and tour.
On Saturday, the show will be hosted by Travis Frye and Blue Mountain with Gerard performing alternate sets.
Tickets are $7 or free with a current Surry Arts Council season pass. The box office will open at 6:30 p.m. the night of the concert.
For additional information please contact the Surry Arts Council at 336-786-7998.
Gerard’s album, American Anthem, is available online at iTunes, Amazon.com and CD Baby. Copies of the album will be available for purchase at the concert Saturday.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.