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For new album, Easton Stagger Phillips goes the distance

Chris Bieri
Easton Stagger Phillips -- Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips -- recently released their second album, "Resolution Road." Greg Benolkin

For their first album, the members of Easton Stagger Phillips followed a time-honored tradition in the recording business: escaping the city for a more remote, tranquil location to produce a record.

But necessity pushed the trio of Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips to take a more high-tech approach with their follow-up effort, the recently released “Resolution Road.”

The group, whose members hail from Anchorage, Nashville and Lethbridge, Alberta, traded in a cozy cabin in Girdwood for emailed MP3 tracks and regular Skype conferences.

Phillips had limited ability to travel due to a chronic back injury from his mountain climbing days, so he recorded his parts of the album in Anchorage and sent them on to Stagger’s studio in Canada, where the other two members recorded their portions.

“You can make a record anywhere these days,” Easton said. “We used all the technology at our disposal.”

The geographical separation isn’t evident. Strong songwriting and warm three-part harmonies give the listener a window seat with the trio as they cruise the countryside on “Resolution  Road.”

Easton Stagger Phillips is as much a collaboration of three friends as it is a band in the traditional sense. Phillips and Easton met more than a decade ago when Easton made the first of what would become regular tours through Alaska. Phillips encountered Stagger in California during a tour with fellow Alaskan Matt Hopper. Easton and Stagger completed the circle by meeting backstage at a Steve Earle show in Austin, Texas.

“The three of us got along really, really well and kind of had a special bond,” Stagger said.

When Phillips’ band the Whipsaws put together a tour of Alaska in 2008 to back their album “60 Watt Avenue,” Easton and Stagger were recruited to join. “We went to Girdwood and made our first record with no intention of being a band. It was more, ‘we’re all up here, let’s go record for five days and see what happens.’ Now we made this album and it was like, ‘let’s go tour on it now,'" Phillips said.

While all three can be categorized under the banner of Americana music or as singer-songwriters, each brings a different background and musical perspective to the project.

Easton’s career has taken him to Europe, where he was busking partners with Beck before the latter became a household name. An acoustic blues devotee, Easton also recorded his solo debut album “The Truth About Us,” with three quarters of Wilco backing him.

Stagger has released eight studio albums with songs ranging from punk to roots to alt-country. Phillips, aside from his own musical projects, has become one of Alaska’s most notable producers and has booked touring bands in the state under the Monolith Agency.

The abundance of songwriting experience made for plenty of high-quality material to choose from when the band decided to record a follow-up to 2009’s “One For The Ditch.”

“It’s really easy to make a record with three songwriters,” Phillips said.

For their follow-up album, the trio began bouncing songs back and forth via email, with an eye toward developing a fuller sound than what they’d recorded in Girdwood in the winter of 2008.

“I wanted to make a record that wasn’t so Americana,” Phillips said. “I wanted to make the songs bigger. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve got to be in a band that could sing big harmonies and I wanted to write songs that had big hooks. For me, it was very intentional to do that because I’ve never had that opportunity.”

With all three members entrenched in other projects, the song list was whittled down to a dozen selections before recording started.

“We did a lot of pre-production, narrowing down what we were going to record and sharing songs,” Easton said. “It was truly the most collaborative album I’ve ever made.”

In Canada, Easton, Stagger and a group of his musician friends started recording the bulk of the music.

"They were there creating, producing their own songs and I sent the scratch tracks of mine and said, ‘Let’s see what you come up with,'" Phillips said. “They’d go work on it the next day and would send me an MP3. We had Skype meetings every night during the recording process.”

Easton Stagger Phillips will showcase the new songs at an album release performance Friday at the Tap Root as part of an Alaska tour that will conclude with a set at Salmonstock next month.

Easton said the fact that the album was self-produced and self-promoted is a source of pride for all three.

“There’s no publicist and radio campaign; that has to be the most satisfying thing,” he said. “It will probably be the most successful album any of us have ever worked on, because it’s already paid for itself.”

And while there are no plans to turn the project into a full-time band, it’s not likely the collaboration that will disappear at the end of the current tour.

“It’s always going to be more about us being friends and about us wanting to create art together,” Phillips said. “As long as we can make records and break even and make art that people appreciated, I have a feeling we’ll keep making records.”

 

Easton Stagger Phillips

Album release show

When: 7 p.m. July 25

Location: Tap Root Public House

Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the door, taprootalaska.com