We’re so excited about Becoming, the new release from Giants & Pilgrims, that we wanted to give you the full gamut of Tim Coons’ account of the creation of the album. He was kind enough to sit down and let us in on the process.
FH: Giants & Pilgrims is the name of the concept—that you and your wife Betony are co-creators of art. It’s also the band’s name. How does this collective work? Are you the main band member and song-writer? Do you have musicians partner with you as needed based on the instrumentation? Or are there other musicians that are part of the band?
TC: We have a new tag-line! We’re trying it out this year. Giants & Pilgrims: A Marriage of Art & Music. So, yes, the idea of Giants & Pilgrims is that Betony is an artist, I’m a musician, and as a married couple we create projects together.
That being said, it’s also the name I’m under wherever I play music, band or no band—Betony or not. There are others who have definitely shaped the sound of the albums. Dave Wilton is a producer that has a huge influence on the feel and flavor of the music. Then I have friends like Brian and Mary Claxton, a married couple as well. They both play drums, but she also sings and does keys. So they are a powerhouse couple of musicians! Craig Basarich, on trumpet, also lends a distinct sound.
FH: The album sounds wonderfully raw and organic. What did production look like? How did you pick musicians?
TC: The raw sound is purposeful. I recorded an album called Frailty in 2012-ish and loved the sound. I used an inexpensive mic and tracked into the easiest program—GarageBand. I gave the tracks to producer Dave Wilton and he made it sound like indie gold. One of those songs was actually featured on a Cheerios internet commercial.
So I went for that experience again. Rather than doing a studio experience where you pay a lot of money for two days and everyone is stressed, I went the lo-fi route: recording at home with a cheap mic and having friends over for dinner; then go to a quiet room and track them. It was an incredible experience.
And it gave me time with the songs. I could track the guitar and vocal, then I could just play around with the arrangements. Does this song need a violin? I have a friend who plays violin! She should come over and make this happen. It made the process of recording easy and joyful.
FH: What about the title: Becoming? Is there a particular transformation you’re referencing? The songs feel like something cathartic was occurring as you wrote them.
TC: The title of the new album comes from a central idea. When I was young, I couldn’t dream very far. My projections were one day I’d have a wife and kids and be a musician. Well, I have all that now. Am I done growing up? Am I all wise and coasting from here on out? I have “arrived” haven’t I?
It was a nice surprise to know we never stop growing up. It’s never all figured out. We are still in that process of becoming who we’re meant to be, because, though the body may slow down and stop, the soul never does. It’s always dynamic.
So the songs I have are all playing on that theme in some way. And so are all of Betony’s paintings. Three of the paintings will release Oct. 6th; the rest of the gallery comes out November 1st.
FH: What’s your sense of the album as a whole?
TC: I’d describe the album as Indie Midwest Toy-chest Folk. Indie means independent. I’m not attached to a label that will give me a produced or well-marketed sound (There are pluses and minuses to that!). Midwest because I’m from Kansas and Colorado and I feel that, though the album is creative and even experimental in places, it has a simple, rootsy structure of verses and choruses. Toy-chest because I use actual toys on the album. It brings for me a sense of nostalgia and play when I arrange songs. Folk because that’s what you call songs written with the acoustic guitar.
FH: Did Betony sing on the Becoming?
TC: Not on this one! She sings on Almanac, but for this one Mary Claxton is the co-singing voice.
FH: How does Betony come up with cover art? It seemed to perfectly capture the essence and tone of the album. Does she create it as the songs are being written, or during or after the process?
TC: Her creating is all three ways of the process you mentioned: as songs are being written, after, and during.
First, we both decide on the central idea and heart of the project. We talk through where we’re at in life and what is affecting us deeply. That’s how we landed on the theme of becoming.
Then we both start creating and sharing that with each other. Sometimes that impacts directly, sometimes not. Betony has an incredible piece within this series called Becoming a Woman. And I saw it and said, “That’s great! Most likely I’m not going to be doing a corresponding song to that one.”
She created the piece Becoming an Artist, and the work just sang. As the album was done we asked that question: should you design something new or should we go with one of your paintings from the series? It felt like the Becoming an Artist piece worked perfectly.
FH: Are the voices in the songs your kids?
TC: Yes. In one instance Harriet (3) was listening to a recording of her older sister, Lucy (6), on a toy phone. You can hear Harriet emulating what Lucy is saying over and over.
Someone asked me once about Harriet’s speech, “Does Hattie have trouble with her R’s?” my response was, “Well, yes. And her P’s and T’s and G’s and S’s.” We stopped pointing it out months ago after Hattie said, “Lucy talks pretty and I don’t.” So here she was, practicing. Listening to her older sister and working on it, whether she was conscious of that or not. To me it was a great picture of becoming—taking steps, being courageous, going further.
Then the last song actually came out of a jam Lucy and I were doing with a toy keyboard and her tracking herself several times in GarageBand. So fun.
FH: What’s the story behind “I Have Waited For You?” That seems like a great song for a wedding.
TC: I love that you got a love-song vibe from this song! I actually wrote it as a song for God. It’s the only one on the album directed to God as I sing it. Maybe “Please Cover Me” has that vibe too.
“I Have Waited for You” is the only song on the album that I co-wrote with someone. My friend, Mary Claxton, wrote the chorus—which is so good.
The words of the verses—they are all really harsh, visceral pictures of love and arrival.
You stun like a cannon. You bite like a new life. You cut, you stir, you spark, you blind.
It’s all these really harsh verbs of God arriving. You may not want to write about this, but I’ve witnessed that birth isn’t easy. I’ve been present for all three of the girls’ births, and Betony delivered each without any medication—which I think is crazy. But she says the experiences were transcendental for her. Maybe some of the most spiritual, memorable moments of her life.
So the verses for me paint this picture of God’s arrival in dramatic, affecting ways—but the way we need. The way that is difficult and hard. But that’s what life bursting out of the dirt is like.
It felt like the song belonged on the record. We’re celebrating the surprising arrival points of God in our lives. It’s what we wait for constantly.
Find Becoming and Giants & Pilgrims’ additional projects at Giantsandpilgrims.com.