Guest Blog: Jim Fairchild of All Smiles
Ex-Grandaddy Guitarist on the Challenges of Self-Releasing His New Album as All Smiles
All Smiles is the current project of Jim Fairchild, who was once the guitarist with Grandaddy, has worked with Earlimart, and has recently played in Modest Mouse's touring band. In this guest blog, Fairchild talks about a recent dream he had and the joys and challenges of self-releasing All Smiles' new album, Oh For the Getting and Not Letting Go.
The other night in my dream, there were lazy people in leather vests and black denim armed with revolvers. They were trying to attack me as I silk-screened the jackets for the new All Smiles album in Danny Seim's basement.
They were threatening me, and their shit-talking (tossing???) started with them lobbing softballs at the criminal-proofing steel grating covering the windows of Danny's basement.
At first I was panicking, feeling escapeless and sensing that whatever I was doing, I had finally taken it too far; I had finally put myself in a spot where there were no options, and that the only possible outcome was death at either their hands or my own.
After a minute though, I calmed. I started imagining that there were options, and though they probably did not actually exist, somehow this energy seemed to be transmitting to my attackers, who incidentally were now reclining about in tall, graffiti-painted wheelbarrows (it's a dream!!!), occasionally brandishing their guns, but seeming to have no actual ability, much less intent to actually harm me. They looked like Modesto tweakers, but were too tired to climb palm trees in bare feet. Which I have actually seen a Modesto tweaker do. On New Year's Day.
So, they definitely weren't gonna go through with shooting me. Or breaking into the basement. If you're gonna come close to getting killed, I guess these are the people you want doing it. They scare you, make you sense your mortality and vulnerability, and then they run off. Just a big lesson left behind.
I have been hand screening each individual vinyl and CD sleeve for the new album Oh For the Getting and Not Letting Go by my band, All Smiles.
After flirting with mainstream success in my former band Grandaddy, and releasing one album as All Smiles a couple years back that most people didn't hear, I decided to go it alone. And goddamnit if this project is not simultaneously the most rewarding and daunting task imaginable.
We made the album in Omaha and Los Angeles in 2008. At the start of recording, we were on a label. Oh, we is me and Joe Plummer, Solon Bixler, Nik Freitas and Mike Cresswell. But yeah, we were on a label and then at some point during recording, the idea of being on that label didn't make sense any more. For us and for them. So we amicably parted ways.
We got done with the album and sent it out to buddies. And we met a couple more buddies. A couple of these folks made us offers to put the album out. But it seemed like what they were offering were services that with a little dough and a lot of effort, we could pull off on our own.
So we mastered it. We hired our friend to talk to press, ordered up some vinyl and CDs and started to formulate a plan. I say plan, but like the early days of Grandaddy, it's starting to look a lot more like a big action (the writing and recording), shadowed by a consequent action (making the physical and digital products and trying to let people know about them), trailed by a bunch of accidents which hopefully get linked to some more follow through motions and ultimately to people hearing what we've done.
Which is the most important thing. I'm very proud of it. I hear the record now, and not only do I still like it, but I like it more than I used to. It actually makes more sense to me now than it did when I was writing it.
My only hope is that if people listen to it, they give it a couple passes to let it sink in. It seems to work better that way. Whether people still take the time to do that remains to be seen. But I believe in it. That matters more than anything at this point.
The bands that I've been in (Grandaddy, Earlimart, occasionally Modest Mouse) were all on labels. Goddamn, when they function properly, labels do a lot. When they don't, it's much better to not be on one at all. From 1998 forward, Grandaddy was blessed with success and had lots of rad people doing lots of great shit for us. To the point that maybe I wasn't even sure what all was going on any more.
But I was on tour with Modest Mouse recently and had the insane opportunity to shake Ian McKaye's hand. And no shit, in that moment I decided that I had to go forward with putting out All Smiles music on my own for the time being. I was petrified to meet him. Like, he is it. There is so much perseverance and crap-free severity in him. Our music and worlds and aesthetic couldn't be further apart, but I feel a crazy kinship with what he has done. So with that and all the insanity surrounding nobody knowing just what the hell is up or down in the music biz, it makes more sense than ever to take control.
And the last few months have been exactly that. But man, there is so much to handle. So many parts to control. If you're gonna make all the sleeves by hand, you gotta buy a few screens. You have to know somebody cool and knowledgeable like Danny Seim who will burn those screens and loan you his jerry-rigged, but wonderful basement silkscreening setup. And there are actually no windows in his basement. So I haven't seen the sun very much as Portland turns from rain to summer—the two seasons here. There's work to be done!
From asking buddies for more favors, to multiple trips to the post office, to talking to so and so, to make sure such and such is getting checked off the list, to annoying loved ones because they're better at visual art and you need lots of help, to writing stores, saying "You wanna stock summa these shits???"—I am never lost for something to do.
Every action leads to a sense of accomplishment now. And that is new. At least renewed. And it's vital and it's ultimately the reason why I even started doing this at all. It's always felt incredible to see something I worked on in a record store or to have someone write about it. I have never taken that for granted.
But all the machinations behind it I did take for granted to some degree, because I had not done so many of them for so long—some of them never.
The dream I suppose is real then. This is what I do. I make songs, I play music, I try to pay attention a lot and then pick up some instrument and float away and not pay attention at all. I love it. This has never been easy. There will be a million hurdles, large and small. And a million more mirages, most of which won't materialize.
I'm a little lucky and a lot fortunate, and the rest of the time, I'm just fighting off the intruders. The ones I make up and the ones that are real. Trying to make sense of all the mangled and twisted light and junk that makes its way in to my world. What a bright world it is.
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