The title track of Amy Cook's latest album, "Summer Skin," started as 20 pages of notes. From there the Austin-based singer-songwriter focused the flood of ideas, rhymes and other words until it fit into 4 1/2 minutes not the shortest song in the world, but nothing compared with how it started.
"Songwriting is more like sculpting to me, coming up with an idea, then overdoing it completely, and then whittling it down," Cook said. "I probably need to come up with a better method. I'm not saying it's a good method. It can be frustrating."
"Summer Skin" is in part about Cook's move several years ago from California to Austin. Because of that subject matter, she wanted to record on the West Coast with Los Angeles producer Craig Street, who is best known for his work on Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me." Bassist Me'Shell N'Degeocello, guitarists David Garza (of Austin) and Chris Bruce, and Jonathan Wilson made up her band during the sessions.
Sitting on a balcony at the Hotel Saint Cecilia last week, Cook said that she recently tried to explain to someone what an "L.A." song sounds like. "You can't really describe that, and it's not across the board. An L.A. guitar player to me is just a little more laid-back," she said, before breaking into a vocal rendition — complete with air guitar — of Bruce's solo on the album's second track, "Sun Setting Backwards." The slowed-down crackle of the song places Cook's "L.A." somewhere in or around Laurel Canyon. "That kind of patience, it feels almost like waves."
On her 2010 album, "Let The Light In," Cook took a different approach, enlisting Austin's Alejandro Escovedo as producer to yield a subdued sound that matched Central Texas' oppressive summers. Street's production, especially on tracks such as the creeping rock number "Airplane Driver," moves away from some of Cook's more sparse inclinations.
Before any recording happened, Street spent time with Cook, traveling to El Cosmico in Marfa and staying in a tent. "He's kind of Zen producer in that way," Cook said. "He wants to figure out what you like, and who your friends are. It's not even just about music, but what kind of food you like, what your weaknesses are. Then he knows how to deal with what comes up."
Street's scouting work led to a recording session in which the band cranked out 14 songs in five days. And, despite Cook's sometimes meticulous writing process, at points during the recording she changed lyrics. "When I was singing ‘Break Your Fall' in the studio, there were lines that I changed that made the song feel more universal," she said. "It's amazing how you can just change one thing, and it opens it up to everybody."
The final touch on "Summer Skin" came with guest vocals from Austin songwriter and longtime friend Patty Griffin and Robert Plant, who sit in on "It's Gonna Rain" and "Airplane Driver." Cook said that the hum of the celebrity gossip machine surrounding the nature of Griffin and Plant's relationship has been a bit intense.
"On the radio, certain DJs, all they wanted to know was ‘Are they married? Are they married?' " Cook said (after Plant recently told UK paper the Independent they had "eloped," a rep for Plant said they had not wed). "I do the best I can; I'm not their spokesperson. He sang on my record. He's amazing, she's amazing. Whenever I hear either of their voices singing one my songs, it freaks me out in the best way; they're legends."
Cook's album release party is at 8 tonight at the Victory Grill, 1104 E. 11th St. She also plays a free in-store show at 5 p.m. Friday at Waterloo Records, 600 N. Lamar Blvd.
Brent Grulke memorial and benefit. Grulkefest: A Celebration of Brent will happen on Sept. 8 at ACL Live. Doctors' Mob, Fastball, Glass Eye, the Reivers, Sixteen Deluxe, True Believers, the Wannabes, Wild Seeds and more will perform. Event proceeds go to the Graham Grulke Education Fund, which benefits Grulke's 7-year-old son. Grulke, longtime creative director for South by Southwest music, died of a heart attack on Aug. 13 at age 51. Tickets are $20, $25 and $35 and are on sale now through acl-live.com.
Fun Fun Fun Fest aftershows. Superchunk, Blitzen Trapper, Ceremony, Doug Benson and King Tuff are among the acts that will perform as part of Fun Fun Fun Nites, a series of aftershows in conjunction with Fun Fun Fun Fest. Performances will take place at several Austin clubs including the Mohawk, Red 7, Club de Ville, Holy Mountain, the ND, Elysium, the Parish and Beerland. FFF Nites is free to all Fun Fun Fun wristband holders. Fun Fun Fun Fest is Nov. 2-4 at Auditorium Shores.
Scoot Inn ownership change. Scoot Inn co-owners James Stockbauer and Kevin Crutchfield are in the process of selling the East Fourth Street club to Casino El Camino owner Paul Eighmey, former Statesman writer Michael Corcoran reported last week on his website. The bar's name will remain the same, but it will host live music only during SXSW and other special events. Meanwhile, the current Scoot owners are working on a new bar, Freedmen's, in a historic building on San Gabriel and 25th streets that housed a newspaper that covered Austin's African American community during the late 1800s.
Kathy Valentine to miss Go-Go's shows. Kathy Valentine underwent surgery for a broken wrist this week and will miss a "few weeks" of the Go-Go's upcoming shows. Friend and collaborator Abby Travis will fill in while Valentine recovers. It's unclear whether Valentine will return to the band in time for their Sept. 25 show at ACL Live.
Contact Peter Mongillo at email@example.com; 445-3696