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In desperation, he wrote an album's worth of songs in a week. He gathered seven musician-friends and asked if they'd fly to Bozeman with him and record the songs for an album. It was a Hail Mary play.
"Certain things had not worked out up to that point," he says. "I wasn't doing art the way I wanted to: unrestrained. There were a lot of limitations—at least in my own head. I was like, 'I'm going to do this album. I'm frustrated. I'm upset with where I'm at in life and I'm going to use that and I'm going to break through a wall.'"
The first three days, nothing worked. Boone and the others had brought with them a lot of outboard equipment and none of it was compatible with the studio. Each day marked money drained from Boone's already tight budget. When they were up and running, it felt forced. In order to now squeeze seven studio days into four, the group recorded until 4 a.m. and then started again at 7 a.m. Boone wasn't sleeping or eating. He collapsed in the studio and ended up hospitalized for a day.
"It had been many years since I'd gone through any of that," he says. "The guys I was working with just kept pushing forward with parts of the material and the demos ended up getting recorded, but ... it was a disappointing, bummer experience for everyone involved."
He returned to Missoula, to working on the house and writing songs. Meanwhile, he'd discovered The Doves and some other U.K bands. Stephanie thought his music might go over well in the U.K. Maybe he should send a demo to someone there?
He looked up the producer of The Doves's Kingdom of Rust album: Danton Supple, who also had worked on his favorite Coldplay albums, Rush of Blood to the Head and X and Y. He sent an email with music to Supple's management company, 140dB. It was the only time he'd sent his music out blindly like that.
A few weeks later, he got back a note asking him to fly to London to record with Supple. That same week, he found out he was going to be a father.
"I don't hear David Boone"
It took a year to make it happen, but in September 2011, David and Stephanie got on a plane to London with their newborn son, Meyers, and an intern, Peter Horton, a graduate of the University of Montana entertainment management program who was working with Boone to get experience developing an artist.
David worked in the studio with Supple all day, every day, using the Bozeman demos as a foundation. They recorded with string arranger Audrey Riley, who'd also collaborated on albums with The Smiths, The Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure.
Supple immediately latched onto Boone's music because of the way it captures an authentic Americana sound while still being uniquely Boone's, he says. "You can't help but be drawn to what he's saying. All the songs make epic emotional and dynamic journeys, even in demo form, taking you seamlessly from these intimate intros to the almost orchestral, anthemic finishes."
The London studio experience had no glitches, no drama. It was a foreign, refreshing feeling.
"It was fun, and in a way it was kind of sad," says Stephanie, "just because I wish we could do that with his music all the time. That's the environment he thrives in. We felt at home, even in this studio where big groups like the Counting Crows and The Killers had recorded."
When the EP was finished, the Boones, Supple and the 140dB management group sat in the studio and listened to what they'd created. It was a different sound than what Boone had ever made before. To Boone, it felt like an arrival.
He was surprised when one of the managers spoke up and suggested that he abandon his name for something else, saying, "To be honest with you, I don't hear 'David Boone.' I don't hear singer-songwriter. I don't hear acoustic guitar and folk music ... I hear a soundscape, a larger vision."
Boone didn't understand what that would mean for his identity. But, he says, as he thought about it, it began to make sense."There was something really invigorating about the idea. I'll always be David Boone and I'll always be able to do a David Boone album, but this is a turning point. It's removing certain attachments and letting the music just speak."
Straight from the Cuban leagues
Most of the songs on Boone's forthcoming EP have been tuned down a step—a choice he made when he wrote one of the early songs, "Evidence and Answers," on a broken, three-stringed guitar at 3 a.m. The result is the kind of dark strum and rolling drumbeat you hear with late Johnny Cash tunes, mixed with the bright, resounding pop that makes U2's "Beautiful Day" feel so expansive. The lyrics reflect that, too: concrete detail, the kind that flooded Hard Enough to Bend, is tempered by broad strokes of abstraction. The "you" and "me" and "we" is no longer rooted in Dogtown. It's everyone and everywhere.
It's also much more commercial than Hard Enough to Bend ever was. Yet it's still Boone, maybe because the songs still come from the same place, written at ungodly night hours or in moments of uncorked emotion. When he cut the Bozeman demos, he planned on making an album called Here's to Losing Control. That was when it was a David Boone project. After the London recording, he's calling it All of a Sudden.
Boone has taken the advice of the London crew and discarded his name. He replaced it with the more abstract "Dawns" as a way to evoke a new beginning and to encompass the shifting cast of other musicians he's playing with, as well as the music videos and the people who help him make them.
He's completed three videos from the EP songs. The most recent, for "Better to Love Than," is the most stylized so far. It depicts a father and son whose intense relationship, from kitchen arguments to deathbed redemption, is interspersed with childhood flashbacks in gauzy light. It premiers this week at the Crystal Theatre during First Friday, where Boone will also re-screen the first two videos, "Evidence and Answers" and "Tail Lights."