Terry Klein photo credit: Valerie Freeman
Title: Terry Klein Talks Capturing a Record On Good Luck, Take Care
Terry Klein’s new ten-song collection, Good Luck, Take Care, arrives on February 25th 2022, and brings with it a wealth of new ideas explored through music, and sonically, it captures a very specific period of time on October 15th, 2021, when the tracks were laid down in Thomm Jutz’s studio in Nashville. Getting to that point was the hard part, with Klein trying to pick between thirty or forty songs to find his best ten, and then vacillating over whether the pandemic meant he ought to wait to record or release. Jutz’s practical approach helped pin things down and his “have fun” mantra also infuses itself into the recordings on Good Luck, Take Care.
The songs on the album aren’t “conceptualized” in any specific way and there isn’t a prevailing theme, but they show Klein taking a certain seriousness to songwriting is already well known, working with surprising combinations of thoughts and sounds, and also refusing to back away from realities that we may shy away from when we encounter them in life, like the belonging-but-not-belonging foundation of Klein’s Boston-focused “Such a Town,” the unanswerable questions in, “Does the Fish Feel the Knife?”, or the modest perfection of a painting with a tragic context in “The Goldfinch.” I spoke with Terry Klein about the ways in which making this album has changed his life as a songwriter and more.
Americana Highways: It seems like your experience as a musician working on this album and deciding to release it has been particularly bumpy, but it’s an experience many will relate to right now. Is that how you feel about it as well?
Terry Klein: I feel, in the end, pretty fortunate that things happened the way that they happened. While they were happening, it was a little more agonizing and frustrating. But, the delay had a couple of primary positive effects. The first is that I got three really excellent songs during the period where I otherwise would have been making a record and they wouldn’t have made it on. The second thing was finding my way to Thomm Jutz, who is just a wonderful person and I feel so fortunate that I got to work with him on this.
AH: As a sidenote, I was recently hearing some great things about Thomm Jutz as a Producer and musician from Eric Brace concerning the Last Train Home album, Everything Will Be and his other projects.
TK: Yes, and he was both on this record. He was the perfect producer on this project and his parts on this record are my favorite parts. He’s a brilliant instrumentalist.
AH: How do you feel that his work affected the sound on the album?
TK: The thing that attracted me to working with Thomm and made me reach out to him is that when you listen to records that he produces, everything sounds the way that it’s supposed to sound. The drums sound like drums. The bass guitar sounds like bass guitar, and so on. There isn’t a ton of fancy reverb or weird instances of hearing the room or a music stand being bumped into, which is something that happens a lot these days on records. That’s because artists don’t have the money that they once had to make sure that stuff didn’t happen.
As far as sound, Thomm has figured out, by virtue of his familiarity with his studio and equipment, how to make records sound the way they are supposed to sound. That’s the result of a lot of time making records of his own and making records with other people, like Otis Gibbs, like Jefferson Ross. The result is that when you listen to a Thomm Jutz album, everything is in its right place.
That’s the first piece of it. The second piece of it is that Thomm is very, very explicit with me, from our first call forward, that we weren’t going to conceptualize songs. We weren’t going to conceptualize about sounds or textures, or anything like that. We were going to get the best players we could get with the dates that we had, and we were just going to play. What you hear on the record is how we all felt about those songs on Friday, October 15th, 2021.
For someone like me, who tends to over conceptualize and search for meaning in things without a ton of meaning, this approach took a weight off my shoulders. It was just, “You’re going to show up, you’re going to practice, and you’re going to play and sing.” I think the quality we came out with is the result of the lack of conceptualization, Thomm’s ability to make things sound the way they are supposed to sound, and the six weeks of work I put in leading up to it to make sure that I was ready to go into that environment and just knock things out.
AH: That’s a great story of how an album came about, step by step. It’s also such an amazingly practical approach, and it seems like a very helpful one, particularly when the world has been so chaotic. In some ways the biggest danger of the past two years has been trying to process too much information all the time and therefore, not reaching goals that we want to reach.
TK: That’s an interesting way of putting it. The other aspect of it that’s very interesting about Thomm is that he is quiet and he is thoughtful. But for him, the thing that he repeated to me in the week leading up to me flying out there was, “This is going to be fun. We’re going to have fun doing this.” And he was right. We had a great time. I think so fondly about the handful of days that I got to spend with him working on this because we were having fun the whole time.
AH: Has this experience changed the way that you think you’ll work on albums in the future?
TK: Yes, but I think that’s true of every record that I’ve done. Each one has affected the way that the next one happens. But this one was pretty far out of my comfort zone, but in the process of me getting out of it, a new comfort zone was created. I think it would be difficult for me to work differently than the way we did on this one because there was so little stress. It was all preparation and execution. And as you mentioned, it’s what we all need right now. No more sitting alone with our thoughts, just getting out and doing things.
AH: When you were writing these songs, were they part of your normal ongoing songwriting process, or were they intentionally written for an album?
TK: I write all the time. In Nashville, they tell you to write every day and we all say that we do. I write most days, and it’ll be a couple of hours of me sitting in the morning and seeing what comes out, or if I have an idea, exploring an idea. That’s how I write, but my philosophy of albums is that I take the ten best songs that I’ve written and not recorded yet, and that’s the album. There doesn’t need to be a thread. There isn’t a concept. It’s just, “What are the ten songs that I feel are the best work that I’ve done?” And there’s the record.
I cannot conceive of working in a different way. I call myself a “performing songwriter,” so for me, it really is about the songs. There are folks out there for whom writing songs isn’t as important, and performance is more the focus. Making a record is fun, but until I have ten songs that I’m pretty darned confident that I want to live with them for a long time, playing them over and over on the road, I’m going to even start to think about going into the studio.
AH: Is that very much a gut feeling, when you know that you’re done with the songwriting on a song and it’s not in that “ready” category?
TK: Yes, I think it is a gut feeling. It’s like anything else, a sliding scale. With some songs you know pretty much right away, and with some it takes playing it for other folks. A really good example of that is on this record, a song called “Such a Town,” which I wrote about growing up in Boston. I wrote it one morning when I was feeling pretty crappy about everything. It sat for a while, but at some point I pulled it out at a show and played it.
Then I found myself getting pretty emotional about it as I was playing it onstage. I realized there was maybe more to it than I thought. Then I noticed that people who had nothing to do with Boston also getting things out of it. When I finally did get up to Boston and start playing it to folks, there were people for whom the imagery in the song was really deeply meaningful. So, it’s usually gut, but sometimes these things will reveal themselves as you work your way through them.
AH: I found that song particularly interesting because, obviously, there’s a long tradition of writing songs praising a place, but this one is a combination of sound and musical traditions that are more southern and western, with subject matter that’s more northern. That combination is really striking here.
TK: My godfather, Paul Solman, is a very funny and thoughtful person, and he saw me in Boston a few years ago. He said, “I’ve figured out what your genre is. It’s Country and Eastern music!” And I think that song is a really perfect expression of that. I was really happy when Thomm said, “Why don’t we have Scotty Sanders add some steel parts to it?” Because Boston is a deeply insular and provincial place. I was born there, but by virtue of the fact that I moved away when I was 11, I was not considered a Bostonion, even though I lived there another 15 years. There’s a way you have to be and act to be considered a true Bostonian. One of the really fun aspects of that song was presenting what those things tended to be and presenting them with the sound that I hear in my head, which is Country music. I think the steel, especially, really adds to that.
AH: Another song on the album is “Does the Fish Feel the Knife?” Am I right that you released a 7-inch record of that one?
TK: There is a 7-inch single that happened. I was on tour in California in October of 2019 and I got connected with Need To Know Music. Until recently, all they really did were these 7-inch projects with artists that they like, but now they’ve expanded to do full length projects. I recorded four songs and we picked the two to put on that. I got my copies in early 2020 intending to sell them at shows, and that didn’t happen.
AH: So that’s a totally different recording than the one you did with Thomm?
TK: Totally different. I’m selling them on my site and they continue to trickle out.
AH: The song is really impactful and intense. I’m torn between whether this could have been the album title or whether that would have been too dark. Instead, the album title is a lyric from this song, “good luck, take care.”
TK: Exactly. I thought about “Does the Fish Feel the Knife?” initially, as an album title, but I realized one afternoon last Fall that calling it Good Luck, Take Care was a neater approach because there are a lot of instances of that on the record, as a whole, where people are saying, “good luck, take care.” It also captures an element of my personality which is an attraction to gallows humor. In the context of the song, it means, “Go off and do your own thing. I don’t really care what happens to you.”
AH: The song seems to recount all the raw, intense, vulnerable things that adults don’t know how to deal with, but suddenly become aware of, in this case, around young children. We become aware of the things we don’t have answers for and are disturbing to us, like when a child asks what happens to people when they die.
TK: The only part of the song that actually happened to me, I think, was that our neighbor passed away in 2007, and we went to a Boston wake and brought our daughter, who at that point, was three years old. She’s a very thoughtful person. She’s 17 now and continues to be. As we were driving home from the wake, she asked that question. That’s a parental moment. You’re a parent and you don’t know what to do.
That’s the “real” moment in the song. I don’t know what makes that song work. With the good ones, you don’t actually really know. I can’t explain the relationship between the versus, or the chorus and the verse, but it somehow all fits together in a way that works for me. Somehow within the absence of resolution, that is itself a resolution.
AH: Sometimes if a song attempts to solve gigantic life issues, it can come off as artificial. I can see wanting to console audiences with a solution, but if it’s not authentic, it’s not going to work anyway. “The Goldfinch” is a more mysterious song in some ways, though it does reference a museum with paintings, and one of them is the Vermeer painting, “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.”
TK: There’s an incredible story to the painting, “The Goldfinch.” It’s by a man called Carel Fabritious, and by most accounts, he was Rembrandt’s most promising student. He had a bunch of glorious works, but he was killed, and most of his work was lost in the “Great Delft Thunderclap Explosion,” a gunpowder explosion.
AH: I had heard about that explosion, that’s such a loss. The idea of the bird being captured in the painting, it made me think of the idea of fixing things in time. Do you think that way about recording at all? Do you think about it as a moment in time that’s being locked in, in some way?
TK: The engineer on my first two records, Ron Flynt, used to say, “You are making a RECORD.” He meant it in the “record” sense, so with respect to the record itself, yes, it is fixed. It is permanent. It is a thing that exists. With respect to the painting, I hadn’t thought about that. That song, even though it’s short, had a ton of revision and agonizing.
The song results from the fact that, firstly, the painting is extraordinary even though it’s tiny. It’s almost as if it’s backlit. It’s unbelievable to walk up to that painting, especially in the context of the bustle where everyone else is gathered around the more famous works, so you can just walk up to it. But the other aspect of it is that I found out about this painting from the novel by Donna Tartt, which I absolutely adore, called The Goldfinch. That’s why I went to the museum where it’s housed, because she says such loving things about the painting in the book. I wanted to see it for myself. It’s one of my three favorite novels of the last twenty years.
AH: The song is really a polished little piece, just like the painting.
TK: That was a really special one, because we didn’t record it on Friday the 15th of October with the rest of the band there. I showed up Saturday morning and Thomm and I chatted, listened to some of the mixes, had some coffee, and did the take that’s on the album. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear Fall day, and I was on cloud nine from how the previous day had gone. It won’t shock me if fewer people listen to that song because it’s pretty quiet and has a lot of subtlety to it. But I hope that the people who need that song in their life get it.