The mental process of writing and recording an album is sort of like trying to finish a long, elaborate project while cruising the internet. Brief spouts of clarity and ambition are interrupted by long, seemingly helpful or relaxing asides where black holes of time go bye-bye into each new tab or musical toy.
With each deviation, the initial goal seems further away and the path there gets harder to remember.
For Making the Saint, Chris Schlarb’s third solo album, the Long Beach guitarist wanted to avoid these creative disruptions, making instead what he calls a small record—a short collection of songs generated in a swift fluid creative process.
Listening to the album opener and title cut, Schlarb’s idea of the small record resonates perfectly. The tune begins with a droning chord; the sound sweeping in and out of focus like summer cicadas. Shortly after, Schlarb begins with a gorgeous guitar solo that lasts about 19 minutes. Though it’s half the album’s total length, “Making the Saint” is a reflective piece that breezes past without glancing at the clock. “There was a feeling of ‘don’t complicate, don’t do a bunch of overdubs, don’t make the process laborious,’” Schlarb told the Current over the phone. “Record it, mix it, finish it.”
“It just felt like the right thing, the right time to make a record where I’m the only credit on it,” Schlarb continued. “It forced [me] to tackle some of the things that I’d normally feel more comfortable asking [of] someone else.” To write and record Making the Saint, Schlarb and his wife booked a cabin in California’s San Bernardino Mountains, arriving without any prepared material for a make-or-break creative challenge. “I put myself in positions all the time where failure is a very real possibility, or embarrassment. It makes me work harder. Fear is a great motivator.”
Out on Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty label, Making the Saint is a sharp left from Schlarb’s previous output. As half of duo I Heart Lung, Schlarb and drummer Tom Steck produce NPR-lauded, genre-bending jazz. With his Psychic Temple band, with which Schlarb released his first two solo records, the guitarist produces spacy and ambitious orchestral pop.
But it was that very Psychic Temple recording and touring that led Schlarb to cut back for Making the Saint. “When you’re planning a tour with a bunch of other guys you have to make all these corporate decisions, paying them, arranging for transportation,” said Schlarb. “It really takes you away from the creative aspect of why you want to play music.”
To recharge his creative passion, Schlarb’s been taking it solo on tour as well, performing his meditative guitar pieces without backing. The name of Making the Saint refers to that process, an analog Schlarb attached to in the Afro-Caribbean religion of Santería.
“To become a saint, a priest in Santería spends a year dressed in all white garments with no physical contact with any other person,” Schlarb explained. “After that year’s up, the idea’s that they’re purified, they’re sanctified. There’s a few terms for it: making the saint, Asiento or ascending the throne. To me, it’s very similar [to] what you do going away, finding yourself as a person and making a solo album. It felt like it was a very honest and powerful symbol to carry all the way through from concept to execution.”
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